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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Down To Earth

The crude truth about Spokane’s rail pipeline

Did you know that at least one trainload of oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota rolls through Spokane each day?

We've certainly exhausted a lot of bandwidth on coal exports - and we aren't finished - but while we were sleeping the number of train traffic carrying crude oil could increase tenfold in the next few years.

The Spokesman had an excellent editorial on the need for our region's better preparedness in the wake of the Quebec derailment. According to the Spokesman, the majority of the state’s planning and resources to respond to crude oil spills are deployed in Western Washington because "the state’s five refineries are there, as are the waterways over which the state has jurisdiction."


Could this be Spokane? Image courtesy of Greenpeace

Scary stuff. As of this posting, the death toll is fifty after runaway train cars loaded with fracked crude from North Dakota derailed in Quebec on July 6th.

A good place to get started learning about this issue is the Sightline report called "The Northwest's Pipeline On Rails."

Here are some important findings from Sightline: 

-In Oregon and Washington, 11 refineries and port terminals are planning, building, or already operating oil-by-rail shipments.

-If all of the projects were built and operated at full capacity, they would put an estimated 20 mile-long trains per day on the Northwest’s railway system. Many worry about the risk of oil spills from thousands of loaded oil trains that may soon traverse the region each year.

-Taken together, the oil-by-rail projects planned for the Northwest would be capable of delivering enough fuel to exceed the region’s oil refining capacity. Ironically, two of the facilities that would handle oil by rail were originally built to supply renewable fuels.

-The projects are designed to transport fuel from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota, but the infrastructure could also be used to export Canadian tar sands oil. In fact, if all of the oil- by-rail projects were built, they would be capable of moving 720,000 barrels per day—that’s more oil capacity than either of the controversial pipelines planned in British Columbia.

-On Puget Sound, two of the region’s five refineries already receive oil-by-rail shipments, and the other three are planning new facilities. Three proposals for Grays Harbor would move oil along the Washington coast. And on the Columbia River, one port terminal is already receiving oil-by- rail shipments, while officials at Vancouver are planning by far the region’s largest facility.

Read the full report HERE and stay tuned for more information on this issue. 

The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails from Sightline Institute on Vimeo.

Down To Earth

The DTE blog is committed to reporting and sharing environmental news and sustainability information from across the Inland Northwest.