Editor’s note June 3, 2016: An oil train derailment and fire today in the Columbia River Gorge reminds us of the threat that oil-by-rail poses to communities across the Pacific Northwest. Below and here is our most recent report on the various oil-by-rail projects proposed for or operating in the Pacific Northwest. Our thoughts are with the emergency responders on the scene, the residents of Mosier, and communities nearby affected by this event.
Sightline is re-releasing a popular report: The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails. It’s the most comprehensive regional analysis of plans to ship crude oil by train. This update includes important new information showing far greater increases in oil train transport than previously thought. All told, the Northwest could soon be seeing more than one million barrels of crude oil by rail per day—far more than the Keystone XL Pipeline would move.
Moving large quantities of oil by rail would represent a major change for the Northwest’s energy economy, and the plans now in development put the region’s communities at risk.
Why does it matter?
- In British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington, 15 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 require more than 100 loaded mile-long trains per week to traverse the Northwest’s railway system. Many worry about the risk of oil spills along the region’s extensive rail network, particularly in remote locations where emergency response would be challenging.
- Taken together, the oil-by-rail projects planned for the Northwest would be capable of delivering far more fuel than the region is capable of handling at its refineries. Ironically, two of the facilities that would handle oil by rail were originally built to supply renewable fuels, and a third proposal aims to blend crude oil with biofuel from foreign sources.
- The projects are largely designed to transport and handle light shale oil from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota, but the infrastructure could also be used to export heavy Canadian oil. In fact, if all of the oil-by-rail projects were built, they would be capable of moving 1,019,872 barrels per day—nearly as much as the combined capacity of the two controversial pipelines planned in British Columbia, and 23 percent more than the planned Keystone XL pipeline, all of which are designed to ship Canadian crude.
- On the Salish Sea, five of the region’s six refineries already receive oil-by-rail shipments. A trio of projects at the Port of Grays Harbor would move oil along the Washington coast. And on the Columbia River, two facilities in Oregon are already receiving oil-by-rail shipments, while two more in Washington are seeking permits to receive loaded crude oil trains, including plans for the largest such facility anywhere in North America.