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The Dirt on Tesoro

Tesoro is a bad neighbor to Northwest communities.

The oil company Tesoro, a fast-growing Fortune 100 company, has announced plans to build and operate a massive oil shipping facility on the Columbia River in Washington. The Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal would handle up to 360,000 barrels of crude per day, transferring petroleum from mile-long trains onto oil tankers and other vessels that would ship the oil to refineries in the US and potentially overseas. Many residents of Vancouver, Washington, as well as communities along the rail lines, are unwilling to accept the risks of Tesoro’s proposed project, given a string of oil train derailments and fires across North America. A thorough review of Tesoro’s track record suggests that the community has every reason to be concerned. The company has a demonstrated track record of flouting safety rules, injuring workers, polluting local air, and meddling in politics. read more »

The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails

Westbound oil train, Essex, MT. Photo credit Roy Luck.

Since 2012, nearly a dozen plans have emerged to ship crude oil by train to Northwest refineries and port terminals. Moving large quantities of oil by rail would be a major change for the Northwest’s energy economy, but so far the proposals have largely escaped notice. Most media accounts to date have presented only a fragmented view of the developments, and government regulators are evaluating the projects largely in isolation from one another. This memo presents the first comprehensive, region-wide review of all the oil-by-rail projects planned or currently operating in the Pacific Northwest. It finds that: In Oregon and … read more »

Who Pays for Parking?

Monopoly Park Place. Photo by Philip Taylor, cc.

How the oversupply of parking undermines housing affordability. read more »

Peabody Energy, Gateway Pacific, and the Asian Coal Bubble

Coal Prices Gateway Peak to Aug 2013

A new Sightline report shows that the collapse in coal prices jeopardized Peabody Energy’s coal export plans. read more »

The Morrow Pacific Project

High costs could turn coal export plan into a terminal of last resort


The Morrow Pacific project, a coal export venture being pursued by Australian firm Ambre Energy, aims to ship coal by rail to Oregon’s Port of Morrow on the Columbia River, barge it downstream to a second port, and load it onto cargo ships bound for Asia. Recent financial disclosures suggest that the project would face unusually high costs in three separate areas: High handling costs. Unlike conventional export projects that would handle coal at a single location, the Morrow Pacific project would transfer coal twice—first from rail cars to barges, and later from barges to ocean-going vessels. The extra step … read more »

Northwest Fossil Fuel Exports


Across British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington, there are active proposals for seven new or expanded coal terminals, three oil pipelines, and six new natural gas pipelines. The projects are distinct, but they can be denominated in a common currency: the tons of carbon dioxide emitted if the fossil fuels were burned. Taken together, these projects would be capable of delivering enough fuel to release an additional 761 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, equivalent to seven Keystone XL pipelines. The Northwest enjoys a reputation for leadership in clean energy and environmental policy. Yet the new … read more »

Ambre Energy: Caveat Investor

Ambre Energy Revenue, Expenses 2006-12

Would-be coal exporter Ambre Energy faces mounting financial, regulatory and other challenges that make it highly unlikely that the company will deliver on its promises. read more »

US Coal Exports and Uncertainty in Asian Markets

Photo by Daniel Dancer, used with permission.

With US demand for coal plummeting, coal companies are looking to Asia to shore up sagging sales at home. Since 2011, several groups have launched ambitious plans to mine low-grade coal from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and transport it by rail to ports in Oregon and Washington, where it will be shipped to overseas markets—particularly China. At full capacity, the proposed projects would send 140 million tons annually. The coal industry claims that Asia offers lucrative coal markets. Yet much of the available evidence is cautionary at best. Sightline’s memo, “US Coal Exports and Uncertainty in Asian Markets,” … read more »

Shifting into Reverse

Northwest gasoline consumption makes a modest decline

2012 per capita gas consumption

High prices are taking a bite out of northwesterners’ appetite for gasoline. Total gas consumption in 2011 in Oregon and Washington has fallen modestly since the 2002 peak—driven by declines in per capita driving and gains in vehicle efficiency. Measured per person, though, residents of the two states have reduced their use of motor fuel to its lowest levels since the early 1960s—back when three dimes would buy you a gallon of gas. And early trends suggest that per capita consumption in the two states may be headed for a drop of as much as 2 percent in 2012. read more »

Rural Sprawl in Metropolitan Portland

A comparison of growth management in Oregon and Washington

Map of Exurban Portland Growth 2000-2010

The greater metro Portland, Oregon, straddles two states, offering an intriguing natural experiment for gauging the effects of different growth management laws. The Oregon side operates under the nation’s oldest and most mature growth management system, while the Washington side is governed by a newer law. Over the last two decades, Clark County, Washington, accounted for the large majority of all rural and exurban housing and population growth in the greater Portland area. read more »