The fire that erupted near the troubled Olympic pipeline in Renton—the same pipeline that leaked several hundred thousand gallons of gasoline in 1999 in Bellingham and caused a fire that killed two boys—is a reminder of the vulnerability of the Northwest’s energy system. It is vulnerable not only to accidents but also to terrorist attack.
Our vehicles and natural-gas burning devices all depend on relatively few pipelines. Eighty percent of Oregon’s gasoline, for example, flows through the Olympic pipeline. Here are maps of Washington’s, Oregon’s, Idaho and BC’s natural gas pipelines, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (which is so long and remote that the Pentagon long ago declared it undefendable.) (Thanks to correspondent Jeff Youngstrom for pointing out the BC and Idaho maps. Can anyone point to oil or gasoline pipelines in BC and Idaho?)
It wouldn’t take many “people of mass destruction” (in Thomas Friedman’s memorable phrase) to cripple the region’s energy system. All the more reason to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbon fuels.