Editor’s note: this blog post was updated on February 19, 2014.
Yesterday Sightline published a new analysis on all the oil-by-rail projects planned and underway in the Northwest. The breakdown looks like this:
Focus on the second-to-last line. The Tesoro/Savage project at the Port of Vancouver, Washington, is huge. At 360,000 barrels per day, it’s bigger than many pipelines. It’s nearly as big as all the other projects put together.
And it’s not a done deal.
There are, indeed, some puzzling dimensions of that project.
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Consider that Vancouver, Washington, is not near any refinery. So US crude oil—which by law can only very rarely be exported—would have to be off-loaded from rail cars and then re-loaded onto barges or vessels that would travel to refineries in Puget Sound, the Bay Area, or maybe Hawaii. Any of those routes may raise concerns about the risk of oil spills in marine environments.
Or perhaps the US will lift the near-ban on US crude exports. (In fact, any number of oil industry surrogates and right wing groups are already advocating an end to the ban.) If so, the Northwest could be transformed into a major transshipment point for mid-continental oil bound for markets in Asia.
Or perhaps the Vancouver site will be used for off-loading large quantities of Canadian tar sands oil, which is not subject to the US export ban. (Many argue, though, that it doesn’t pencil to move tar sands oil on trains because of the additional cost of rail cars makes the already-expensive oil uneconomical.) If so, projects like the one at Vancouver could in effect become a replacement for the tar sands pipeline capacity—Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain expansion, and Keystone XL—that industry has struggled to add in the face of public opposition and controversy.
It’s conceivable that the Northwest might avoid new pipelines but instead get thousands of oil trains traversing the region each year.
If you’re in the Vancouver, Washington, area, it’s probably worth attending the meeting on Thursday.