Julia Roberts as Mother Nature. Kinda heavy-handed? How ‘bout this?


This week brought more evidence that the oil-by-rail industry is out of control. Another train derailed and exploded, this time in rural Saskatchewan. The next day, CBC aired an investigative report on the punishing labor conditions for locomotive operators who are being stretched thin by railway cost-cutting. It’s the same story we’ve seen in the US.

Just so, both of Canada’s major railroads, CN and CP, are fighting new safety regulations.

Today, the New York Times reported that oil trains have severly impaired passenger rail service, especially in the northern US. The Empire Builder route, connecting Chicago to Portland (and Seattle), is now late 70 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, the Northwest is contemplating building the biggest-ever oil-by-rail terminal at Vancouver, Washington, and there’s reason to be concerned that the dice are loaded. As reporters at the Columbian pointed out this week:

…the initial draft analysis of the oil terminal’s impacts was written by consultants hired by the Tesoro-Savage joint venture. Another concern: the company hired by the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to help check that analysis has previously worked for Tesoro.

Also this week, Tesoro executives went on the stump to make the case for their project. In doing so, they underscored a point I make all the time. If the Northwest doesn’t build oil train sites, the oil may not move:

Weyen said rail is the most effective way to move crude oil. Pipelines cost billions to build and generally depend on buyers willing to enter long-term agreements. No shipper is ready to commit to a 10-year contract, he said.

Politically, he said, there is no way to get a pipeline from North Dakota to the West Coast.

Yep. That’s why the Northwest is a thin green line: this region gets to decide the fortunes of the coal, oil, and gas sectors.

It was actually the second time this week that I found myself in agreement with Tesoro. In an attempt to claim that the benefits of the project outweigh the risks, another exec said, “I can’t guarantee zero risk.”

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  • Which might be okay if we were talking about bumper cars or a round of horseshoes. Unfortunately, we’re talking about city-destroying explosions that keep happening and an industry that is fighting tooth and nail against improved safety standards.

    Meanwhile, all the way back in North Dakota, Tesoro is still working on cleaning up a pipeline spill from a year ago. Just another year or year-and-a-half, and the farmer might have his land decontaminated. Tesoro is clearly investing in its PR team because they earned a nice puff piece on the cleanup from the Bismarck Tribune, which doesn’t quite make up for the fact that Tesoro “forgot” to tell the landowner about the pipeline spill, and that even after he reported it, state officials didn’t inform the public for another 12 days.

    The suburb I grew up in was, at the time, pretty white and conservative. But even there I think the mainstream sentiment among my classmates was that Columbus Day was a bizarre anachronism for a US holiday. For starters, the guy never even made it to what later became the US. Plus, his legacy didn’t exactly smell like roses. We used to joke that the best way to celebrate the holiday would be to row up to one of the local beaches and corral people into holding pens while stealing their money and infecting them with diseases. We never did get around to that, though.

    Anyway, this week brought a spot of good news: the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to re-designate Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day.