With 18 oil trains weekly, Columbia River Gorge is the key route for Pacific Northwest’s crude-by-rail

The Oregonian, June 24, 2014
By Rob Davis

An oil train parked in Vancouver, Wash., in early April. BNSF moves 18 oil trains weekly through the Columbia River Gorge to Clark County. (Rob Davis/The Oregonian)

An oil train parked in Vancouver, Wash., in early April. BNSF moves 18 oil trains weekly through the Columbia River Gorge to Clark County. (Rob Davis/The Oregonian)

Eighteen oil trains a week move along the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, newly released data shows, a figure that could more than double if a proposed Vancouver, Wash., oil train terminal opens.

BNSF Railway Co. notified Washington authorities that it hauled 19 oil trains through Klickitat County in one week between May 29 and June 4, the state’s most heavily traveled route. All but one continued on through the gorge to Clark County, en route to Seattle and Portland.

At that pace, nearly 1,000 oil trains would move through the Columbia Gorge annually. That could grow to almost 2,500 trains a year – carrying between 70,000 and 90,000 barrels of oil apiece — if a major Vancouver oil train terminal proposed by Tesoro-Savage is approved. And that doesn’t include crude oil from Utah hauled by Union Pacific on the Oregon side of the gorge.

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America’s plan to ship coal supplies to China

Maclean’s — Canada’s only national weekly current affairs magazine
By Luiza Ch. Savage, June 10, 2014

America’s dirty secret…

Shipping coal to China could wipe out the benefits of Obama’s climate-change policy.

The centrepiece of Barack Obama’s climate policy, announced this month, limits greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants largely by cutting the country’s reliance on coal. The policy was touted as a major piece of the President’s environmental legacy but it raised an important question: what will happen to America’s coal—the largest recoverable reserves in the world?

It’s a question that could soon have an answer. With coal demand at home expected to fall by 20 per cent due to new regulations, and competitive pressure from low-priced natural gas, coal companies are now pushing to increase exports to Asia. China in particular consumes almost half of the world’s coal—and in recent years demand has soared. Three new coal-export ports are being proposed for the Pacific coast: two in Washington state and one in Oregon. They could eventually ship up to 100 million tons of coal per year—an amount equivalent to the total volume of coal the U.S. will export this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA). “We view the Northwest port terminals as advantageous locations for exports to Asia—the most efficient location for exporting to countries that are going to be generating strong demand for coal,” says Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, the U.S. industry group. Top Asian destinations are China, South Korea, India and Japan.

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About that deadline: State extends coal decision, again, to study fisheries

Sustainable Business Oregon, May 30, 2014
By Mason Walker

The decision on whether or not to grant a permit for a high-profile coal export facility proposed near Boardman [Oregon] has been delayed, the eighth such extension for the controversial Morrow Pacific project.

The latest delay comes despite a request from Gov. John Kitzhaber that a decision be made by May 31.

The Oregon Department of State Lands, the agency reviewing the permit request, delayed the decision to August 18 to allow time to collect additional information on the project, including whether the project would have negative impacts on fisheries located near the Port of Morrow.

Project developer Ambre Energy agreed to the delay, providing a brief statement on the matter.

“The extension gives the department time to continue to research and receive information, and provides Morrow Pacific a period to respond,” said Ambre.

In its announcement of the delay, the Department of State Lands explicitly mentioned that the project would not re-open to public comment.”

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Stopping Fossil Fuel Exports – An Interview with Bill McKibben

Daily Kos, May 8, 2014
By James Wells

People in our corner of northwest Washington have a lot of gratitude to author Bill McKibben. In addition to his national leadership on climate, Bill came out here in May, 2011 to help raise the alarm about plans for North America’s largest coal export terminal. Since then, we have taken that ball and ran with it!

Photo by Paul Anderson

Photo by Paul Anderson

Prior to his pending return to Bellingham, on May 16 and 17, Bill was kind enough to give an interview by email both about climate activism generally and also about our specific regional issues.

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Coal train derailment in Maryland

Grist | A Beacon in the Smog, May 2, 2014
By Joe Smyth, Grist Guest Contributor

A CSX train hauling about 8,000 tons of coal from Pennsylvania to Southern Maryland derailed on Thursday in Bowie, Marlyand, highlighting the risks of transporting fossil fuels less than 24 hours after another CSX train carrying Bakken crude oil exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia. Aerial photos taken by Greenpeace photographer Tim Aubry of the coal train derailment on Friday show that boom has been laid around the area as workers began to remove the several carloads of coal that were spilled.

CSX Coal Train Derailment In Maryland

The Baltimore Sun notes that “The line where the derailment occurred in Bowie is also a freight line, officials said — raising questions about the combined impact the Baltimore and Bowie incidents will have on freight movements in the region, including out of the port of Baltimore.”

Joel Connelly at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that the “accidents striking the CSX Railroad in the East this week are not putting Northwest minds at ease about oil and possibly coal trains passing through Puget Sound cities.” Indeed, Sightline Institute researcher Eric de Place noticed that new “safer” tank cars were involved in the Lynchburg, VA, oil train fire.

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A green line of governors: Can Inslee, Kitzhaber stop energy exports?

Crosscut.com | News of the Great Nearby, May 1, 2014
By Floyd McKay

Coal, oil and gas proposals are flooding into states headed by governors who want to fight global warming.

BNSF engines idle at the site of the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal in Vancouver. Paul K. Anderson, Chuckanut Conservancy

BNSF engines idle at the site of the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal in Vancouver. Paul K. Anderson, Chuckanut Conservancy

Elections have consequences, it is often said, and the elections of 2010 and 2012 brought to the West Coast a solid green line of governors: John Kitzhaber in Oregon, Jerry Brown in California and Jay Inslee in Washington. Climate change is under attack in all three states, and rhetoric is building in the Northwest.

Conservation leaders are ecstatic about recent climate-change statements from Washington’s Inslee and Oregon’s Kitzhaber. They come as the region is targeted by Big Energy, which is seeking a pathway to Asia, a modern Silk Road carried on rails and ships.

Coal knocked first, in 2010, with proposals for huge export terminals at Cherry Point north of Bellingham and at Longview, plus a smaller Columbia River lash-up of plans involving trains, barges and ships. This year, crude-oil trains from North Dakota’s bottomless Bakken oil field began making their way westward in significant numbers — the crude is not bound for Asia, but headed for West Coast refineries. Liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas, which would be aimed at the export market, don’t want to be left behind; the list is long and diverse.

For climate-change warriors, coal is the biggest and most-obvious target — climate scientists are united in belief that burning coal is the major villain in climate change. Oil and gas are also fossil fuels, but the argument there carries somewhat less weight on climate change. However, nasty fires and explosions from oil-train derailments raise lethal concerns, and governors are among those listening.

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Dust Up | What an internal industry dispute says about coal dust risk

Sightline Daily | News & Views for a Sustainable Northwest
By Eric de Place and Marcia Baker, February 20, 2014

[This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal Exports]

Amid all the debate about the risk of coal trains spreading coal dust into areas near the railroad tracks, it’s often forgotten that the subject is controversial even within the industry. How to control coal dust—or whether it can be done at all to a meaningful degree—has been the subject of a long-running dispute between those who ship the coal and those who carry it. The coal companies or utilities that ship the coal are on one side and the railroads that carry it are on the other.

The controversy developed originally not because either side was concerned about the spread of coal dust into neighboring communities or rivers, but because coal dust accumulation had become so severe in places that it actually destabilized tracks, resulting in derailments or trackside fires. In response, the railways began levying fees on the coal shippers to cover the costs of treating the coal with a chemical spray designed to reduce dust emissions. The coal shippers objected, arguing that the fee was unfair and that the coal dust control techniques are ineffective.

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