The explosive growth of development of oil and coal deposits in the center of North America, combined with strong demand in Asian markets, puts the Pacific Northwest at the center of a boom in oil and coal infrastructure proposals that bring new and untested risks to our region. Today, ForestEthics released Off the Rails, a comprehensive analysis of multiple and varied threats this fossil fuel influx poses.
“The pace of development proposals is dizzying--it is nearly impossible for the public to wrap their heads around it, let alone make choices about the risks they’re willing to expose themselves to,” said Matt Krogh, a campaign director for ForestEthics.
The US has seen a greater than 4,000% increase in the number of tanker car loads of crude oil shipped annually in the last five years--from 9,500 in 2008 to over 400,000 in 2013. Two years ago in the Pacific Northwest, there were no terminals prepared to handle mile long trains of crude-oil-filled tanker cars; today, four terminals are operating in Washington and Oregon, with six more in various stages of permitting and construction.
A surge in the number of oil tankers carrying controversial tar sands oil is another concern. Two proposed pipelines on the Canadian side of the border would cause a significant boost in oil spill risk: the 590,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan pipeline would increase tar sands tanker traffic through the Salish Sea--on which Seattle, Vancouver, Tacoma, Bellingham, and Victoria lie-- from roughly 80 a year to over 400 a year, clogging Georgia and Haro Straits and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Further north, the proposed Enbridge pipeline would load 525,000 barrels per day of tar sands onto giant supertankers, many of them destined to traverse the dangerous waters of the Pacific Coast en route to California.
A spill resulting from the 700% increase in tar sands tanker traffic from proposed BC pipelines would imperil key economic sectors along waterways. In Puget Sound alone, a spill could cost the economy 10.8 billion dollars and negatively impact 165,000 jobs.
Many say the risks far outweigh the benefits. “Oil export terminals don't employ a lot of people,” said Cager Clabaugh, Vancouver Local President of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, “One accident there puts us out of work, it'll put thousands of people out of work."
“We need a moratorium on all oil and coal proposals in Washington state so that our people and our politicians have the chance to make a plan for our future, rather than playing catch-up on issues that put our health, our economy, and our way of life at risk” said Todd Paglia, Executive Director of ForestEthics.
Legislators and regulators from the National Transportation Safety Board to the Seattle City Council have been scrambling to address safety issues surrounding oil train transport in the aftermath of a string of explosions of rail cars carrying various forms of crude oil. For ForestEthics, piecemeal efforts alone are not enough to contain the barrage of risk new fossil fuel projects bring to the Pacific Northwest.
“It only takes one spill...” said Eric de Place from Sightline Institute, which contributed research for the ForestEthics report, “to upend the lives and livelihoods of entire communities.”
Some highlights from “Off the Rails”:
- New oil by rail projects constructed in WA and OR since 2011: 4
- Proposed oil by rail projects in WA and OR: 6
- Total barrels per day throughput of all 10 oil by rail projects if built: 784,900
- Keystone XL pipeline, if built, in barrels per day: 830,000
- Number of proposed coal terminals in BC, OR, and WA: 4
- Number of mile or longer coal and oil trains, daily, if all known proposals are built: 57
- Number of additional projects planned by oil and coal companies: Unknown
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