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Ross Reynolds talks to Vaughn Palmer, columnist with the Vancouver Sun, about the controversy around an oil spill in Vancouver's English Bay.

Washington Oil Train And Pipeline Safety Bill Advances

Apr 15, 2015

The Washington House gave its approval Tuesday to a bill that would set higher oil train safety standards.

The bill is moving through the state Legislature as more trains are hauling crude oil through Washington from the Bakken region of North Dakota and from Canada's tar sands. The bill imposes a per-barrel tax of 8 cents on oil that arrives in Washington by train or pipeline. The revenue would pay for spill-related emergency response and preparedness.

The Swinomish Tribe has filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway to stop oil trains from traveling through its reservation.

BNSF train tracks cross the top of the Swinomish Reservation in Skagit County. In recent years they’ve been used to move oil from North Dakota to two refineries in Anacortes.

'Small' Oil Spills Can Add Up To Big Costs

Mar 23, 2015

State Fish and Wildlife Biologist Brian McDonald is careful not to raise his voice as he approaches a row of baby cribs in a warehouse in Pasco, Washington. Each one holds mallard ducks.

“They’re typically in pretty rough shape--they’re sick, they’re cold, they’re oiled, they’re hungry,” he says.

SEATTLE -- Port officials are standing behind their controversial decision to host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet, despite protests, legal action and a city-led investigation.

The Port of Seattle signed a lease earlier this month that has caused a stir among some citizens and elected officials. At a public meeting Tuesday the port's commissioners got an earful when they opened the floor to testimony about their decision to lease Terminal 5 to Foss Maritime, which will then host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet.

What happens when the price of oil tanks and suddenly you're faced with a whole lot less money to deal with your town's explosive growth?

If you're 52-year-old Rick Norby, you lose a lot of sleep.

"I haven't slept since I became mayor," he says. "I really ain't kidding you."

When Norby became mayor of Sidney, Mont., oil prices were about $100 a barrel. A year later, they've fallen to roughly half that. Yet oil production has continued to churn right along.

How Big Of A Risk Are Oil Trains?

Mar 6, 2015
oil train, transportation
Flickr Photo/Russ Allison Loar (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/aqtNAn

Ross Reynolds speaks with Lisa Copeland, of the Washington State Department of Ecology, about the risk oil trains could pose to the state.

Also, Reynolds speaks to Kevin Book, an analyst from ClearView Energy Partners in Washington, D.C, and with Kristen Boyles, attorney for environmental law firm Earth Justice, about the implications of oil trains in our region.

Northwest Officials Unite Against Coal And Oil Trains

Mar 4, 2015

More than 150 elected officials from across the Northwest have teamed up to speak out against coal and oil trains. Their new group, the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, held its third meeting in Portland Tuesday.

Washington's King County Executive Dow Constantine has stepped up to chair the group. It includes officials from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia.

President Obama has vetoed the KeystoneXL Pipeline, but as more oil moves through the Northwest by rail, one Republican state senator says a pipeline through Washington state could be a solution.

Rep. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane has introduced legislation that would provide $250,000 to study a possible oil pipeline through Washington state.

The pipeline would move oil from the middle of the country to refineries and terminals on the Washington coast.

Protesters of the Keystone Pipeline in San Francisco, Calif., in November 2013.
Flickr Photo/Enviros (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks to Vaughn Palmer, columnist for the Vancouver Sun, about the news from Canada, including Canada's response over President Obama's veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and terrorist threats to Canadian malls.

Updated at 4:04 p.m. ET

The White House has notified the Senate that President Obama has, as promised, vetoed congressional legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

"Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest," Obama said in the notification to the Senate.

This week’s fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia has lawmakers thinking about oil-by-rail safety through the Northwest. There has been a dramatic increase in oil trains traveling through the region to reach West coast refineries.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, stands on the docks as tribal crabbers unload their catch. The tribe has vowed to fight the oil train-to-ship terminals  proposed for Grays Harbor.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

HOQUIAM, Wash. — Grays Harbor, with its deep-water berths and fast access to Pacific Ocean shipping routes, has all the ingredients to be a world-class port.

Trains carrying mass loads of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sands have begun moving through the Northwest, creating the potential for an oil spill in parts of Oregon and Washington where environmental agencies have no response plans or equipment in place.

Union Pacific now moves between seven and 10 of these mile-long trains of Canadian crude per month through Northwest states, according to railroad spokesman Aaron Hunt. They can carry more than a million gallons of oil.

Tesoro workers killed in a 2010 refinery explosion are commemorated outside city hall in Everett, Washington.
KUOW Photo / Bond Huberman

About 200 workers at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington, are on strike. They've had a 24-hour picket line at the plant's main gate for more than a week.

Chris Hickey lives on three acres in Washougal, Washington with his wife, son and two massive dogs.

“We get salmon and steelhead up here in the creek. It’s one of the cool things about the house," Hickey said while walking across a metal footbridge above the fast moving water.

The creek is surrounded by a bamboo grove so thick the leaves practically block out the sky.

Legislation Would Mandate Bigger Crews On Oil Trains

Feb 4, 2015

A growing number of oil trains rolling through Washington has emergency responders and rail workers calling for bigger crews on board to better protect human health and the environment.

Shell Oil wants to build more tracks at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, to receive oil by rail. At a packed hearing in Skagit County on Thursday, more than 100 people turned up to comment on the proposal.

Shell's refinery in Anacortes is the last of Washington's five oil refineries to apply for permits to receive oil by rail from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

A survey by the Oregon State Fire Marshal found 81 percent of the state's fire departments don't have the equipment they need to respond to an oil train accident.

In a report to Gov. John Kitzhaber's office, the fire marshal tallied up $2.7 million in "start-up" costs for the additional equipment, personnel and training needed for the state to prepare for a crude oil incident.

The governor's office says it's unclear where that money would come from, but the governor is working with lawmakers to bridge the gap.

Hundreds of people attended a Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission meeting Tuesday as it considered a zoning decision for a controversial propane export terminal.

The Canadian company Pembina has proposed building a $500 million propane export terminal at the Port of Portland on the Columbia River by 2018.

U.S. Coast Guard/Travis Marsh

The Seattle Port Commission decided on Tuesday to let Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet use West Seattle as its home port.

Shell's drill rigs and barges would overwinter at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5 in West Seattle while the terminal is being renovated.

File photo of oil train tankers in a Portland, Ore. railyard.
EarthFix Photo/Tony Schick

SEATTLE — For the past few years, a growing number of trains have been bringing “rolling pipelines” of oil from North Dakota to ports and refineries in the Pacific Northwest.

And in that time, the Washington and Oregon legislatures have failed to come up with the money to pay for the cost of responding to the increasing risk of oil spills in their states. That could change in 2015.

An oil tanker and a container ship about to cross paths near Seattle.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Oil tankers bring about 15 million gallons of oil every day into Washington state. Starting Jan. 1, those ships are required to have double hulls.

The oil-spill prevention measure has been in the works for decades, ever since Capt. Joseph Hazelwood ran the Exxon Valdez onto Alaska's Bligh Reef in 1989. Eleven million gallons of oil spilled into Prince William Sound, killing thousands of seabirds and sea otters, devastating the region's fisheries and unleashing action in Washington, D.C.

According to AAA, the last three months have been the longest stretch of declining gas prices they’ve ever recorded in the U.S.

Astroturfing is when interest groups run a campaign that’s designed to look like it’s grassroots in nature.

Northwest lawmakers voted along party lines as the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to reject a plan to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Washington’s rail safety regulator says there are about 3,000 rail crossings in the state that inspectors have never looked at. That's because they're on private land.

EarthFix Photo/Ashley Ahearn

Environmental groups are among the biggest spenders in this year’s state elections in Washington and Oregon, pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns to ensure Democratic statehouse control.

ASHLAND, Ore. -- Ashland has joined in the nationwide movement to divest from fossil fuel. Tuesday night, the city council became the second in Oregon to pass a divestment resolution.

“We’re not going to invest, but we’re going to still use fossil fuels?” he asked.

The dustiest portion of my home library includes the 1980s books — about how Japan's economy would dominate the world.

And then there are the 1990s books — about how the Y2K computer glitch would end the modern era.

Go up one more shelf for the late 2000s books — about oil "peaking." The authors claimed global oil production was reaching a peak and would soon decline, causing economic chaos.

The titles include Peak Oil and the Second Great Depression, Peak Oil Survival and When Oil Peaked.

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