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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.

AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File

“Sobering” is how Washington Governor Jay Inslee summed up a draft report about the risks of increased oil transport through the state.  In the report, the State Department of Ecology describes an unprecedented growth in this local transport, from virtually no trains carrying crude oil in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013.

Oil Spill Task Force Braces For More Crude By Rail

Oct 2, 2014

A regional oil spill task force met in Portland Wednesday to discuss the risks of crude oil traveling by rail.

The Pacific States British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force coordinates oil spill response plans among five U.S. states and B.C. A lot of its members have noticed the same worrisome trend: more crude oil is traveling by rail cars instead of arriving on ships, and many agencies aren't prepared for oil spills along rail lines.

The coast has generally been considered the area of the Northwest most at risk for a catastrophic oil spill. But the rise in oil moving through the region by rail has raised the stakes for some inland areas.

SEATTLE -- The Northwest's biggest oil-by-rail transporter is giving its assurances that it can safely move millions of gallons of volatile crude through the city of Seattle.

BNSF Railway's letter describing its safety measures follows a report by Seattle public safety agencies highlighting several weaknesses in the city’s ability to respond to an oil train accident.

A new report by public safety agencies highlights several weaknesses in Seattle's ability to respond to an oil train accident.

The report to the Seattle City Council was complied by the Seattle Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management.

At the top of the report's list of concerns: the 100 year old tunnel that runs through the middle of downtown Seattle. The report said that the lack of safety systems in the Great Northern tunnel will present significant challenges to first responders.

As more oil trains travel along the Columbia River and Puget Sound, conservation groups worry that cleanup plans could harm sensitive wildlife, like endangered salmon and shorebirds.

Oregon Approves Subsidies For Oil Transport, Not For Coal

Aug 25, 2014

The Oregon Transportation Commission voted Friday to approve nearly $5 million in subsidies for rail and dock infrastructure tied to controversial coal export and oil-by-rail projects.

PORTLAND -- Three oil trains roll through the city each week en route to a shipping terminal down the Columbia River near Clatskanie, Oregon.

If one of them were to derail, Portland firefighters say they're not equipped for a major spill, fire, or explosion along the lines of last year's Lac-Megantic explosion in Quebec, Canada.

Portland Fire and Rescue Lt. Dave Keller says the city's fire department could only adequately respond to a smaller-scale derailment -- maybe one car leaking fuel or one car on fire.

5 Safety Concerns With Shipping Oil By Water

Aug 1, 2014

While many Northwest communities are focused on the safety risks of shipping crude oil by rail, a new report raises safety concerns about another shipping method: oil by water.

Across the country, more and more domestically produced oil is being shipped by barges and tankers as pipelines fill up to capacity. The report, by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, concludes: "This rather sudden shift in transportation patterns raises concerns about the safety and efficiency of oil tankers and barges."

KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

Three tanker cars in an oil train from North Dakota derailed at a rail yard in Seattle early Thursday, but BNSF Railway says none of the oil spilled.

Can A 'Bigger Hammer' Stop Oil Refinery Accidents?

Jul 8, 2014

Ross Reynolds talks with Dave Fehling, energy and environment reporter for StateImpact Texas, an NPR reporting project, about oil refinery accidents and what happens when they're criminally prosecuted.

EarthFix Photo/Tony Schick

Curtis Rookaird thinks BNSF Railway fired him because he took the time to test his train’s brakes.

The rail yard in Blaine, Washington, was on heightened security that day, he remembers, because of the 2010 Winter Olympics underway just across border in Vancouver, B.C.

KUOW/John Ryan photo

In the months following a deadly refinery explosion in Anacortes, Washington, in April 2010, federal investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board were ready to issue urgent safety recommendations. But management at the agency blocked the release of their urgent alert.

Flickr Photo/Russ Allison Loar

The Northwest’s two main freight rail operators are complying with a federal requirement to inform states about the North Dakota crude oil they’re hauling, but they want the states to keep the public from finding out by signing non-disclosure agreements.

BNSF Railway said Friday it will comply with Saturday's federal deadline to provide states with information about the frequency and routes of oil trains from North Dakota and Montana.

For seven years, Central Oregon has been without a state hazardous materials team.

It means that in the event of an oil train spill in Deschutes County, the closest team assigned to the area comes from Salem, roughly two and half to three hours away.

Chemical Safety Board

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is calling for 60 improvements in the design, operation and regulation of the Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes and of refineries nationwide.

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