Effort to Stop Bakken Oil Trains

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Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 1:26 pm  //  John Servais

Large Great Blue Heron colony near March Point is threatened by oil train expansions. Photo with permission of Lance Ekhart Photography.

Some Whatcom County environmental folks want to help our neighbors in Skagit County fight the expansion of rail traffic to the Shell refinery near Anacortes.  Due to early action on the part of Skagit citizens, the huge refinery complex on March Point has been forced into an environmental review of its proposed rail yards.  This is similar to the expansion that was allowed without any EIS at Whatcom County refineries.  

On this coming Wednesday evening, Oct 28, at 7:30 p.m. group organizer, Claudia DeWees, will host a meeting and slideshow at the RE Sources community room on the corner of Broadway and Meridian. All are welcome.  In the words of the group's notice, "Fact sheets and comment cards will be provided. You can make a comment on the spot. Public comments submitted during the scoping process will widen the investigation of this threat but there is not much time. The comment process ends Nov. 5th."

The Washington Department of Ecology is taking comments on the environmental review up to November 5.

The concern is not only the increased train traffic but also the destruction of the Padilla Bay area if one of these 110-car trains derails and either spills oil into the bay, or even worse, explodes as have other Bakken oil trains.  The largest heron colony in Washington state is located 619 feet from the railroad tracks, on March Point.  An explosion would wipe it out.  There are also sensitive shellfish grounds in Padilla Bay which could be wiped out from even an oil spill.  Shell plans to bring 5 or 6 trains a week over the Padilla Bay causeway and past the heron colony. 

The oil industry, the railroad industry and the federal government have all shown themselves to be very slow at making safety improvements while very good at pointing the finger to each other and even their investors in railroad tank cars as being responsible for derailments, oil spills and explosions.  Thus, the serious concern of citizens and the effort to push the Department of Ecology into either prohibiting the rail yard expansion or imposing serious and effective safeguards.  

For the past several decades, most crude oil has not come by rail.  With the development of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through fracking, there is a push to bring this oil across the mountains and up the coast to Skagit and Whatcom county refineries.  



David Camp  //  Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 7:08 pm

Pipelines are safer than trains to transport oil. However, the Bakken is a short play - too short to justify a pipeline UNLESS there is a longer play hooked in with it. This is why the Keystone XL makes economic sense - it combines short play Bakken oil with long play tar sands oil, spreading costs out over a longer period and thus yielding a better payback.

However, isn’t rail preferable to ship, which is how the rest of the oil arrives at Anacortes? A spill at sea is both larger and more catastrophic than a spill of a car or two on land. Of course an explosion like in Megantic was more catastrophic again but I think this is what we’re talking about - mitigating explosion risk to the max, because unless we radically change our oil-burning ways as Americans, the demand will continue, and the trains are inevitable. I repeat, inevitable, since a pipeline is not economic.

Sad reality. We have to quit burning oil but how do we get there?

John Servais  //  Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 8:45 pm

Wow, David.  Perhaps a slightly different perspective might have value here.  The issue is not whether we should transport oil - as your comment suggests the issue is. It is not a question of us being responsible for transport disasters because we use oil.  Rather the issue is how to transport oil so as not to cause destruction and death along the shipping route.  Whether by ship, pipe or train the issue is the same.  So the question then becomes - can oil be transported safely?  And the answer seems to be yes - but it cuts into the profits of the mega multi national corporations and so it is not done. 

Can we transport safely?  Yes.  And so we have the efforts of the Skagit folks.  The railroads - BNSF in this case - do not want to run a totally safe railroad.  Cost benefit advantage is not with running a railroad safely.  Costs of fines and cleanup are obviously less than building and maintaining a safe rail transport system.  How can we conclude that?  Because if safety provided a lower cost system then the railroads would go that way.  Really. They don’t want to hurt anyone or destroy Padilla Bay for the next hundred years.  But their fines for doing so are much less than building a safe rail route, having shorter trains than 110 tank cars, and less than switching to really safe tank cars. We can go on.  There is slower trains, better track maintenance, better maintenance of the tank cars, shorter hours for the engineers, more pay for the engineers, more automatic rail safety devices, etc. 

Yes, we can ship oil so as to not endanger Padilla Bay, to not risk driving the herons from their nesting trees, to not pollute our streams and not endanger our towns.  But the railroads - BNSF - does not want to do that because it cuts into profits. And it sure seems like our state and federal agencies are most reluctant to make them run their railroads in a safe manner.  We can think that because of the poor record of train safety since the 1840s right up to today.  Railroads write the railroad laws in this country. 

Safety, David.  Safe transportation of dangerous cargoes. It can be done.  And that is the issue.

David Camp  //  Sun, Oct 25, 2015, 3:54 pm

Actually John the real issue is how long we can continue to burn the stuff and pretend it’s not harming the living systems of the planet. Being concerned about transport safety of oil and ignoring the bigger issue is rather like an alcoholic agonizing over a indigestion while ignoring his drink-caused cirrhosis of the liver.

John Servais  //  Sun, Oct 25, 2015, 5:17 pm

The issue of this post revolves around the meeting on Wednesday and the concerns about oil trains coming into the Shell refinery at March Point in Skagit County. 

David, I can take you up a step and tell you that oil is only one issue harming the planet and people.  We can get pretty metaphysical in a few more comments.  But this modest gathering on this coming Wednesday evening is not to discuss the future of clean energy.  Such lofty concepts are nice.  These folks just want to preserve the heron colony until the day the oil trains are no longer needed and no longer a threat to the heron colony.  Oh, and no longer a threat to Padilla Bay, the towns in Skagit County and the people living there. 

Reminds me of when I was in college and minoring in philosophy.  It suddenly all became so absurd.  So I switched the minor to geology.  Wacking hard rock was so much more based on reality than advanced concepts of ethics.  We can get pretty far out there theorizing when all we need to do is take out the garbage.  Lets have safe oil trains for as long or short a time as they are running.

Doug Karlberg  //  Sun, Oct 25, 2015, 8:19 pm

John, and guests. I have one suggestion, but I do not have time for te meetings. Maybe one of you can mention this, if someone has not already caught it.

The rail bridge over the Swinomish slough is decrepit. When the train crosses it block most boat traffic over the slough. In the last ten years or so, after the train passes it has jammed, and long boat traffic blockages result. Workers with iron bars literally have to come a jimmy the bridge loose.

When I have been delayed I have a had the opportunity to survey the bridge in great detail, and this bridge, in my less than expert judgement is very old, and long past its safe useful life.

John Servais  //  Sun, Oct 25, 2015, 8:49 pm

Doug, your experience is practical and of value.  In writing this post I almost mentioned the bridge because it has appeared to me to be an ancient relic.  It would be interesting to have state or federal inspectors go on the record as to the fitness of this bridge.  Me thinks they will be reluctant to declare it in fit shape for 110 car oil trains.  Your suggestion is spot on, imo.

Scary fact is the bridge is being used now for Bakken oil trains servicing the Tesoro refinery, neighboring the Shell refinery on the north end of March Point.  Of our 4 refineries in two counties, three are already fully outfitted with new special tracks and yards for off loading the Bakken oil.  Our state Department of Ecology has quietly allowed them to do as they pleased without studies of any substance.  The Shell refinery is our last chance to bring out the safety issues on these new oil trains.

Effort to Stop Bakken Oil Trains

Sat, Oct 24, 2015, 1:26 pm  //  John Servais

Whatcom group plans meeting workshop to submit comments to Washington Dept of Ecology against Skagit/Bakken oil trains.

6 comments; last on Oct 26, 2015

Coal Ship Collisions Study Is Released

Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 4:04 pm  //  John Servais

One part of the environmental study for the proposed Cherry Point mega coal terminal has been completed and released. It deals with ship collisions - they call it…

2 comments; last on Dec 22, 2014

Reliable Prosperity

Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 2:13 pm  //  Guest writer

Sandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.

5 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014

Manifest Clandestine-y

Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 4:04 am  //  Guest writer

Guest writer Sandy Robson breaks the story of officials from Washington treated to a coal-promoting junket to Wyoming.

2 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014

Sins of Omission

Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 8:01 pm  //  Guest writer

In the Weekly, Tim Johnson left out three words in quoting Craig Cole - and his story misleads readers. Guest article by Sandy Robson.

11 comments; last on Jul 01, 2014

Herald and Weekly Withhold the News

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 10:39 am  //  John Servais

Wyoming Senators and coal honchos were in Whatcom County June 10 - to hold a news conference with select reporters.

7 comments; last on Jun 20, 2014

The Road to Perdition

Sat, May 31, 2014, 11:39 pm  //  Guest writer

A Venn diagram where coal, the Endangered Species Act, Republicans, and Wyoming’s Board of Education collide.

2 comments; last on Jun 02, 2014

Feint, Calumny, Solidarity

Wed, May 28, 2014, 2:15 pm  //  Guest writer

A perspective by guest writer Ellen Murphy reflects on the Whatcom Watch and the threatened law suit by Craig Cole.

22 comments; last on Jun 01, 2014

Montana & Wyoming to WA: Permit Coal Export Terminals… Or Else

Wed, May 21, 2014, 11:10 pm  //  Guest writer

Wyoming is ready to try and legally force us to limit our environmental scoping for the Cherry Point coal terminal

4 comments; last on Jun 17, 2014

An Imminent Threat

Fri, May 09, 2014, 5:10 am  //  Terry Wechsler

Why Washington must step in and assume lead agency status in Skagit County for the Shell crude by rail proposal.

6 comments; last on Jun 21, 2014

“Friends and Neighbors”?

Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 12:59 pm  //  Terry Wechsler

A closer look at Whatcom County's industrial "stewards of the environment."

4 comments; last on Aug 28, 2014

Killer Industrial Jobs or Long-term Job Killers?

Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 11:52 am  //  Terry Wechsler

Why commenting on the EIS for Comp Plan revisions for Cherry Point means demanding an EIS in the first place.

5 comments; last on Jun 25, 2014

County Hires GPT Permit Lead as Senior Planner

Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 9:51 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley digs into an unusual hiring decision at the County Planning Dept

1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2014

Whatcom Watch Editor Resigns

Sun, Mar 02, 2014, 2:22 pm  //  John Servais

The editor of the Whatcom Watch, Richard Jehn, has resigned effective today. Chalk up a victory for Craig Cole and Pacific International Terminals.

8 comments; last on Mar 05, 2014

Relevant Documents to Libel Threat

Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 8:29 pm  //  John Servais

The full text of Craig Cole's threatening letter of libel against the Whatcom Watch. And the emptiness of the threat.

16 comments; last on Mar 20, 2014

Craig Cole Threatens Libel Suit

Wed, Feb 19, 2014, 4:48 pm  //  John Servais

Craig Cole, the local contact for the proposed Cherry Point coal port has threatened the Whatcom Watch with a libel lawsuit.

6 comments; last on Mar 20, 2014

How the Coal Industry Funneled $40,000 into Whatcom

Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 5:40 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley uncovers how the Coal Industry is funding conservative candidates in Whatcom County

11 comments; last on Oct 03, 2013

Safeguard the Southfork

Thu, May 30, 2013, 11:01 pm  //  Guest writer

Jeffrey Margolis urges us to request the Nooksack South Fork Valley be included in the Coal Port environmental study.

3 comments; last on Jun 02, 2013

Coal Trains and Unhealthy Air - Any Connection?

Sun, May 05, 2013, 2:45 pm  //  John Servais

Help fund a scientific study looking for links between diesel locomotives, coal trains and unhealthy air.


EIS Scoping Period for GPT is Closed

Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 6:19 pm  //  Wendy Harris

Links to a few noteworthy GPT scoping comments .

1 comments; last on Jan 23, 2013

Video of Mudslide Derailing Train Monday

Wed, Dec 19, 2012, 11:12 am  //  John Servais

A dramatic video of yet another mudslide near Everett - and what will be coming down on coal trains. Amtrak service to Bellingham is shut down.

4 comments; last on Dec 20, 2012

Coal Ship Wrecks Vancouver Terminal

Sat, Dec 08, 2012, 1:43 pm  //  John Servais

A giant coal freighter went right through the long dock early Friday morning. Nothing in print edition of Herald

3 comments; last on Dec 11, 2012

Lummi Nation Opposes Coal Terminal

Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 8:53 am  //  John Servais

Bellingham Business Journal breaking story - Lummi's to hold meeting today at noon to speak against the Cherry Point project.

7 comments; last on Nov 04, 2012

The Political Junkie interviews “Power Past Coal”

Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 8:00 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley sits down with Matt Petryni with Power Past Coal to get the latest scoop


Coal Free Bellingham: Point Proven?

Thu, Aug 09, 2012, 8:30 pm  //  Larry Horowitz

Questions raised by the Superior Court's barring of the Bellingham Community Bill of Rights initiative from being placed on the ballot.

21 comments; last on Aug 17, 2012

BNSF Shoreline Improvements for the Proposed Gateway Pacific Coal Port

Sun, Jul 15, 2012, 12:54 am  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein we see the Railroad walking it's walk while we get ready to talk our talk.

1 comments; last on Jul 16, 2012

Planning Commissioner Mocks Environmental Concern For Coal Terminal

Sun, Jan 15, 2012, 12:06 am  //  Wendy Harris

Planning Commissioner Onkels should recuse himself from review of environmental impacts at GPT.

3 comments; last on Feb 08, 2012

The Cole Train: Loads of BS

Sun, Dec 04, 2011, 5:53 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein the sooty prospect of economic necessity rears its ugly head

2 comments; last on Dec 05, 2011

Update on Cherry Point Buffer Mitigation Proposal

Fri, Dec 02, 2011, 2:08 pm  //  Wendy Harris

Planning Staff's recommended revision will not prevent SSA from reducing wetland buffers.


County Proposal Includes New Cherry Point Buffer Mitigation Requirements

Tue, Nov 22, 2011, 10:29 pm  //  Wendy Harris

The County's new mitigation proposal is unlikely to be adequate for Cherry Point's industrial impacts to habitat buffers

3 comments; last on Nov 24, 2011

Cameras, not coal, decided the election

Sat, Nov 19, 2011, 9:24 pm  //  Paul deArmond

Looking at the numbers for the Bellingham elections

11 comments; last on Nov 22, 2011

Bad Idea, Wrong Place, and Wrong Time

Mon, Oct 31, 2011, 3:07 pm  //  Guest writer

Bob Ferris of Re-Sources takes a values based perspective on our community and a possible coal port.

9 comments; last on Nov 02, 2011

From the Political Junkie: Why is Dan Pike talking about Coal Trains?

Thu, Sep 08, 2011, 9:37 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Look at the title, it spells it out.

6 comments; last on Sep 12, 2011

“Coal on a Roll” - in depth from onearth.org

Thu, Sep 01, 2011, 2:46 pm  //  John Servais

George Black is comprehensive on the Powder River coal basin, BNSF, and the shipping of coal from Cherry Point and Longview.

6 comments; last on Sep 07, 2011

SSA already started construction at Cherry Point

Fri, Jul 29, 2011, 10:11 am  //  John Servais

The Gateway Pacific coal port appears to be under construction now - secretly and w/o permits.

36 comments; last on Aug 05, 2011

The Cole Train: Tell it to the Herring

Mon, Jun 20, 2011, 10:42 am  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein something smells a bit fishy

2 comments; last on Jul 29, 2011

On the Take - Coal Port advocates

Wed, Jun 08, 2011, 1:09 pm  //  John Servais

Who all is on the take? Who all has not been up front about being on the take for the Coal Port?

4 comments; last on Jun 12, 2011

Running blog on Coal Port

Fri, Jun 03, 2011, 11:56 am  //  John Servais

A running update of links and info on the Coal Port and Trains of proposed Gateway Pacific at Cherry Point.

15 comments; last on Jun 29, 2011

Dave Warren plays the martyr

Thu, Jun 02, 2011, 6:45 pm  //  John Servais

The public meeting to hear opinions about the coal port last night saw local union leader Dave Warren playing games.

3 comments; last on Jun 05, 2011

Flash mob for coal meeting

Wed, Jun 01, 2011, 4:32 pm  //  Guest writer

Guest writer Mark Flanders' call to action for June 1 flash mob at coal port meeting

7 comments; last on Jun 09, 2011

The Cole Train: First Salvo

Mon, May 30, 2011, 10:40 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein blackened hearts and minds are initially examined

6 comments; last on Jun 02, 2011

Cross-County Coal Train is Coming

Fri, Mar 25, 2011, 4:00 am  //  John Servais

Coal trains will probably pass Lynden on their way from Sumas to Cherry Point, after coming across on the Canadian rail roads.

16 comments; last on Aug 14, 2011


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