In light of the risks presented in the film, the fight over exporting fossil fuels through the Northwest has made the news twice this week. An air permit that would allow an oil train terminal to double its capacity was approved Tuesday, while a plan to barge coal down the Columbia River to an export terminal was rejected on Monday.
Another important decision will be made Friday: the state’s transportation commission will decide this week whether $2.9 million in lottery dollars will aid the expansion of oil trains through the region.
Safety preparations should happen first, said activists and local leaders including Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury, and the mayors of The Dalles, Albany, Eugene, Milwaukie, Beaverton, and Hood River. There was no word on how Portland city officials weighed in.
The project would add safety improvements to the rail line running through Ranier, Oregon. It would add curbs, reconfigure parking, and add pedestrian crossings. The improvements would allow trains to move through town at 25 mph rather than 10 mph. It would allow for the increase of mile-long oil trains from 24 to 38 a month, the Oregonian reports.
The commission is also planning to fund $4 million worth of dock improvements at Port Westward to allow access to larger ships moving oil and coal. That money would also come from ConnectOregon, funded by lottery proceeds.
The official comment period was closed at the end of July. ODOT received over 8,300 comments in mail and electronic format. Feedback on the decision can be offered to the board through email: but the opportunity to influence the decision has probably already passed. This is my issue with the media: we hear about these decisions after they happen, but the opportunity to weigh in is rarely offered.
Vice’s documentary “Bomb Train” is powerful, and contained footage of the recent accidents I’d never seen before. Amateur footage of the oil trains explosion in Lac-Megantic, Canada begins at 5:00. Equally disturbing is the fact that these shipments were approved by state regulators within weeks of the permit filing— without public notice or input.
Extracted from the Bakken Oil formation in North Dakota, the oil being shipped is extremely flammable and transported in rail cars that have been known to be unsafe for decades. As the film shows, these trains travel through heavily populated areas— especially in downtown Seattle. Portland has oil shipped over its rails, and the image below shows the evacuation zones if a spill or fire occurred.
OPB reported earlier this month that Portland’s Fire Department doesn’t have the capacity to handle a oil train accident. The former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, said the federal government needs to exercise its emergency powers to force immediate oil train rule changes.
David Osborn is a volunteer with Portland Rising Tide, an environmental group fighting to shut down fossil fuel exports. He said if we want to stop contributing to climate change, we must stop these exports.
Providing subsidies to the billion-dollar oil and coal industries doesn’t make sense— especially as state and city officials craft plans to reduce carbon emissions.
There are 20 oil, gas, and coal terminals throught British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Osborn said he appreciates the work done by Vice, but it doesn’t take into consideration all the problems with fossil fuel exports in the region.