Islanders look at impacts of oil trains on Puget Sound

In what has been referred to as the “thin green line” by opponents, Washington, British Columbia and Oregon currently stand between a fossil fuel export to the Orient that could put up to 11 miles of trains on the Pacific Northwest railway system per day.

According to Sightline Institute — a policy research center focused on environmental, social and economic news in the Northwest — at full capacity, that is 785,000 barrels of oil traveling through Washington cities and along the Puget Sound daily filled with tar sands oil from Alberta, Bakken shale oil from North Dakota and coal from Wyoming and Montana.

Bainbridge residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the 10 proposed and already-on-the-way crude oil-by-rail projects in Washington Tuesday, April 8 in a speaking event with state Sen. Christine Rolfes and Sightline policy director Eric De Place.

“Washington has been at the forefront of climate issues, but we are right now in the midst of a transition centered in fossil fuel,” de Place said.

The speaking event is the first step for Bainbridge Island to join other cities in taking a stand against oil-by-rail projects, and follows a resolution made by the Seattle city council in March that called for a statewide moratorium on oil-by-rail shipping.

Similar to resolutions made by Spokane, Bellingham and other Washington cities, the Seattle resolution asks Gov. Jay Inslee to freeze all pending oil-by-rail projects until environmental and safety concerns have been addressed.

Both of these concerns have become a hot topic in the last year.

A steady stream of derailments since last July has resulted in numerous fatalities, extensive ecological damage and devastating fires.

In July, 47 people were killed in Lac Magantic, Quebec when tankers carrying crude from the Bakken shale fields derailed.

A derailment in Aliceville, Ala. caused a wetland fire in November, and the following month, residents in New Brunswick and North Dakota were evacuated due to another two derailments.

As recently as Jan. 20, a derailment near the Schuylkill River in Philidelphia had tankers dangling over a bridge, six of which contained crude oil.

“What we want to do is to encourage and motivate the governor to put a moratorium on any of the exports and imports of oil,” said Erika Shriner of Coal-Free Bainbridge.

“This whole thing is happening so quickly, we’ll wake up one day and we’ll have the Maxim trains and a huge increase in vessels across the Sound,” she said.

According to de Place, three oil-by-rail projects are planned to open at Grays Harbor and wrap around Puget Sound. Public hearings for those projects begin this month.

Also, preliminary hearings have begun for a project located on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Wash.

Other projects planned for Washington will open in Ferndale, Anacortes, Tacoma and Port Westward.

The event, Shriner said, will be an in-depth informational for residents to learn about the possible impact on Puget Sound and the Senate bill sponsored by Rolfes, a Bainbridge Island lawmaker in the 23rd District, to regulate oil trains.

“We want to send a message to the people doing this, we’re not receptive to this,” Shriner said.

“We want to get as many people as we can informed and watching this thing unfold.”

With hearings happening right now and scheduled later this month, de Place said, the time is now for people to get involved in stopping oil shipping in Washington state.

“It’s become really clear that the oil industry wants to make Washington state their playground,” Shriner said.

The event will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 8 at Eagle Harbor Congregational Church. Wine and cheese will be served immediately following.

The engagement is sponsored by Coal-Free Bainbridge, Sustainable Bainbridge, the Sierra Club and Eagle Harbor Congregational Church.

Admission is free, though donations are appreciated.

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