TACOMA, Wash. -- An oil boom in the Midwest is laying the tracks for a major transportation hub in Washington. Crude is coming here by rail, pipeline and barge, and state agencies have a hard time keeping up with the pace.
Activists have been worried about what proposed coal terminals would do to rail traffic in Washington state, but little attention has been paid to plans to transport.
Washington State Ecology officials have been planning to publish a map showing increasing oil maps across the state. The problem is the new proposals are popping up so quickly they have to keep updating it. Crude oil is already rolling down rail lines through Tacoma and Seattle and more is on the way.
"All of a sudden, it's just coming on strong," said Dale Jensen, the Department of Ecology's Spills Program Manager.
He said they were all concentrating on the coal train issue when they were surprised to see plans to double pipelines, put oil barges on the Columbia River and start sending long train loads of crude down Washington State Rails.
Jensen said oil companies are pulling so much oil out of the ground in North Dakota and other states east of the Rockies, they have to move it out and Washington state has the ports and refineries they need.
BP, Phillips 66, Tesoro and others have submitted plans to use rails and barges to get the crude to west coast refineries. The state has had limited transport of other refined fuels, but Jensen is concerned what an accident involving crude could to our state's rivers, creeks, ocean bays and Puget Sound.
Rail traffic is already busy. Adding coal and oil to the mix will take it up several notches. More ships are already moving Canadian oil through the Salish Sea and now there are plans to move barges full of crude through the dangerous Columbia River and Grays Harbor bars.
Environmental Consultant Fred Felleman warned we are not ready for that kind of increase and need to get more spill prevention and response equipment in place.
Port officials have expressed confidence they can move the crude safely and the projects will create hundreds of new jobs.