Northwest Tribes Band Together to Stop Oil-by-Rail

There’s no such thing as a good place for an oil-train derailment, but this year’s June 3 spill outside Mosier, Oregon, could have been worse if the 16 oil cars had derailed and caught fire even a few hundred feet in either direction. The derailment was just far enough away from populated areas, including a nearby school and mobile home park, that no injuries resulted, and the amount of oil that spilled into the river was limited. If it had happened another mile-and-a-half down the tracks, the damaged tank cars would have tumbled directly into the Columbia river during the peak of the spring Chinook salmon run.

“This derailment right along the Columbia River is … a reminder that oil trains mean an ever-present risk of an oil spill into our waterways, threatening fisheries and livelihoods for Quinault Indian Nation members and our neighbors in Grays Harbor,” Quinault Vice President Tyson Johnston said.

There are massive oil train ports planned for Anacortes, Grays Harbor, and Vancouver in Washington state. They have not yet broken ground, but if they ever do get built, the indigenous tribes that need healthy salmon to sustain their communities got a preview of what could go wrong.

The communities that live and fish along the Northwest’s most important waterways have been working to bring these proposals to a screeching halt. “Proposed crude oil terminals in Grays Harbor are a threat to our treaty rights to fish in our usual and accustomed places,” Johnston said. “Our safety, way of life, and economic future is on the line.”

The 96-car train that derailed in Mosier was headed to Tacoma from the Bakken oil fields. Bakken oil train traffic to the West Coast spiked from practically nothing in 2012 to almost 200,000 barrels a day at the start of 2015, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

While production in the Bakken fields is off its late-2014 peak, terminal developers are betting on the long-term prospects of oil pumped from the Bakken region and from…

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