Almost all of the gas burned in every car and pickup in Washington and Oregon comes from one of five refineries in Washington. The refineries need about 676,000 barrels of crude each day to keep our vehicles and lives moving.
WHO could have imagined the day when “big business” would long for the days of aggressive journalism? Nowadays, people get their news everywhere, not just from the region’s big newspapers but from friends on social media, activist blogs, and fundraising appeals disguised as “urgent alerts.”
Advocacy groups issue problematic “studies,” and elected officials spout off the craziest assertions that are widely transmitted as if they are facts.
So it goes with the controversy of the Pacific Northwest’s journey toward becoming the “world’s biggest energy export center.” One report shows that we are on our way to have more than 100 oil-carrying trains per week rumbling through Washington.
When most people are concerned about climate change and support is moving away from carbon-based energy and fuels as quickly as possible, it is understandable that oil exploration and transportation are issues.
But an inconvenient truth, as former Vice President Al Gore liked to say, is that private and public sectors depend on crude oil.
Almost all of the gasoline burned in every car and pickup in Washington and Oregon comes from one of five refineries in Washington. Almost all of the jet fuel consumed in aircraft departing Sea-Tac is sourced from these refineries. The same with diesel used by buses, trucks, locomotives and farm vehicles, as well as the heating oil used to warm thousands of homes, mostly in rural areas of the state where electricity is expensive and natural gas is unavailable.
Even that grill on your deck is cooking with propane produced at one of Washington’s refineries.
Diesel-powered locomotives also transport 15 percent of Boeing parts, tons of grain from Eastern Washington and elsewhere, wind-generator equipment, chlorine for city water supplies, cement, glass, furniture, computers — you name it. Crude fuels the economy.
The refineries need about 676,000 barrels of crude each day to keep our vehicles and lives moving. For decades, most of the crude was delivered from Alaska by tanker. Now, as Alaska’s North Slope production declines to a quarter of its peak rate, some crude is shipped by pipeline and by rail from Canada and North Dakota.
Today, there are four or five crude trains a day to various facilities in Washington and Oregon. Even if the number doubled or tripled, it is still not close to a report predicting 100 weekly crude-oil trains. Congress should assure these trains adhere to the best achievable safety practices as they come online.
The state and federal governments rely on gasoline taxes, the largest source of money, to pay for maintaining and improving highways and roads, city streets, bridges and tunnels.
We can’t shut off the oil spigot without shutting down the economy — and a good part of government. The best way to get off oil is to come up with energy alternatives that are economically and environmentally superior. Change demands innovation and new technology, and policy changes and investment at the state, federal and international levels.
You wouldn’t know by reading the blogs, but industry is investing significantly to improve environmental performance and reduce dependence on crude:
• The West Coast maritime-supply chain has spent more than $5 billion on port-related emission reductions. Air quality in harbors is better than at any time in the past 50 years.
• Railroads and shippers are spending billions of dollars to upgrade tracks, acquire lower-emission locomotives and build safer tank cars.
• The Port of Seattle, made to be a villain in the Alaska oil-drilling-rig saga, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over decades restoring legacy contaminated lands. There is no other public agency that can match the Port of Seattle’s actions to improve the environment.
• TOTE, a cargo-ship operator in the Puget Sound-Alaska trade, is converting its vessels to run on clean-burning liquefied natural gas. Other commercial vessels must burn ultra-low sulfur fuel when they are within 200 miles of our coast.
The path to energy alternatives isn’t in a kayak. It’s in research centers where we are finding ways to commercialize alternatives to crude oil. Why not here in the Pacific Northwest, one of the world’s greatest centers for innovation?
Information in this article, originally published Sept. 13, 2015, was corrected Sept. 15, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 100 oil trains a day might someday pass through Seattle. The study that was referred to had estimated that 100 oil trains a week would crisscross Washington state.