By Garlynn Woodsong | CNA Board Member, SW1, CNA LUTC Chair
In the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, among other locations, new engineering innovations have allowed the use of shale fracking for greater oil and natural gas extraction efficiencies.
All that oil has to find its way to an ocean to get to market, so it’s coming by rail to the oil-to-ship facilities right here in Portland and nearby Columbia River ports.
The exact contents of any given rail car or train is considered classified information for national security reasons, or something along those lines. However, we do know if the more than a dozen oil-by-rail projects currently planned are permitted, they could add a capacity of 858,800 barrels per day – more than the Keystone XL pipeline!
All of this crude oil would move in rail cars on the tracks that run just north of Concordia neighborhood.
There is one, in particular, that is real, that is happening now, and it’s within city limits.
Zenith Energy is performing work, under permits issued in 2014, to expand its capability to transfer oil from trains to boats by expanding its rail car unloading station’s capacity to unload from 12 to 42 cars at once.
According to The Oregonian, federal export data show that Zenith Energy singlehandedly established Oregon’s crude oil export market over the span of the past year. Now it wants to bring Canadian oil through Portland.
This oil train expansion in northwest Portland is an example of how our existing fossil fuel infrastructure can be ramped up without much oversight. It will move higher and higher volumes of volatile petrochemicals on tracks that are within a blast-radius distance of our homes.
Oil won’t be the only fossil fuel on the tracks if other proposed projects are completed. As much as 100 million tons of coal have been proposed to pass through at least six new terminals for export annually.
Even without explosions, pressurized train cars full of mixed petrochemicals are prone to leaking, as they roll mostly unsupervised down the tracks. These leaks can emit noxious liquid, gases and fumes that can travel into adjacent neighborhoods.
Qualitatively, it’s a sure thing that they’re not good for your health. Citizen input could be helpful to city officials deliberating about how far the city should go to regulate the petrochemical export industry within its borders.
Write to your city commissioners if you’re concerned about this issue. Address your letters to 1221 S.W. 4th Ave, Portland, OR 97204. For email addresses, visit PortlandOregon.gov/article/224450.
Let us know – at LandUse@ConcordiaPDX.org – if you’re interested in helping CNA to act on this and related issues.
Garlynn Woodsong lives on 29th Avenue, serves on the CNA board and is an avid bicyclist. He also is a dad who is passionate about the city his son will inherit. He is the planning + development partner with Cascadia Partners LLC, a local urban planning firm. Contact him at LandUse@ConcordiaPDX.org.