Sightline’s Eric de Place and Senator Christine Rolfes visit Bainbridge Island to Discuss Oil Trains Slated for Seattle
The Oil on Water Event, Co-sponsored by Coal-Free Bainbridge, Sustainable Bainbridge and Eagle Harbor Congregational Church was standing room only, with more than 100 people in attendance on Tuesday evening, April 9th including Bainbridge Mayor Anne Blair and City Councilman Val Tollefson.
Erika Shriner of Coal-Free Bainbridge started off the evening by giving an overview of some of energy issues we’re facing today and what is slated for the near future. Erika started Coal-Free Bainbridge after being inspired by Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal program, noting that most Bainbridge Islanders don’t realize that 37% of our energy still comes from coal. And, that our coal comes from aptly-named Colstrip, Montana. Erika said Sierra Club’s and other’s efforts, including Governor Jay Inslee, are helping to win the battle against Colstrip. Eric de Place later reiterating that saying he felt the entire coal industry was “on the ropes.”
Next, Eric de Place took the podium and talked about the different types of fossil fuels now in play: fracked oil from North Dakota (aka Bakken shale oil), tar sands oil from Alberta, and natural gas from British Columbia – all with different viscosities, combustibility and environmental hazards. Then Eric dropped a bomb that 17% of the gas in our cars comes from tar sands. I can see where this is going…can’t you? Now, we’ll need to be energy locavores too! Know what is going in your gas tank, home and office. My head is spinning.
Why is Seattle slated to be overrun by oil trains? We, along with California and parts of British Columbia stand between large fossil fuel deposits and “energy-hungery” Asian markets.
Oil trains are basically a “pipeline on rails,” Eric pointed out. The biggest concern is that much of the oil is highly combustible and trains run right through the hearts of towns, including Seattle. The second biggest concern is what an oil spill might do to Puget Sound and surrounding marine life. Oh, and before you relax, oil trains are already here! They started running through Seattle in 2012, two run on the Columbus River and there are already two refineries on Puget Sound. Grays Harbor is a port terminal and sends out oil. Other refineries may turn into terminals as well. Oil companies are planning to increase that number to 11 oil trains a day or basically running as much oil through our area, past stadiums and other densely populated areas as the Keystone pipeline is slated to contain.
What can you do?
- Oppose Grays Harbor expansion
- Work with elected officials to mitigate risks of vessels and trains on Puget Sound and working to prevent refineries from turning into ports.
- Transition the conversation from safety (exploding trains) to climate and environmental concerns.
Next, Rebecca Ponzio from WA Environmental Council spoke. She talked about the lack of transparency there is regarding oil transport. Her talk focused on how we can work to ensure we’ll be able to clean up spills efficiently in the future. She also mentioned the importance of mitigating if not stopping the Grays Harbor project.
Finally, Christine Rolfes spoke about her Oil Transport Safety Bill which did not pass. The rail road is managed by the federal government so it’s hard, if not impossible to do anything other than request more transparency regarding the amount and type of oil being transported through our area. She said she’s going to regroup and focus on transportation issues to see if she can get another bill through congress. Last year 24,000 miles of trains passed through our area, those numbers are expect to increase 10 times over the next couple years, which means traffic in our cities could come to a standstill as we wait for train crossings.
Someone asked her if there were any plans for a carbon tax (there isn’t). Senator Rolfes said the best way to affect change was through initiatives – get your petitions ready! So, that was my takeaway: initiatives.