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Keystone Pipeline's Rejection Could Mean More NW Oil Trains

November 12, 2015

President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline last week because of environmental concerns, but the decision may not be enough to keep Canada’s controversial tar-sand oil locked in the ground.

In the absence of new pipeline construction in the United States and Canada, the oil will likely be shipped by train through Washington and Oregon, according to a report released Thursday by the Sightline Institute, a liberal think tank based in Seattle.

"The oil industry prefers pipelines," said Eric de Place, director of Sightline. "If they can't get those, rail is the industry's next-best alternative."

Washington and Oregon are home to a combined 14 existing and proposed oil terminals, which transfer crude oil from trains to ships. If the proposed terminals are built as planned, the new capacity could spur increased oil extraction in Canada, the report showed, while the resulting fossil fuel consumption would have the same environmental effect as putting 22 million additional cars on the road by 2030.

"We’d be seeing potentially hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, of heavy Canadian crude, coming out of the ground and being burned because of the construction of these terminals," de Place said.

The report says the Northwest is one of the likely destinations for tar-sand crude oil trains because other potential rail routes out of Alberta are too costly.

"In the absence of new pipelines, the [Pacific Northwest] rail terminals would be the sole driver of new growth in the tar-sands," it says.

Oil train traffic has increased dramatically in the region amid an oil boom in the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota. If oil trains replace pipelines as a means of transportation for tar sand oil, an additional eight trains would pass through the region each day, Sightline estimates.

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Tony Schick/OPB

Ken Christensen

Ken Christensen is the EarthFix associate video producer for KCTS 9, the public television station in Seattle. He began his journalism career at Crain’s New York Business, a weekly newspaper covering business and politics in the five boroughs, where he reported breaking news and wrote features on small business. Ken later helped launch the publication’s web video unit as its first producer. He has a master’s degree in journalism from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

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