Doug Barker — Oil and the Harbor don’t mix


I’m convinced.

This should not be an oil port. It’s a bad idea to let three big tank farms locate on Grays Harbor. The oil jobs aren’t worth the jobs lost or the diminished quality of life when something eventually goes wrong — not even close.

I have been conflicted. The crude-by-rail proposals never felt right to me. But I have a job and lots of others here don’t. Standing in the way of somebody else getting a job left me uncertain. But the scales have tipped. Trains blow up, trains crash, barges and tankers leak, it’s too close to the water, it’s too close to a national wildlife refuge, an earthquake and/or tsunami would make a helluva mess and the single rail line into Grays Harbor doesn’t support the added traffic. I’m sure I’m leaving some reasons out, but that’s enough for me. Short-term and long-term, we’re better off without oil.

There has been a lot of focus on the long, crude oil trains that would arrive here daily. (Explosions tend to get your attention.) But the oil has to leave here, too, on barges and tankers that will navigate the harbor and then the ocean as the oil makes its way to refineries on Puget Sound and along the West Coast.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report released this week said the commercial seafood industry in Washington was responsible for just shy of 61,000 jobs in 2012. A heckuva lot of those are on the Twin Harbors. Crude oil and seafood don’t mix.

I’m skeptical that the physical and bureaucratic infrastructure will protect us from spills and other potential disasters. And once it’s spilled, I’m even more skeptical that the tank farm and railroad companies will make things right.

I don’t feel like most local elected officials are doing enough to watch out for us. When the City of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology determined that two giant tank farms fed daily by a rolling river of oil didn’t warrant an environmental impact statement, it took the pressure of a lawsuit and the state Shoreline Hearings Board, which sometimes has to step in and protect local governments from themselves, to get the EIS process rolling.

The Port of Grays Harbor seems to have the attitude that it is just a bystander, ceding to land use and environmental regulators, its responsibility as a check and balance to seek industry that’s right for the community. It would be nice to hear a resolution from the Port demanding that D-111 tank cars be taken out of service until their dangers are studied, or for Port officials to publicly press for environmental and safety assurances. Instead, it seems to have a we-just-work-here attitude. If the other government bureaucrats say it’s OK, it must be OK.

This is an issue of statewide significance. The oil trains will roll along the Columbia River and much of the oil eventually will be transported by tankers through the strait and into Puget Sound. The state Department of Ecology needs to require an environmental impact statement that considers every risk.

Since the energy crisis of the 1970s it’s been illegal to export U.S. oil, except small amounts that have gone to Canada. The huge Bakken oil deposits in the Midwest have driven U.S. production up dramatically and energy companies that didn’t have a problem with the export ban a few years ago are now looking for new markets and pressing the government to lift the ban. Eventually, that might mean even greater quantities of oil passing through Grays Harbor — and creating refinery jobs in China and elsewhere on the Pacific Rim.

We’ve seen this formula before. The desperation that comes with high unemployment leads us to consider a dubious proposal that might not be welcomed in other communities. Usually it comes from underfunded investors looking for a little corporate welfare to leverage their financing.

This is one time when we should take a minute and think about the trade off. Think about the harbor and the coastline, the trains rumbling through town and the footprint the tank farms will leave. And then turn this opportunity down.

Doug Barker, The Daily World’s editor, can be reached at (360) 537-3923, or by email at dbarker@thedailyworld.com.

 

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