Oil shipment opponents meet in wake of Canada disaster

In the wake of the crude-oil train derailment and subsequent fire that destroyed the center of a small town in Quebec last Saturday, opponents of the three proposals to ship crude oil by rail through Grays Harbor met Friday to discuss potential impacts to the area.

The 73-car train carrying about 2.1 million gallons of crude oil sped down a nearly seven-mile-long hill derailing in the town of Megantic, where it caused explosions that killed at least 13 people and left about 50 people missing.

Current Port tenants Westway Terminals and Imperium Renewables have already cleared one hurdle in the permitting process; the State Department of Ecology and the City of Hoquiam determined that steps the companies say they would take to minimize their environmental impacts are enough to avoid an in-depth and costly Environmental Impact Statement. However, they still have work to be done, with a process that will involve at least 26 permits combined.

The Quinault Indian Nation and a coalition composed of Friends of Grays Harbor, the Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Citizens for a Clean Harbor, the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club, have filed appeals over both companies’ projects.

About 40 people attended the informational meeting, held by the Grays Harbor Coalition for Infrastructure at the Furford Gather Center in Aberdeen, and led by speakers Arnie Martin and Arthur “R.D.” Grunbaum of the Friends of Grays Harbor. The coalition describes itself as a “coalition of concerned citizens and area organizations.” Contacts for the group include County Commissioner Frank Gordon and Aberdeen resident David Furford.

The group began with a look at a video of pictures they had taken of the Wynooche rail bridge, showing it rusted and broken in parts with faded paint. They said it was a look at a sample of the infrastructure that may be called upon to help carry the crude-oil trains, some of which can reach up to 143 tons.

Grunbaum said they hadn’t had the chance to look at many other structures throughout the area, but the “suspicion would be they’re probably in the same condition.”

The group looked at an economy possibly threatened by crude oil pollution were an accident like that in Quebec to happen, citing — among other points — the frequency of spills by trains as being nearly three times the number of spills by pipeline. The threat of fire and all the ways one might start on a crude oil train were discussed, the list including lightning, operational errors, equipment failures, cracks and ruptures, leaks and line ruptures, static electricity, open flames, natural disasters and runaway trains like Quebec.

The group also looked at a number of possible impacts on fisheries, tourism, agriculture, real estate values, longevity of natural resources and public health and safety. In one example, they looked at headlines of similar areas where disaster has struck, like that of the fuel leak from the grounded freighter, the New Carissa, in Coos Bay in 1999, which caused a local oyster farm to lose 70 percent of its crop and be threatened with bankruptcy. They showed a map of where the trains would pass from Centralia through Oakville, Elma, Montesano, Central Park, Aberdeen and Hoquiam, adding that the train would cross over 100 creek crossings alone.

“Many of which may be salmon- and fish-bearing,” said Grunbaum. “…Very important to the whole system.”

In addition to a large focus on the possibility of an accident and its effect on sensitive areas through the region, the group also showed maps of where the one-and-a-half mile long train could potentially sit — and block traffic — in the area. One photo showed the train sitting in one place reaching from the Log Pavilion in Aberdeen to the Aberdeen Sewage Plant, another from Harbor Paper all the way to the Anderson & Middleton log yard.

The group covered all sorts of ground, looking at the threat of a major earthquake, with Martin pointing out that a major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone last occurred in January of 1700. He said experts believe they occur every 300 to 500 years, noting we have currently already crossed that time threshold. A major earthquake could cause problems for a traveling train with possible effects like land drops of up to 2 meters, shaking and liquefaction of soil.

The group thought promises of jobs created by the introduction of the crude-by-rail project were overstated. Estimates show an estimated 165 jobs created, a number considered by many to be a very high estimate. However, members of the group pointed to studies showing an oil spill of the Washington Coast could cause the area to lose up to 165,000 jobs.

“So look at the trade-off,” said Martin.

Aside from the train issues, the groups also worry about the storage of nearly 98 million gallons of crude oil. A total of 21 new storage tanks — four at Westway Terminals, nine at Imperium Renewables and an additional eight from U.S. Development — pose a potential threat to Hoquiam High School and Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, among others, in the case of a disaster or other emergency.

The group encouraged citizens to contact elected officials for more information and to insist on a “rigorous” Environmental Impact Statement on the project as a whole and its potential impact to the Grays Harbor area.