Feb 17, 2015 - Massive Trainloads of Tar Sands Crude Reach the Northwest by Matt Remle

While National attention, and activism, has focused on the ongoing debate over the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands crude from Canada has quietly began making its presence felt in the Pacific Northwest.

According to Union Pacific, between seven to ten mile-long trains carrying tar sands crude move through the Northwest states every month. Trainloads can carry up to a million gallons of oil. The so-called ‘unit trains’ originate at the tar sands in Alberta, move through Idaho and Washington and towards refineries in Western Washington, Oregon and California.

The mile-long trains carrying tar sands crude began coming through the Northwest in late November, according to Union Pacific, but Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and Washington’s Department of Ecology, who would regulate and coordinate any spills from the trains, were not notified until late January and early February.

The tar sands mile-long trains join an already traffic heavy rail line that includes oil trains carrying Bakken crude from the Bakken shale oil fields and coal trains from the Powder River region.

Northwest tribes and environmentalist have raised concern over the oil and coal trains in regards to public safety and environmental protection. Rail lines cross more than a hundred watersheds in Oregon and over more than a thousand water bodies in Washington. Tribes have expressed concern over impacts to salmon habitat and disruption to traditional fishing grounds.

Since the summer of 2014, activists have taken to direct action efforts to draw attention to the coal and oil trains.

Demonstrators occupy rail line in downtown Seattle 2014.

Demonstrators occupy rail line near Anacortes refinery north of Seattle. 2014

Oil companies have proposed building additional refineries along the Washington and Oregon coasts and coal companies have proposed building the countries largest export terminal on Lummi Nation lands in Northwest Washington state.

Last Real Indians