Oil-by-rail terminal proposed for Washington state

SEATTLE — U.S. Development Group is seeking permits to build an oil terminal on the Washington coast that could handle about 45,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

The $80 million proposal at the Port of Grays Harbor is one of several in Washington that together would bring millions of barrels of oil by train from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana.

The increase in oil shipments by rail have raised concerns about public safety, the potential for oil spills and the ability of local communities to respond to accidents.

About 17 million barrels of oil were shipped across Washington state last year — mostly to refineries in Anacortes and Cherry Point near Bellingham. That number is expected to triple this year, according to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chaired a congressional hearing Wednesday on oil shipments by train.

“We need to have the right policies in place to prevent accidents and respond to emergencies when they do happen,” Murray said at the hearing.

Since the boom in oil production began in 2008, there have been at least four major accidents involving trains carrying crude from the Bakken region. In July, a train derailed, killing 47 people and torching a large section of downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Charla Skaggs, a spokeswoman for U.S. Development, said the company has a proven safety record and is committed to safety on the project at Grays Harbor.

The Texas-based U.S. Development has developed over a dozen bulk liquid facilities in the U.S., and “they have an exemplary safety record,” Skaggs said. “They’ve operated very safe facilities for years, and that’s their commitment at Grays Harbor.”

The Grays Harbor Rail Terminal project would bring about one unit train to the facility every two days. A unit train typically has 120 rail cars and each car can hold about 28,000 gallons.

The company filed permit applications Monday with the city of Hoquiam, Skaggs said. The state Department of Ecology and the city are expected to begin an environmental review process.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the Quinault Indian Nation, which is worried about the impacts of oil shipment and storage. “We’re talking about a third project with massive increases of crude oil coming in by rail and all those risks.”

She said oil would be stored in a fragile shoreline area, and billions of barrels of oil would travel through the Grays Harbor estuary, a thriving area for tribal and commercial fishing.

The Grays Harbor Rail Terminal is the third such proposed at the Port of Grays Harbor.

Two separate projects proposed in Grays Harbor by Westway Terminal Company and Imperium Renewables this month began the first steps of an environmental review. The Quinault tribe and local environmental groups successfully challenged permits there were initially issued to those projects last year.

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