Congress recently passed a bill to lift an export ban on domestically produced crude oil. While this is good news for oil producers, it’s not good for Sandpoint and other North Idaho communities.

Opening up new markets to domestic oil means more volatile Bakken crude sloshing through Sandpoint on mile-long oil tanker trains. An increase in those trains is assured if a slew of proposed oil terminal projects are built along the Washington Coast, as well.

As Rebecca Ponzio, campaign director for the Stand Up to Oil campaign, told the Seattle Times, "Lifting the crude-oil export ban is a huge giveaway to the oil industry-one that puts our health, safety, communities and economy at risk."

The largest of the proposed West Coast terminals is the Tesoro-Savage, or Vancouver Energy, terminal project in Vancouver, Wash. That terminal could handle up to 360,000 barrels of oil a day, making it the largest oil terminal in the United States, if constructed.

That would amount to four to five additional full oil trains a day rumbling alongside the Kootenai River, coming through downtown Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint, crossing the Long Bridge and Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer enroute to Washington.

The project is subject to an environmental review by the state of Washington. A 10-member committee-the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has been appointed to make recommendations to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on whether to approve the massive oil terminal. The council has been listening to testimony at three hearings around the state and receiving comments from citizens in the region. Inslee has the final say.

Concern is rife over the potential for a "pipeline on rails" through North Idaho, Spokane and down the Columbia River to the ocean. These are among the chief concerns:

  •  The potential for derailments. The draft environmental impact statement predicts the derailment of a loaded oil train once every two years between Sandpoint and Vancouver, but a recent news article in The Spokesman-Review highlights weaknesses in the study, including a conflict of interest: the consultants formerly worked for BNSF Railway and currently have BNSF as a client.
  • Rail delays and transportation problems. The proposal would have "major cumulative impacts to transportation" in the Pacific Northwest, according to the DEIS, and local officials have repeatedly expressed concerns about increased coal and oil trains blocking traffic and emergency responders.
  • Impacts on climate change. The hearing comes on the heels of the U.N. climate talks, where targets were established to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The amount of CO2 that would be released from oil handled by Tesoro-Savage would be roughly 54 million metric tons a year-that’s 0.1% of annual greenhouse gas emissions globally.