Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Keep the Oil Export Ban: NW Roundtable on Oil letter to US Senators


     November 30, 2015
     Senator Patty Murray
     Office of Senator Patty Murray
     154 Russell Senate Office Building
     Washington, D.C. 20510

     Senator Ron Wyden
     Office of Senator Ron Wyden
     221 Dirksen Senate Office Building
     Washington, D.C., 20510

Senator Maria Cantwell
Office of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
511 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Jeff Merkley
Office of Senator Jeff Merkley
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Re: Opposition to the Lifting the EPCA Rule Prohibiting the Export of Domestic Crude Oil
Dear Senators Murray, Cantwell, Wyden, and Merkley:
We, as organizational leaders and elected officials, are writing to urge you as members of the United States Senate to stop the House of Representative efforts to lift the 40-year old rule ‘prohibiting the export of crude oil and natural gas produced in the United States’ that was  promulgated  under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA).

Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA)

The crude oil export prohibition (the Ban) was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1975 in response to the oil embargo by Arab OPEC nations against the U.S. for its support of Israel in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.  The primary goal of EPCA is to insulate the U.S. from volatile and unpredictable global crude oil markets. EPCA also strives to:
       Increase energy production and supply
·         Reduce energy demand, provide energy efficiency
·         Give the executive branch additional powers to respond to disruptions in energy supply.
·         Establish and maintain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
·         Establish conservation efforts that are still evolving today – efforts such as the Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations.
Lifting the Ban will have dire environmental and economic consequences for the Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific Northwest has historically benefited economically from the trade of diverse commodities due to its geographic proximity to Pacific Rim nations.  However, in just the past few years the Pacific Northwest is fast becoming the primary export gateway for massive quantities of fossil fuels to Asian markets, because the energy companies are actively expanding the shipping of tar sands oil out of Canada, Bakken shale oil out of North Dakota, and coal of out of Wyoming and Montana to Asia.

Existing Crude Oil Exportation

Our communities are already at risk of excessive fossil fuel transportation to serve existing facilities – especially in light of the limited emergency response capabilities. In addition, on December 30, 2014, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security published a FAQ identifying seven ways in which the oil industry can currently export crude oil and natural gas while the Ban is in place. These seven ways include exports: 1) from Cook Inlet, 2) to Canada for domestic consumption, 3) of minimally processed crude, 4) of certain heavy oil from California, 5) consistent with certain international agreements, 6) consistent with Presidential findings, and 7) of foreign crude oil not co-mingled with domestic crude (e.g., oil from Canada).

This current risk is not theoretical.  A recent analysis of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s data by Friends of the Earth revealed that on 80 occasions between 2010 and 2014 all five Washington refineries used their existing terminals to send 9,805,000 bbls of crude oil outbound.  While the destination of this oil may have been to other domestic ports, it demonstrates the ability of existing refineries, which are already connected to Alberta and Bakken oil fields by either pipeline or rail, to use their facilities to export crude oil.

Likely Crude Oil Terminals in the Pacific Northwest

If the Ban is lifted, the following Sightline Institute table[1] illustrates the likely oil export terminals in the Pacific Northwest.

Current Crude Oil-by-Rail Projects

Burnaby BC
Barrels per Day
Trains per Week
  Chevron Canada
Ferndale, WA

  BP Refinery
  Phillips 66
Anacortes , WA

  Tesoro Refinery
  Shell Refinery
Tacoma, WA

  US Oil & Refining
  Targa Terminals
Hoquiam, WA

  Westway Terminals
  Grays Harbor Rail Terminal
  Imperium Terminals
Longview, WA

  Riverside Refinery
Portland, OR

  Arc Logistics
Clatskanie, OR

  Global Partners
Vancouver WA

  NuStar Energy
  Vancouver Energy

  Already Operating
Total Potential

Significant Risk of Crude Oil Disasters in the Pacific Northwest

Lifting the Ban will result in significant increases of crude oil transport, which will significantly increase the risk of catastrophic oil spills - not only by rail disasters but also marine disasters. Catastrophic train derailments, involving tank cars that individually carry 30,000 gallons each, will devastate not only the Pacific Northwest’s natural environments but also our economies.

To reach the oil terminals in the Pacific Coast, the oil trains of 100+ tanks car travel over 1,400 miles from North Dakota through Montana and Idaho to get to Washington and Oregon.  In Washington State alone, the oil trains threaten 120 rail communities – communities that bear horrific risks but no economic benefits. The Sightline Institute map[2] to the right illustrates the oil train routes and the proposed and existing crude oil terminals.


Coastal communities, such as Anacortes, Grays Harbor, and Longview are under siege.  Three crude oil terminals are proposed for Grays Harbor and two crude‑by‑rail oil terminals (one existing and one proposed) for Anacortes.  Both an oil refinery and a propane-by-rail export terminal are proposed in Longview. These crude oil terminals threaten not only the Pacific Northwest’s sea shores, bays, but also northwest tribal treaty rights and major commercial fishing economies.

A July 2014 Seattle Times article[3] reported, 'A surge in oil trains hauling North Dakota’s energy bonanza is interfering with grain shipments to Pacific Northwest ports, prompting fears of a chronic crisis in which railcars carrying fossil fuels crowd out other products and disrupt exports.’  The same article stated, ‘In testimony to the Surface Transportation Board, the U.S. agency that oversees rail freight, Cargill executive Kevin Thompson on behalf of the National Grain and Feed Association testified that “The sheer gravity, magnitude and scope of rail-service disruptions now being experienced are unprecedented, and have rippled through all sectors of grain-based agriculture.”’

Crude Oil Exports Will Increase the Risk of Marine Disasters

The unacceptable risks of oil spills from increased marine transportation of crude oil will compound the already unacceptable risks of oil spills from trains.  In Washington State, the oil trains follow historic railroad routes along the shores of the Columbia River, the Chehalis River and the Puget Sound.

The likelihood of more marine vessels carrying these harmful substances will significantly increase the greater risk of marine catastrophes like the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster[1] in Prince William Sound.  Of the two groups of killer whales that swam through the affected parts of the Prince William Sound, one suffered population losses up to 41 percent in the year after the disaster, according to a 2008 study[2], and the other is destined for extinction.  While several thousand sea otters perished because of the spill, sea otter populations[3] have only now recovered to pre-spill levels, the U.S. Geological Survey recently announced. The herring population[4] — once a lucrative catch for the fishing industry in the region — crashed and has never fully recovered.

A major oil spill in the Puget Sound, along one of our magnificent rivers, or on our Pacific coast will destroy economically vital waterways and will harm endangered salmon and orcas— environments and animals that federal and state governments have spent countless millions of dollars to protect and restore over the past several decades.

On a different level, the cumulative impacts from chronic oil and fuel spills associated with fueling, increased accident risks involving smaller marine vessels, will also lead to major disruptions of irreplaceable marine ecosystems.  More crude oil moving both inbound and outbound through our marine waters will increase the frequency and cumulative impacts of these events.

Concluding Statements

Lifting the EPCA ban on crude oil exports further enables an economy built around the production, transportation, and consumption of fossil fuels—precisely the opposite of the measures required to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change.  Currently the Pacific Northwest leads the transition to a clean and renewable energy policy.  Lifting the Ban, in contrast, will allow large energy companies to transform our magnificent Pacific Northwest into a major industrial hub that supports our nation's unwise dependence on fossil fuel. 
As organizational leaders and elected officials, we ask you as members of the United States Senate to preserve the EPCA rule ‘prohibiting the export of crude oil and natural gas produced in the United States’ that was  promulgated  under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA).

In the Pacific Northwest, maintaining the EPCA ban safeguards our economy, our environment, and our communities.

Note: The Solidarity Roundtable on Oil, a coalition of leaders and elected officials, in conjunction with the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, organized this letter.  Please respond to this letter via the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters at 1069 Adams Street, SE, Olympia, WA 98501 or wscff@wscff.org.


Eric Labrant, Commissioner Elect
Port of Vancouver

E.J. Zita, Ph.D., Commissioner
Port of Olympia, District 3
Chair, Thurston County Agriculture Committee

Kent Wright, President
Northwest Farmers Union

Cager Clabaugh, Representative
ILWU Local 4, Vancouver, WA

Ahmed Gaya
Rising Tide Seattle

Carlo Voli
350 Seattle

Don & Alona Steinke
Sierra Club of SW Washington

Arnie Martin, President
Grays Harbor Audubon

Arthur “RD” Grunbaum, President
Friends of Grays Harbor

Linda Orgel, Treasurer
Friends of Grays Harbor

Diane L. Dick, Representative
Landowners & Citizens for a Safe Community

Laura Ackerman, Oil Policy Director
The Lands Council, Spokane

Terry Hill
Spokane Rising Tide

Ann Winkes, Representative
Protect Skagit, Skagit County

Tom Glade, President
Evergreen Islands, Anacortes


[1] "Crude oil shipments planned for Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, and the Columbia River,"
Eric de Place, “The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails”, July 2015. 
[2] 'The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails', Eric de Place, June 24, 2013, Sightline Institute.
[3] 'Oil trains crowd out grain shipments to NW ports,' Angel Gonzalez, The Seattle Times, July 26, 2014.
[4] 'Exxon Valdez 25th Anniversary: 5 Facts About the Historic Spill', Megan Gannon, March 24, 2014
[5] C. O. Matkin, et.al., “Ongoing population-level impacts on killer whales Orcinus orca following the ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska”, Marine Ecology Progress Series, March 18, 2008.
[6] Andrea Thompson, “Sea Otters Rebound from Exxon Valdez Disaster”, Planet Earth, March 03, 2014.
[7] Sean Cockerham, ‘25 years later, oil spilled from Exxon Valdez still clings to lives, Alaska habitat’,
Alaska Dispatch News, March 21, 2014.

 h/t Dan Leahy!!

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