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MT Conservation Groups Travel to WA to Oppose Oil Trains

Montana conservationists are testifying in Spokane, Wash., tonight to protest a proposed oil terminal there that could send eight oil trains a day through Montana. (vladislav danilin/shutterstock)
Montana conservationists are testifying in Spokane, Wash., tonight to protest a proposed oil terminal there that could send eight oil trains a day through Montana. (vladislav danilin/shutterstock)
January 14, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. - A coalition of Montana conservationists are traveling to Washington State today to speak out against a proposed oil terminal that could send 12 million additional gallons of Bakken crude oil from Eastern Montana to the West Coast per day.

The group will testify tonight at a public hearing in Spokane on the environmental impacts of the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal, which, if built, would be the largest oil terminal in North America.

John Woodland, who recently retired as fire chief in the town of Superior, says the 1.3 mile long trains would be carrying the same kind of highly volatile, explosive oil that killed 47 people after a derailment in Quebec in 2013.

"None of the smaller communities that these trains are going to travel through are prepared to handle a major spill or explosion," says Woodland. "Our tracks through Mineral County, particularly, with our steep narrow valleys, are frequently subject to derailments."

The draft environmental impact statement does not include emergency response plans for Montana communities. It assumes the trains will travel the Hi-Line route but does not preclude them from taking the southern route through many of Montana's population centers. Congress recently lifted the oil export ban, so much of the crude could be destined for foreign markets.

The oil boom has created a number of jobs in eastern Montana, but Kate French, chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council, says that's outweighed by the possibility of a rail disaster that could take lives, devastate communities and spark forest fires.

"If we are really going to take on all the risks associated with transporting that much more crude oil, the economic benefits for Montanans seem pretty minimal in comparison to the costs we'd be having to pay," says French.

The hearing is being held by the Washington State Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council which will make a recommendation to that state's governor on whether to approve the oil terminal.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT