Crude oil shipments poised to take over Northwest railways

  • Watch the mini-documentary on the controversial oil-by-rail boom by Vice News following Columbia Riverkeeper’s Community Organizer Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky as she tours the Port Westward oil terminal.
  • Watch our short video that puts the Northwest’s oil-by-rail issue in the national spotlight.

    oil train video screen shot-annie2

  • And, please sign our petition today asking Oregon’s and Washington’s Governors to do their part in protecting our communities by opposing proposed oil-by-rail projects. Huffington Post features our video


Photo by Paul K Anderson

Photo by Paul K Anderson


The largest oil-by-rail project in the Northwest is proposed at the Port of Vancouver. In 2013, the Port approved a lease agreement with Tesoro Savage to ship up to a staggering 360,000 barrels of crude oil each day along the Columbia River. The proposed oil terminal would require at least four mile-and-a-half long unit trains per day. For communities along the Columbia River and the rail lines, the consequences of this project would be staggering.

Tesoro Savage now must get approval from Governor Inslee because the quantity of oil proposed is so large. The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (“EFSEC”) will make a recommendation to the Governor about the unprecedented crude-by-rail project. Then, the Governor will make the final decision to deny or approve the terminal.

EFSEC published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIS”) for Tesoro-Savage’s oil terminal on November 24, 2015. EFSEC’s recommendation and the Governor’s decision will be based, in large part, on the DEIS. The DEIS explains the environmental and safety risks of shipping crude oil by rail and vessel through the Columbia.

You can read the draft EIS HERE, the comment period for the DEIS wrapped up on January 22, 2016, with over 2,000 people attending the public hearings and over 289,256 public comments – the largest in the Energy Council’s history.

Riverkeeper and its allies are also working to overturn the Port’s lease. Riverkeeper is currently asking the Washington Supreme Court to decide whether the Port illegally excluded the public from meetings about the oil lease and whether the Port illegally leased public land for an oil terminal without an Environmental Impact Statement disclosing the environmental and human health risks.

Expert Reports:

After noticing obvious flaws in the DEIS, Columbia Riverkeeper and others commissioned national experts to take a closer look. The experts on seismic risk, air quality, spill risk, and rail safety found that the DEIS fails to disclose the oil terminal’s full impacts. The credentials of each expert are included in the reports.

Learn more:

  • Riverkeeper’s fact sheet  on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for Tesoro Savage Project
  • Riverkeeper’s fact sheet on the Tesoro Savage Project
  • Riverkeeper’s overview of the EFSEC process
  • Riverkeeper and partners challenge Port’s closed-door decision on oil lease
  • Riverkeeper and allies EFSEC scoping comments.  Thanks to the excellent legal team at Earthjustice for their work on this.


In 2012, Massachusetts-based oil company Global Partners LP began shipping crude oil from Port Westward near Clatskanie, Oregon. No public hearings or notifications occurred when the then Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery transitioned quietly and quickly from an ethanol facility into a crude oil terminal. Seemingly overnight, mile-long unit trains carrying explosive crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, began traveling through the Columbia River Gorge, Portland, and Columbia County to the shipping terminal at Port Westward. From Port Westward, the crude oil is loaded onto ocean-going barges and shipped through the sensitive Columbia River Estuary—the cradle of salmon habitat in the Columbia River Basin.

In 2013 and 2014 four unit trains of Bakken crude oil exploded in North America. On July 7, 2013, 47 people were killed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, when a unit train of crude oil, identical to those traveling to Port Westward, derailed and exploded. Additional derailments and explosions in Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia of Bakken crude oil trains have raised alarms at local, state and federal levels across the nation. The reality of crude oil train explosions prompted moratorium on new crude oil infrastructure in Albany, New York, where Global Partners operates a Bakken crude oil terminal and a resolution by the Seattle City Council opposing oil train transport through the city.

Watch Voices Against Oil Trains – a three minute video highlighting the threats of oil-by-rail in the Pacific Northwest.

A crude oil spill at Port Westward, or anywhere in the Columbia River Estuary, could devastate the Columbia’s natural and economic resources. Neighboring industries dependent on shipping would be put on hold until the cleanup is complete, farmers near the oil terminal risk crop contamination and rail communities are put at risk each time an explosive train passes through town.

Global’s oil terminal at Port Westward was approved without public involvement. In 2013, Global blatantly violated their permit with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and shipped 6 times more crude oil through their Port Westward terminal. On August 19, 2014 the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved a new air pollution permit allowing Global to massively expand their oil terminal. This disappointing and dangerous permit allows Global to expand to 36 times more their current permitted amount and bring 50 unit trains of explosive crude oil through the Northwest. Global is ill prepared for an oil spill at their Port Westward terminal and residents along the rail lines are put at risk each time a unit train of explosive crude oil passes.

Learn more:

Get Involved

Contact Dan Serres, Riverkeeper’s Conservation Director, at dan@columbiariverkeeper.org with any questions or comments related to any of Northwest oil-by-rail proposals OR if you’d like to get involved.