Northwest Oil Terminal Plan Would Mean Jobs — And More Oil Trains Oil companies hope to build the nation's largest oil-by-rail terminal on the Columbia River in Washington. Proponents say it will bring economic growth, but others fear it could mean fiery accidents.
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Northwest Oil Terminal Plan Would Mean Jobs — And More Oil Trains

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Northwest Oil Terminal Plan Would Mean Jobs — And More Oil Trains

Northwest Oil Terminal Plan Would Mean Jobs — And More Oil Trains

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Washington State, oil companies want to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country. It would be on the banks of the Columbia River. It's the most direct rail route from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields to the Pacific Ocean. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Conrad Wilson has more on the conflict between safety concerns and the desire for jobs.

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LINDA GARCIA: There's this route, which...

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Linda Garcia drives along the streets of Vancouver, Wash. It's a suburb of Portland, Ore., which is just across the Columbia River. For almost the last 20 years, she's called this working-class part of town her home.

GARCIA: My neighborhood is my family.

WILSON: But she's concerned about how her neighborhood could change if the nation's largest oil-by-rail terminal gets built at the Port of Vancouver in Southwest Washington. Many of the homes in the neighborhood, along with an elementary school, are less than a mile from where trains filled with crude oil would unload at the port. Right now, about three oil trains pass through the region every day. If the oil terminal gets built, that would more than double.

GARCIA: If there were any type of incident - explosion, over-release of chemicals, spill, earthquake - anything that will cause a safety issue - we're not entirely convinced that our neighborhood will be safe from that.

WILSON: Garcia points to the 2013 oil derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed part of a town. Not far from Garcia's neighborhood, Barry Cain shows off a video rendering of the city of Vancouver's new blockbuster development.

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BARRY CAIN: We did this a few years ago just to give people, you know, the idea of what it is we were proposing.

WILSON: Cain's the developer behind the swanky 32 acre, $1.5 billion mixed-use project right on the Columbia River.

CAIN: We've got a half-mile long park and we'll have great restaurants. It'll be just a beautiful environment.

WILSON: An environment Cain hopes does not include the nation's largest oil-by-rail terminal.

CAIN: We're fighting it because, you know, there's no benefit to us.

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JARED LARRABEE: It's a great benefit to the area.

WILSON: Jared Larrabee is the general manager for the Vancouver Energy Project. It's a joint venture by Tesoro Corporation, an oil company, and Savage Companies, which specializes in supply chain management. Larrabee says the proposed oil terminal will create more than 300 construction jobs in the short term and about 200 additional jobs once it's up and running.

LARRABEE: This is a facility designed from the ground up specifically to handle this and specifically for this type of operation. So what that means is we can design all the state-of-the-art safety features in right from the get-go.

WILSON: Just up river, Chris Hickey lives on three acres with his wife, son and two massive dogs.

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CHRIS HICKEY: We get salmon and steelhead up here in the creek. That's one of the kind of cool things about the house.

WILSON: Hickey says he'd like to see the region's economy grow, so he's all for the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver, even if it means more oil trains.

HICKEY: Well, I worked in Portland for years and so many people work in Portland. And I just - I would love to see more industry here in the Vancouver area. I mean, we need it for jobs.

WILSON: Hickey is certainly walking his talk. He says he doesn't mind that Burlington Northern Santa Fe already runs trains carrying crude oil along the tracks that cut right across his driveway.

HICKEY: No, I don't worry about it.

WILSON: And neither does Burlington Northern. The rail company says it's not only up to the task of delivering more crude oil safely, but is also well-aware of the risks. The state's currently reviewing the oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Several other oil terminals are being considered along the Washington coast. For NPR News, I'm Conrad Wilson in Vancouver, Wash. This is NPR News.

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