We can’t let Big Oil silence local voices

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

If you’re not concerned about Big Oil throwing money hand over fist at normally mundane local elections — sliding more than half a million dollars toward Port of Vancouver Commission candidate Kris Greene and even urging backers to filter a few bucks into Washougal mayoral candidate Dan Coursey’s campaign coffers — it’s time to wake up to one of the biggest threats facing Southwest Washington and our own Columbia River Gorge.

The money going toward politicians serves only one purpose: ensuring that the proposed Tesoro-Savage Vancouver Energy oil terminal project doesn’t hit any more hiccups at the local level.

If approved, the Vancouver Energy project would create the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal and bring trains carrying 360,000 barrels of highly explosive Bakken crude oil through the Columbia River Gorge, and through Camas-Washougal, every day.

Local opposition to the oil terminal has been fierce. Several governments, including the mayors and city councils in Vancouver, Portland and Washougal, have come out against the project. Indigenous tribal leaders are fighting it. Firefighters and first responders have worried about being able to contain and properly respond to a massive oil explosion. And environmental leaders have long warned that the project could cause a catastrophe in the Columbia River Gorge.

Those worries, by the way, are based on some very frightening realities.

According to a 2015 report by The Center for Investigative Journalism’s Reveal media outlet, the oil coming out of the Bakken formations, which run from Saskatchewan, Canada to South Dakota, is even more dangerous than previously assumed — claiming one life every six weeks at the Bakken oil wells. Reveal reporters said the number of deaths is likely even higher, given that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t include fatalities related to independent contractors working in the Bakken oil reserve.

Just as horrifying is what has happened to people living along the rail lines that transport this extremely explosive crude oil. On July 6, 2013, a 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, a town in Quebec, Canada. The resulting explosion and fire killed 47 people and destroyed half of the town’s downtown buildings. In the days following the rail disaster — the deadliest non-passenger train event in Canadian history — all but three of Lac-Mégantic‘s downtown buildings had to be destroyed, thanks to widespread petroleum contamination.

The oil terminal opponents’ repeated warnings are not based on hysteria. The worst-case scenario has already happened in Canada. We can look to Lac-Mégantic to see the horrors associated with transporting this crude oil. Investigative journalists have told us that this crude oil regularly explodes at its source, killing workers in the Bakken oil fields.

Washington State environmental reports related to the Vancouver Energy project don’t talk about “if” a train derailment happens, but “when” it happens. This summer, we all saw exactly how fast a fire can strangle our beloved Columbia River Gorge. Now add petroleum contamination to that scenario.

We know this isn’t “fake news” or some fantasy in the minds of environmental activists.

We all have been warned over and over again.

Are those 174 long-term jobs at the Vancouver Energy oil terminal really worth such an enormous risk?

The oil company executives, who stand to gain many millions of dollars from this project, are trying to silence local opposition. They are trying to buy our local elections.

Now is the time to rise up and tell them no, by voting for candidates who have not accepted oil money and who will not feel the need to put the oil companies’ needs over the health and safety of their constituents.