Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Tag: petroleum


Quebec oil train disaster must not be repeated here

Black tank cars full of crude oil sit at the Tacoma train yard June 20. The cars comes from the same North Dakota source as the ones that exploded July 6 in Quebec. (Staff file photo)
Black tank cars full of crude oil sit at the Tacoma train yard June 20. The cars comes from the same North Dakota source as the ones that exploded July 6 in Quebec. (Staff file photo)

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Even a minimal risk becomes a serious risk if multiplied enough. The improbable — but catastrophic — explosion of tank cars in Quebec should have us thinking about the oil trains headed for our corner of the continent.

The crude oil that flattened a section of Lac-Megantic and killed dozens of its citizens July 6 had come from North Dakota, where new drilling technology has turned the Bakken geologic formation into a Persian Gulf-scale bonanza of petroleum.

New pipeline construction hasn’t caught up with that bonanza, so North Dakota’s oil industry has been shipping out immense quantities of crude on long trains.

The Port of Tacoma saw its first such “rolling pipeline” from North Dakota last November. Oil trains with be pulling into Tacoma and other Washington cities with increasing frequency, and the potential size of this black tide is staggering.

The Sightline Institute, an environmentalist research group, recently did a survey of the places where petroleum companies are moving to expand petroleum capacity in this state. In addition to Tacoma, those destinations include terminals and refineries in Vancouver, Hoquiam, Anacortes and Ferndale.

The group estimates that Tacoma could see an average of a train a day when current oil-by-rail plans are completed; it estimates that Vancouver could see an average of 10 a day with a large new crude oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

Emphasis on “could” — environmentalists have been known to overstate their cases. But even if Sightline is highballing the numbers, there’s no question a whole lot more tank cars will be rolling this way in the next few years. This on top of a potential surge of long Montana coal trains that threaten to bisect cities in Western Washington.
Read more »


A small rate cut reflects a big trend in natural gas

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Washingtonians are in for some good news on their natural gas bills – just in time for cold weather.

On Thursday, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission cut the gas bills of roughly 2 million people. Puget Sound Energy’s customers, for example, will pay 7.1 percent less – slicing $6 dollars off an $85.50 monthly bill.

The reason: The wholesale price of natural gas has been falling. Although it has risen since last spring, when it hit a historical low, it is still very low. (Fine print: The unit price is the “therm.” A therm was running between $4.50 to $5 last fall; in April, it hit $1.60; it’s now around $3.10.)

A 7.1 percent drop is something short of a bonanza. The better news is that it’s part of a long-term trend that promises to curb natural gas prices for years.

Part of the same trend was Tuesday’s startling prediction by the Associated Press: America may soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer.

The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that the United States will produce a record 11.4 million gallons of hydrocarbons (including biofuels) a day in 2013. Saudi Arabia pumps 11.6 million barrels a day. One forecast has the United States hitting at least 13 million barrels by 2020.
Read more »


Canadian oil: Pipe to Texas beats tankers in the Strait

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline: Be careful what you wish for.

Environmentalists have been furiously fighting the plan to pipe Canadian crude oil across the Great Plains from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The political firestorm has gotten so hot that the Obama administration recently punted the decision to the far side of the presidential election.

Northwesterners ought to be aware of a potential consequence of the project’s failure: That same tar sands oil could wind up getting piped west to Vancouver, B.C. – there to be shipped on supertankers through our very own and very vulnerable Strait of Juan de Fuca. China could then nail down long-term contracts for the Canadian petroleum.

A Houston energy company, Kinder Morgan, would love to do just that if TransCanada Corp. doesn’t get U.S. permission to take the oil south. It already runs a pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver; expanding the line’s capacity would be a tough but doable job.

It is wishful thinking to suppose that Canada wouldn’t be able to bring the petroleum to market if the U.S. route is blocked.

Demand for oil is rising, especially in Asia, and prices are expected to rise, too. Petroleum continues to be a crucial foundation of all industrial economies.
Read more »


Connect the dots: Iranian nukes and American cars

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The ayatollahs lost the last shreds of plausible deniability Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency documented Iran’s drive for nuclear missiles in damning detail.

Nuclear weapons in the hands of this extremist, unstable theocracy would be uniquely dangerous. Iran’s foreign policy consists of intimidating its Arab neighbors, spreading its revolutionary Shiite dogma, sponsoring terror attacks and destroying the state of Israel – which is capable of mounting a catastrophic nuclear pre-emptive strike.

This threat has a foundation deeper than Shiite radicalism. Follow the oil.

Without the intense global thirst for petroleum, Iran’s theocracy might have been gone the way of Moammar Gadhafi long ago.

The theocracy is funded chiefly by Iran’s oil sales. It uses that money to subsidize food and energy, and otherwise keep the Iranian people dependent on government largess.

Oil revenue pays for Iran’s military and for its “peaceful” nuclear program. And the ayatollahs use petroleum to insulate themselves against outside pressure.
Read more »