OCI-Tracking-Emissisons-Nov-2015-CoverNovember 2015

Sightline Institute and Oil Change International


The states of Washington and Oregon are facing a quadrupling of their crude-by-rail terminal capacity to over a million barrels a day. This report examines the impact that expansion will have on unlocking carbon and thereby exacerbating climate change.

Based on an economic analysis, we predict that the terminals would have high rates of utilization compared to unloading terminals elsewhere, which are often used at a fraction of their full capacity. We estimate that:

  • If all new terminals are built as planned, they would likely achieve utilization rates of around 75%, unloading up to 545,000 barrels per day (545 kbd) of crude.
  • This would entail around eight extra unit trains, each with over 100 tank cars of crude, passing through the PNW per day.
  • The terminals would add between one and three extra vessels per day carrying oil in the PNW’s coastal waters, with the attendant risks. A maximum of around 100 kbd from the new terminals would be destined for the refineries in Puget Sound (in 2020). The remainder would be shipped on, mostly to California.
  • In the absence of new pipelines, the PNW rail terminals would be the sole driver of new growth in the tar sands.
  • They would potentially unlock 154-275 kbd of new bitumen production, and/or up to 215 kbd of new synthetic crude production (by 2030) that would otherwise not be extracted.
  • The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from this would be between 41 and 106 million metric tons/yr of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) – the equivalent of 9-22 million cars.
  • The PNW terminals could lead to a direct production increase by 2018 of up to 114 kbd, compared to what would be produced in the absence of the terminals.
  • The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from this extra production would be up to 30 million metric tons/yr of CO2e – equivalent to 6 million cars.

Our analysis finds that if the proposed rail terminals were built in the PNW, they would add significantly to the carbon extracted and burned, exacerbating climate change. Clearly then, the terminals would fail a climate test. Indeed, permitting these terminals would be permitting dangerous climate change.