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VIEW: Why the Northwest should worry about Quebec's deadly blast

One hopes the grim news from Quebec is not a preview for the Northwest.

Early Saturday morning an oil train in the province derailed causing an explosion with deadly results. The death toll is currently five, with 40 people still unaccounted for.

Moving oil by rail has become an increasingly common over the last couple of years, and the Northwest is poised to become a major centre of oil-by-rail shipments.

As the Seattle-based Sightline Institute documented in its recent report, The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails, oil trains are already arriving several times a week at three locations in the region, while eight other sites are planning to build facilities to enable oil-by-rail deliveries.

If all of the projects were built and operated at capacity, they would move more than 720,000 barrels of crude oil per day on the Northwest's rail system. Sightline estimates that would require more than 10 loaded oil trains per day, roughly 72 per week, and nearly 3,800 each year.

Media outlets are reporting the train in Quebec was carrying crude oil from North Dakota, which is almost certainly the same Bakken Formation oil destined for Northwest refineries and port terminals. The cause of the explosion is not yet clear, but most coverage suggests that the train had been parked for the night and was without a driver when it began moving.

Sightline's report calculates oil train volumes for each of the 11 sites where oil-by-rail infrastructure is planned or already operating:

Eric de Place is Policy Director for the Sightline Institute in Seattle.

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