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Know the West

Big Oil down the tubes?

  A Northwest oil consortium's plan to build a 237 mile-long pipeline across Washington has fueled a fiery debate between environmentalists. Will the pipeline eliminate the risk of oil spills in the ocean or will it create a recipe for disaster right in the heart of the Cascade Range?

"It makes more sense to get petroleum off the river and underground," says Paul Koberstein, editor of the Portland-based Cascadia Times. He reports that barge vessels have spilled 3.4 million gallons of oil into Washington waters since 1970.

But other environmentalists say the pipeline is hardly a solution.

"I have a hard time believing that a pipeline proposed by Texaco and ARCO is considered an environmental idea," says Susan Harper of the Cascade Columbia Alliance, an environmental group that lists the barge industry among its financiers. Harper says the real answer is a regional fuel policy that would regulate the barge industry more closely and decrease fuel production.

"We're not big proponents of barging and trucking fuel but two wrongs don't make a right," says Parker Blackman of WashPIRG, the Washington State Public Interest Research Group. He says that although barges spill more often, the spills are generally small and immediately controlled, whereas a pipeline can leak thousands of gallons before being detected. "It's not a question of whether or not there will be a spill, but when and where and how disastrous," says Blackman.

The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, a Washington state board, will host hearings in towns along the pipeline route in the fall. It is expected to give Gov. Gary Locke a recommendation in early 2000.

* Rebecca Clarren