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Pipeline Priorities 

By BART HAGGIN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & y father was an excellent welder; he could weld overhead with either electric arc or acetylene. It's one of the reasons he was able to help build an oil refinery during World War II in the Hillyard district of North Spokane. He not only welded endless amounts of pipe of all kinds, but at the same time he also helped build the storage tanks that are still being used today, more than 60 years later.





The Washington Chief oil refinery is gone now. My father is gone, too, but some of the storage tanks remain. They now sit on a Superfund site that is part of the land where the refinery stood. The Washington Chief oil refinery was built in that location primarily because it almost touched the main line of the Great Northern Railway -- where my father worked his other eight-hour shift during the war. The crude was brought in by tank car, probably from the Montana Powder River oil field, just like the diesel is brought into the railroad refueling depot in Rathdrum Prairie today.





Because the storage tanks were in this area, the first oil pipeline came to this location when it was built in the early 1950s. Known as the Yellowstone Pipeline, it came from Billings and terminated in Moses Lake. This antique pipeline is still in use and goes under the Spokane River and over the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie aquifer.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s the leaders of the community look at the risks to the aquifer, are they taking into account these pipelines? The Yellowstone Pipeline runs across Native American land in Montana. Between 1986-92, there were a series of seven "leaks" -- the worst one spilled about 10,000 gallons of jet fuel into Camas Creek on the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.





Pipelines are regulated by the state, but the problem arises, as it did in Montana, when the leak is small. The 10,000-gallon spill in Montana took place with a small leak over a period of 45 days. (Keep in mind that the fuel flows at about four miles per hour, and 64,000 barrels a day can come from the Yellowstone.) The corporate officers have apologized profusely and spent more than $1 million in stream restoration to compensate for the devastation, but the book is, apparently, closed.





The Tribes refused to renew the pipeline's right-of-way in 1995, and it's not hard to see why. Now the various fuels are loaded into tank cars in Missoula and transported to Thompson Falls, a distance of about 70 miles, where they are put back in the pipeline for the rest of the journey.





The pipeline corporation (owned jointly by ConocoPhillips, Unocal and ExxonMobil) has tried to go around the Tribes' land to no avail. Their preferred route was turned down by the U.S. Forest Service after the company spent more than $5 million to see if it would work.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he real hazard to pipelines is that someone will tear into them with a backhoe or other digging device because they didn't check with the proper authorities before digging. That kind of accident over the aquifer is a clear and present danger.





The railroad refueling depot on Rathdrum Prairie that was so vigorously protested seems to pose a much smaller risk to the aquifer than the pipelines' locations. So it's strange that the regulators and the concerned population are not more interested in the pipeline threat.





Yogi Berra reportedly once said that it is hard to make predictions, especially about the future. Still, I think there should be a high degree of confidence that a pipeline oil spill will happen out there somewhere, sometime.





Hurricane Katrina taught the nation that the supply of imported oil can be disrupted by more than just geological and geopolitical considerations. Pipelines are a fragile factor in the delivery system, as we have seen around the world and even in Montana. And we are well aware of the tanker problems that have had disastrous ecological effects on the environment of the world. Still 75 percent of all the oil in the world is used for transportation. Pipelines, railroads, trucks and tanker ships can deliver the oil but with varying degrees of success.





It should be obvious that the world and our region are far too dependent on that one ingredient -- and all the costs aren't at the end of the supply line. By now, we should be asking ourselves about the total costs for failure of the pipelines and the oil tankers that can contaminate the natural world. At some point, it isn't going to be the cost of oil that will limit its use. It will just no longer be worth the losses.





Bart Haggin is a Spokane resident and former candidate for Congress in the 5th District.??

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