Coal and Oil

Row of tank wagons - black and white


The Powder River Basin in Eastern Montana and Wyoming holds billions of tons of coal owned or leased by Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and others. These companies push for huge new coastal terminals to be built near Bellingham and Longview to handle increasing shipments primarily bound for China. These projects, if approved, will add over 8,000 coal trains per year on Washington State’s rail system and coal would be hauled on BNSF Railway right through downtown Spokane. Those who live along the rail lines that would carry the coal through Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington share valid concerns about their effect on hidden costs to health, safety, the environment and pocketbook.

Railroad engines burn diesel and documented health effects of diesel emissions near busy rail yards include chronic heart disease, lung disease, and asthma. The very young and elderly are most affected and cancer is also a risk. In addition, the rail industry says 500 pounds or more of coal dust per car is lost in transit. That can destabilize rail beds, contributing to derailments.

The Lands Council is part of a large, region-wide Power Past Coal Coalition working to stop proposed coal facilities in Washington and Oregon. Six were originally on the table, now two in Washington State are left and the one in Oregon is not likely to succeed. The work we have done in Eastern WA has contributed to the ongoing demise of coal exports, which has been a massive action by thousands of activist in the Northwest.


When fracking of the Bakken oil shales – mostly in North Dakota – became common, it had to go somewhere and the Northwest is an oil transport hotspot. Tar Sands oil from Canada also enter Washington State.

Both Bakken and tar sands oil are volatile. Since the Bakken oil explosions in Lac Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013, eleven more trains have exploded and a few of those derailments have spilled into rivers like the Mississippi and the Kalamazoo Rivers. Spokane’s downtown, the Spokane River, and outlying communities like Cheney and Spokane Valley are at risk for a derailment and explosions with more than 25 loaded oil trains per day by 2020, if all the proposed oil facilities are built. Even with these dangers, there are plenty of proposals: two in Vancouver, one in Port Westward, Oregon, and three in Gray’s Harbor, plus the 5 existing refineries in Puget Sound – only the Shell refinery in Anacortes does not receive oil by rail yet. The larger Spokane area could become a fossil fuel by rail funnel and we get all the rail traffic for the facilities.

The Lands Council is part of a larger region-wide coalition called Stand Up to Oil. All across the Northwest we are fueling change to stop these proposals. We have forced NuStar Energy in Vancouver and Shell Refinery in Anacortes to do an Environmental Impact Statement, for example. One step at a time, we stand up to oil using education, action, and dedication. The Lands Council is the major group in Eastern Washington working on this issue.

For both coal and oil questions or comments, please contact Laura Ackerman at or (509) 209-2404.

Read Laura’s latest newsletter here:

The City of Spokane has taken a stand on coal trains coming through Spokane. In a press release they highlighted potential disaster for Spokane;

“Here in Spokane, an accident just like the one in Mosier could cripple the entire region. Nearly half a million people rely on the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer for their daily drinking water. Our aquifer is one of the shallowest and fastest-moving bodies of groundwater in North America. Even a relatively small oil spill like the one in Mosier could spread throughout the aquifer in a matter of hours, compromising dozens of wells and leaving thousands without drinking water. In addition to spills, an explosion or oil fire would be devastating anywhere in our downtown corridor.”

Read more about The City of Spokane’s resolution here.

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