This is part of our “Opposing Viewpoints” series. Check out its counterpoint “Oil Trains in Washington: Bad for Business, Unacceptable Risk.”

In less than a decade, the United States is expected to be energy self-sufficient – no longer dependent on oil and natural gas supplied by often unfriendly foreign countries to keep our economy growing and our people in motion.

Energy independence has enormous implications for the United States for geopolitical relations, energy costs for businesses and consumers, renewed manufacturing and, perhaps most important, stability in our transportation fuel markets.

The energy renaissance we are experiencing is the result of increased domestic production of oil and natural gas in the middle regions of the United States, in places like North Dakota and Texas where directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing have tapped into huge new sources of energy.

Businesses and consumers located on the West Coast are benefiting from the nation’s energy renaissance by increased transport of crude oil in rail cars. Washington State is the gateway for the Midwest’s oil producing regions and Vancouver, Washington is the closest West Coast port to the vast Bakken Shale oil deposits in North Dakota.

Increased production of North American oil is replacing oil we would otherwise have to import, often from governments with little regard for U.S. interests. In 2013, Iraq and Russia accounted for 16 percent or 181,000 barrels per day of crude oil imported to the West Coast. The ongoing upheaval in Iraq and turmoil in Russia and the Ukraine clearly illustrate the problems inherent in relying on these and other foreign oil sources.

Domestic Crude and Growing U.S. Energy Independence 

Between 2011 and 2013, imports of foreign crude oil into the West Coast of the United States fell by nearly eight percent or 33.5 million barrels. Increased transports of crude oil by rail will replace even more of the foreign oil we will need to import in the future.

But to fully realize the benefits of this hopeful new supply of domestic energy, the oil produced in the middle regions of the country must find their way to West Coast refineries. And that means we must ensure the existing infrastructure to transport and receive rail shipments of crude oil is maintained and new infrastructure created where needed.

Refineries up and down the West Coast – from Los Angeles to Anacortes – are receiving increased shipments of crude oil by rail. In California, crude oil shipments by rail have grown significantly and are expected to increase in the future. Refiners and terminal operators there are expanding and updating their facilities to ensure the oil is delivered and handled safely and efficiently.

Five Refineries, 26,000 Related Jobs in Washington State 

The increased production of North American crude oil is important to the State of Washington as well, with its five refineries and 26,000 associated jobs.

At the Port of Vancouver, for example, the proposed Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal will create a modern, state-of-the-art facility to handle up to 360,000 barrels of crude oil by train each day. The crude will be transferred onto double-hulled ships bound for West Coast refineries.

That project will create 250 construction jobs and 120 full-time jobs to operate the facility. The investment of $150 million to $190 million, with annual wages and purchase of support services, lease payments to the Port of Vancouver, and taxes paid to support schools and other local and state services, will make the project a major economic engine.

Of course, safety and environmental protection are crucial and remain a top priority for the petroleum industry. Overwhelmingly, people understand that crude oil can be transported safely by rail.

What it requires is for government, businesses and community interests to work together to ensure the necessary controls are in place.

BNSF, the railroad over whose Class One rail the crude oil will be delivered, is spending a record $5 billion this year for improvements to the tracks, operations and management of its railway system.

Site of Vancouver (WA) Energy Distribution Terminal

Safety: Lower Speeds, Improved Braking, More Track Inspections 

Specially-equipped trains are already safely making their way through Washington State every day. The petroleum and railway industries are readily complying with standards that have ensured crude oil transport safety nationwide. The Association of American Railroads has partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation to enhance operating practices for moving crude oil by rail. These include lowering speeds, improving braking systems, increasing track inspections, and constantly reevaluating safety response measures.

Next-Gen Tank Cars; Improved Standards on Crude Testing, Loading, Unloading 

For its part, the petroleum industry has voluntarily begun building and implementing next generation tank cars that exceed Federal standards. The industry has also developed a comprehensive, science-based standard for testing, loading, and unloading of crude oil shipments to ensure public safety.

Working Closely With Regulators, Officials 

Any new crude oil infrastructure undergoes intensive public and state regulatory agency scrutiny by the U.S. government and in Washington State, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. This process enables the state to work with all interests to ensure that the appropriate safety and environmental protections are in place.

The petroleum industry actively engages federal, state and local officials to continuously examine and reexamine regulations governing our nation’s railroads and the handling of the many types of hazardous material that move on those rails every day. Close coordination with regulators and railway leaders will help the petroleum industry and safety experts meet a high standard of safety and ensure the responsible and efficient transport of crude oil by rail.

Petroleum Fuel, Products Here For The Long Haul 

It is clear our economy, our state and our nation will depend on petroleum fuel and products for many decades to come. The most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks Washington State as the eighth largest consumer of jet fuel in the country and show that overall it consumes more than 139 million barrels of petroleum in one year.

To meet the demand today, tomorrow, and long into the future, crude oil transport infrastructure must be maintained and modernized on an ongoing basis. Our economy, businesses, and households throughout Washington State stand to benefit from increased domestic energy independence, but only if fuels can make their way to refineries all along the West Coast. Projects like the Vancouver Energy Terminal are designed to meet our demands, but not at the expense of public safety.

With the appropriate safeguards, in place, crude oil transport will become an important asset for our country’s energy independence strategy, provide jobs and other economic benefits for our region, and help enhance the safe operation of oil trains moving through Washington State.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd is President of the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the petroleum industry in five western states – Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona.

* Editor’s Note: This is a guest authored piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Washington Business Alliance. 

The Washington Business Alliance frequently features guest authored content on our blog Catalyst.  If you would like to become a featured guest author, guidelines and information can be found in the post “Contribute To This Blog: Here’s How”.