I have always enjoyed visiting new places and, more or less, living life by the seat of my pants, but I’m happy to to stop, breathe and take in the sights… for once.

I drove through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California last month, enroute to Washington after three years in Baton Rouge.

Sometimes when I’m driving, I can feel my heartbeat coming through my t shirt. It is soft and rhythmic. The feeling is unsettling. My own mortality is gently beating under a thin piece of cloth, wrapped in a couple layers of flesh, cruising across state lines at 80 mph as semi trucks and other death mobiles weave in and out of traffic for 3,000 miles.

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Earning it: House painting after college

There is something about painting houses in the summer heat that is so satisfying. Every off-season in between college I savored those long work days working with my dad in Washington state.

In Washington, the summers don’t last long, especially in our location west of the Puget Sound, so when it’s there, we took advantage of it.

I can’t tell you what I like about it, only that the interaction between the painter and the house is Zen-like. From the foggy early mornings with a Thermos full of coffee, stretching from ladder to roof with a roller, to the late afternoon warmth with a pint full of beer at the local watering hole. The the success of the day is measured from a tailgate. The forest-hue of Jade Romanesque slowly overcoming the faded sun-battered Wishing Well Violet. The colors are probably made up by old rich guys in a country club, my dad said. Old Glory Blue, New Lime Yellow, Piñata Red.

The colors are never very bright, despite their names. They come out in a slightly gray tone, shimmering at first, and then blending seemlessly back into the neighborhood. The darker the color, the more sun they attract, the more business we get. It’s in these summer months that about half of our business takes place on three-story homes with gorgeous waterfront views.

In the morning, after we pull into the driveway, the homeowners come down from their bedroom balconies in their bathrobes to meet us. They’ve compared and contrasted the colors with visiting neighbors and now they come to us for advice. Confirmation, really. My dad runs the business. It’s not his job to decide what looks good. But a happy client is a happy client.

“I think the Jade Romanesque would look just lovely with the Night Shade on the trim, don’t you think?”

“I think so!” he will say. He could have been a car salesman if he wasn’t so disheveled looking.

For them, Jade Romanesque has a lasting effect. It is exotic sounding (throw in the Night Shade for the mystery). But for Dad, it’s just another color. At the paint store, Benjamin Moore, no one asks for Jade Romanesque. They ask for number 476. The clerk rings them up.

“Jade Romanesque… haha,” they laugh at it.

I’m aware of the dry paint splattered on my sun-tanned forearms and matted in arm hair as I enjoy the air-conditioning in the paint store. The paint is on my shirt and my shorts and my dirty tennis shoes. The “whites” I’m wearing haven’t been washed in at least four months. Their inner-linings feel like a mixture of oil and sawdust. Washing them is a semi-annual ritual for my dad.

When we leave the paint store, lunch is a roast beef sandwich with a small bag of greasy Lay’s potato chips and an old bottle of Aquafina filled with water from the hose. Going back to work afterward is one of the hardest parts of the day. Hydrate often. Keep moving. When the heat of the sun toasts me like a warm piece of bread I know it’s nearing 4 p.m. Pack it up and leave before 5 p.m.

My dad does this every day. I’ve been on the sites enough to work the job myself. Unravelling rolls of tape along window and door frames and carefully pushing a wet paintbrush into all types of surfaces: wood siding, decks planks, drywall, stucco. Some textures take it better than others. Always go with the grain. Keep the paint fluid and moving.

Most of the house is covered with the paint sprayer, wielded by Dad, or his accomplice, Eric. Once it’s on the walls, the paint has to be rolled or brushed in. Eight or nine hours of brushing and rolling and I can feel it in my wrists, up my arms into my anterior deltoid and mid-shoulders.

But it’s all in a day’s work, and when I’m home the things I worried about in college are so many miles away.

I look at my dad. His hands are demented from arthritis. He’s 53, and even though he doesn’t plan on stopping soon, a lifetime of labor is creeping up on him. His clients are often the same age as him. They’re doctors, lawyers, dentists, real estate agents. Recently retired. White collar. From California.

We smile at them, and though we look friendly, we’re laughing at them. It’s the type of humor you acquire after painting houses all your life and listening to the same requests again and again. It comes from driving the same tired pickup to and from work every day; wearing the same distressed, unwashed jumpsuit every day; eating the same lunch every day; brushing the paint onto the house in the same painful stroke every day.

It is not how summer is envisioned. It is often miserable, but it’s a prideful sort of misery that a son and a father can share. It’s the pride of the working class. Maybe this is why I put faith in socialism. After all the years I spent in college, I just can’t see myself in that bathrobe, on that balcony, looking over the palette of colors. For all the sweat, back ache,s and sore arms, the satisfaction of work well done is privy to those who toiled over it.

What’s bringing Bakken’s black gold to the PNW?

Oil production in the U.S. has come back in a big way, which means all five refineries in Washington are increasing their capacity to meet the persistent demand of global oil consumption.

In 2013, the U.S. consumed an average of 18.89 million barrels of petroleum products each day, slightly more than the year before (18.49 million barrels per day), according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Crude oil production in the U.S. continued to surge, from 5 million barrels per day in 2008, to 7.4 million barrels per day in 2013. It is one of the biggest booms in oil production in the U.S. and its heart lie in North Dakota, a state with a population less than one million.

2013 was a good year for North Dakota, which is now the second largest producer of crude oil in the country. The state produced more than 313 million barrels of crude throughout that year, an average of 858,000 barrels of crude oil per day. As of April, the state produced more than 1 million barrels of oil per day, according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.

The surge in oil production is primarily due to the Bakken Shale formation. The formation is composed of about 24,000 square miles, roughly the size of West Virginia, according to the American Petroleum Institute. It contains an estimated 7 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil and is a part of the Williston Basin, an area that encompasses about 150,000 square miles of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. A couple hundred miles due southwest lies the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, home to the eight largest coal mines in the U.S. and the potential starting point for the debated Gateway Pacific Terminal facility at Cherry Point.

But for a state with only one oil refinery, energy production more than triples the state’s energy consumption, which is why oil companies across the country are craving a bigger slice of the Bakken pie. Companies in Washington are no exception.

The only issue is that, by comparison, the states east of the Rockies are teeming with oil pipelines, terminals, refineries and power plants, while the Pacific Northwest remains relatively undeveloped.

“There is a lot more expansive infrastructure east of the Rockies, where the West Coast is an oil island and not connected with the rest of the country,” said Frank Holmes, director of the Northwest region and marine issues at the Western States Petroleum Association. “It has an isolated market, if you will.”

With no pipeline to carry the crude and such a large distance to cross, how will the crude get to Washington?

The answer: Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF).

Developing the industry

Eighteen crude-by-rail terminals have been built in the Bakken oil fields, some of which are already bound for Washington. Even so, industry leaders, such as British Petroleum, Tesoro, Phillips 66 and Shell are preparing to expand.

Some of the Washington refineries have already developed crude-by-rail facilities. Other facilities are in the works, according to a report by the Washington Department of Ecology. Each crude-by-rail train can carry about 100 railcars.

The most recent crude-by-rail upgrade was the completion of British Petroleum’s facility last December, which can now receive one train per day. A couple miles south, the Phillips 66 refinery in Ferndale, is also on its way to upgrading a crude-by-rail facility that can accommodate one train per day as well. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year, according to a Phillips 66 spokesperson.

Another crude-by-rail upgrade was in 2012 at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington. The refinery can receive one train per day has already begun taking on the Bakken imports. The other Anacortes refinery, operated by Shell, has proposed crude-by-rail upgrades that can take on two trains per day and is in the environmental review process.

The U.S. Oil refinery in Tacoma, which processes the least amount of crude is expected to begin an upgrade that could bring 15 trains per month at the end of 2014. (Other crude-by-rail facilities in Washington have been proposed as well, including a Tesoro-Savage terminal in Vancouver that could take up to eight train loads per day. If approved, the existing and proposed crude-by-rail facilities could take on a total of about 22 full trains per day.)

Those five refineries are capable of turning 631,700 barrels of crude oil per day into petroleum products, according to the EIA. Their location along the Puget Sound provides tanker transportation up and down the West Coast, as far North as Alaska and as far West as Honolulu.

The closest refinery to the Puget Sound is in Great Falls, Montana, about 500 miles away. The second nearest refinery is in California’s Bay Area.

Unlike Montana and California, Washington is not an oil producing state. The Evergreen State’s refineries are a result of the rise and decline of oil markets around the world, Holmes said.

“Initially, the [Washington] refineries were built to refine Canadian crudes,” Holmes said. “All through the ‘60s and ‘70s that was the crude oil source.”

Much of the crude oil in Washington has arrived from long distance routes, travelling several hundred miles from the oil sands in east Alberta along the TransMountain Pipeline; from the TransAlaskan Pipeline and across the Gulf of Alaska; from countries in the Middle East and South America, across the ocean in barges. The Bakken crude, however, travels from a more direct route.

“There are no pipelines infrastructure-wise to bring that crude oil to market,” said Holmes. “That’s why that crude is being put on rails, which is the next best thing.”

Despite this, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent an advisory stating that the Bakken crude may be more flammable than traditional crude. The advisory came after recent derailments carrying the Bakken crude resulted in fiery explosions, including one that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013.

Legislation to increase the safety of the tankers has so far failed. However, Holmes expects regulations on the crude oil shipments take effect after Washington’s 2015 legislative session.

Boomtowns, then and now

In the early days, dense brush, untouched forests and thick bogs made land travel difficult for settlers in northwest Washington. Though the land was ripe with resources, travelling was only effective via boat, especially in Whatcom County. That was before the railroads came in.

“We were looked to as a resource extraction place, and that’s really what the railroad was about: Taking these things, this lumber and coal, and to some degree the fish,” said Whatcom Museum of History and Art historian Jeff Jewel. “The beauty of the west back in the 1880s and 90s, was that little people kind of put it together. Little people, I mean, they’re not giant big corporations.”

In 1887, the eastern connection was established in Washington by the Great Northern Railway Company. The Great Northern Corridor is a rail system spanning almost 3,500 miles and connects Chicago to Vancouver, British Columbia, and has been the Pacific Northwest’s connection to the Midwest now for more than a century.

The various companies in 1800s and early 1900s that pieced the railroad in Whatcom County together have since been absorbed by BNSF. BNSF’s network of railroads connect the Puget Sound to the historic corridor and to North Dakota.

Train traffic in Washington once used to haul goods out, such as lumber, coal and salmon, is now used to haul goods in. Among those goods is the Bakken crude.

Crude oil production in the Bakken has only been a recent phenomenon. Though crude exploration in North Dakota has been ongoing since the early 20th century, production of crude oil did not begin until the 1950s. Only recently has production spiked.

New technology in hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” has increased crude production in new areas, Holmes said. This new technology of extraction forces pressurized liquid into wells, breaking up bits of rock formation underground to create an oil flow. Similarly, using new technology to drill into the oil shale horizontally has also increased in oil extraction. Annual oil production in North Dakota had been hovering around 30 million barrels per year in the early 2000s, according to the EIA. By 2008, that number nearly doubled and has been increasing since.

This past March, North Dakota produced about 30.2 million barrels of crude oil, the largest amount in the state’s history. North Dakota is second only to Texas (which also beat its own record last March with nearly 92 million barrels that month).

Increased production over the last few years has also caused a large increase in crude-by-rail export volumes since spring 2011, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. The organization reported exports of less than 100,000 barrels per day in spring 2011 but more than 800,000 barrels per day at the end of 2013. The East and West coasts have been the primary recipients of these shipments.

The EIA reported that the Bakken shipments to the East Coast, known as PADD 1 (Petroleum Administration Defense District), have resulted in lesser foreign imports. Similar results have been found in the West Coast, known as PADD 5, which contains Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.

‘Oil is now’

Crude oil production in the PADD 5 primarily comes from California and Alaska (which are ranked third and fourth in U.S. production, respectively). According to the EIA, the region’s total crude oil production reached 406.5 million total barrels 2013. Additionally, the region received almost 400 million barrels of crude from outside the U.S. that year, primarily from Canada, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Ecuador.

But now the imports from within the U.S. have started shifting. Since 2008, the same year the Bakken oil production began its exponential increase, imports from the Midwest, and the Bakken oil fields, have seen a slow increase in from about 11.5 million barrels per year to nearly 15 million, according to the EIA. Meanwhile, imports from the Gulf Coast have decreased from about 62 million barrels per year to 51 million. PADD 5’s own production in Alaska has also decreased significantly, Holmes said.

“All oil fields decline over time. We’ve seen a shift from Canada to Alaska, to foreign oils, to the domestic market in the Bakken,” Holmes said. “With the declining product in Alaska, this is a new source in domestic oil production.”

The West Coast oil market’s slogan is similar to an organic farmer’s: Buy local, think global. The crude produced, imported and refined in PADD 5 generally stays within the market, Holmes said. That includes the products made in Washington, which are primarily transportation fuels. Those products are delivered via Olympic Pipeline as far south as Portland, Oregon or on freighters, between the Aleutian Islands, Honolulu and the I-5 Corridor.

The system in place has worked, but the Bakken Boom is forcing its growth in Washington.

“I can see sighting a pipeline, getting all the permits for a pipeline taking at least a decade. Oil is now,” Jewel said. “We’re consumers. We need stuff.”

Washington history: Killer salmon

I’m researching the history of Birch Bay, Wash., when all of the sudden I find this headline:

“1941… A salmon attacks a 12-year-old boy in Birch Bay on July 9, 1941”

So, that happened.

Here’s the rest, according to the Birch Bay Historical Timeline:

On July 9, 1941, a 35-pound Chinook (king) salmon attacks a 12-year-old boy who is fishing for crabs in Birch Bay (Whatcom County). The boy survives the encounter none the worse for wear, but the fish finds itself belly up on the barbeque.

Bold Gladiators

In the early 1940s Birch Bay, located in extreme northwestern Washington, was a popular resort destination, and fish and man in the bay were long since used to each other. So it was a real surprise on July 9, 1941, when a 12-year-old Lynden boy, Walter Richmond, suddenly found himself confronted by an angry king salmon in the waters of Birch Bay.

Young Richmond was walking through the water just offshore, fishing for crabs, when he happened upon two large salmon, one a little larger than the other. He watched expectantly for the fish to swim away. But the bigger one did not. Instead it made a mad rush at the lad, who dropped a sack of crabs he was holding and fought back with a potato fork which he had been using for crabbing. The fish retreated – but not far. Likewise undeterred, Richmond stood his ground.

For a brief moment fish and boy warily eyed each other, two bold gladiators prepared to battle to the death. Then the salmon charged again. This time Richmond struck home with his multi-pronged dagger and dispatched his aquatic opponent. The 35-pound fish was dragged ashore and ingloriously barbecued.

Scrappy Salmon

No one at Birch Bay could remember ever hearing of a salmon attacking a human. Some  speculated that it was trying to protect a mate, but no one really knew what caused it to go off the deep end. Maybe the kid just really freaked the fish out. And like all good fish tales, it grew bigger with each telling. By the time the Lynden Tribune reported the story on its front page the following week, the scrappy salmon was mistakenly reported to have been 35 feet long.