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Extended Fuel Shortages Predicted In Quake Risk Study

Colin Fogarty
Northwest News Network

Much of Oregon's population would face extended fuel shortages, natural gas outages and blackouts after a catastrophic earthquake. That according to a seismic risk study re-released by the state.

But there's pushback from the energy companies put under the spotlight.

The Oregon risk assessment looked specifically at the concentration of fuel tank farms, pipelines, marine terminals, and transmission towers along the lower Willamette River on the northwest side of Portland. The study predicts violent shaking, liquefaction and landslides from a magnitude 8 or 9 earthquake would cause pipe breaks, rupture fuel storage tanks, topple transmission towers and destroy berths.

Study co-author Scott Miles, who directs the Resilience Institute at Western Washington University, says the findings and recommendations could apply broadly throughout Cascadia. "Most of our infrastructure is old. It predates our knowledge of how to build to be resilient against earthquakes. So we (all) have that same vulnerability."

The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries published the seismic risk study with minimal fanfare. The report urges companies in the energy sector to "make earthquake mitigation an integral part of their overall business plan."

"Almost all energy companies don't even know their own vulnerabilities," says Miles. "They've never done that kind of seismic vulnerability assessment. You can't do anything if you don't know the problem, so that's the first step for facilities and companies."

Several major utilities acknowledged the seriousness of the earthquake threat, but said they are concerned about incurring liability if they perform their own seismic assessments.

In public testimony to an Oregon Senate panel, the gas utility NW Natural asked to receive statutory immunity for identifying vulnerabilities. At that same meeting in March, Portland General Electric Director of Business Continuity and Emergency Preparedness Dave Ford expressed doubt whether ratepayers would support the cost of quickening the pace of seismic upgrades.

On the Web:

Earthquake Risk Study for Oregon's Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub - DOGAMI 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.