A major oil terminal would bring an additional 28 oil trains per week across Washington and spawn new oil-tanker traffic down the Columbia River, a state study says.
A major oil terminal proposed for Vancouver, Wash., would bring an additional 28 oil trains per week across the state and launch a new era of oil-tanker traffic down the Columbia River, according to a draft state study released Tuesday.
The primary markets for the oil would be Washington, California, Hawaii and Alaska refineries, according to the study by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. But the facility also may handle Canadian oil, opening the door for exporting that crude or, if a federal ban was lifted, sending U.S. crude overseas.
In addition to the risks of oil trains derailing and causing spills or fires, an analysis in the study says an oil spill can be expected once every 20 years from a marine tanker collision or grounding.
The Vancouver Energy terminal — proposed by Tesoro Corp and Savage — would be the largest of its kind in North America, able to handle an average of 360,000 barrels of oil a day.
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A Tesoro spokeswoman on Tuesday said the release of the draft report was “an important milestone for the project” and that company officials are now reviewing the document.
The terminal has been a focal point of controversy since it was first publicly disclosed in 2013. Sometime next year, the state council is expected to submit a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee on whether to approve the proposed terminal. Inslee would then make a decision.
Supporters have backed the terminal as a way to reduce the West Coast reliance on overseas oil while offering a significant economic boost for Vancouver.
But concerns about the risks of oil-train derailments and the idea of launching a new fossil-fuel facility in an era of increasing concerns about climate change have helped galvanize opposition. Opponents include the recently elected Port of Vancouver Commissioner Eric LaBrant, whose campaign was keyed to his concerns about the terminal
Environmental groups also have made the facility a big target as part of a broader campaign to block construction of Northwest fossil-fuel facilities. And, they are looking to Inslee to reject the application.
“The report paints the risks every step along the way to transporting huge amounts of oil,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper based in Portland. “We think this the wrong way to go for clean air and the climate.”
Vancouver Energy officials have stated that the terminal could reduce overall carbon emissions by substituting lighter crude from the Bakken Shale formation centered in North Dakota for heavier oils that are higher in carbon emissions. But the study noted that trains also may deliver bitumen — a heavier crude derived from Canadian oil sands — to the terminal.
Vancouver Energy has worked to address concerns about train derailments leading to explosions by improving the safety of rail cars. In September in Vancouver, they showed off 120 thicker-shelled rail cars with features that exceeded federal Department of Transportation standards.
The draft study recommended that Vancouver Energy should work with rail transporters and state officials to develop evacuation plans for every community of greater than 50 people within a quarter mile of the rail line, and within 1 mile of the proposed project. All residents in these areas should have written instructions in case of an emergency.