State officials said Wednesday they are revoking permits for two planned oil-train terminals in Southwest Washington after deciding the projects need more environmental scrutiny.
The state Shorelines Hearings Board issued a letter Wednesday indicating it will invalidate permits for Westway Terminal Co. and Imperium Terminal Services, which want to build oil-shipping terminals at the Port of Grays Harbor that could store up to 1.5 million barrels of crude, primarily from North Dakota.
The city of Hoquiam issued the permits last spring, after determining in conjunction with the state Ecology Department that the proposals posed minimal threat to the environment. The letter called that determination “clearly erroneous,” noting that the city and state officials failed to consider the cumulative environmental impact of having the two terminals running along with a third planned nearby.
The board also noted that the effects of increased train and vessel traffic need to be considered, as does the damage that could be posed by an oil spill or an earthquake.
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The projects are among several “crude by rail” terminals being planned or built in Washington to handle a boom in oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken formation. The oil would arrive by train and be shipped out by barge or tanker.
Rail proponents have argued that shipping oil by train is exceptionally safe, though in Quebec in July an unattended oil train rolled away and derailed in the town of Lac-Mégantic near the Maine border, triggering explosions, the destruction of the town’s center and the deaths of 47 people.
The Quinault Indian Nation, the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and others appealed the Westway and Imperium permits to the board. Wednesday’s letter did not represent an official decision, but was to advise the parties of what the decision will be, wrote Kay Brown, an administrative appeals judge for the board.
Groups opposed to the terminals were pleased.
“We will not let Grays Harbor become an Alberta tar sands and North Dakota oil depot,” Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp said in a release. “Our history and fishing livelihood demand we protect these waters.”
Heidi Happonen, a spokeswoman for Westway, said the company was reviewing the letter and its implications as it awaits the official decision from the board. She said it wasn’t clear how the decision might affect the project timeline. Westway, which already ships methanol from the port, had expected to have the terminal operational by early 2015.
“They’re very interested in pursuing this and continuing to do business there,” she said.
Ecology spokeswoman Linda Kent said the department also was reviewing the letter. Kayla Dunlap, spokeswoman for the Port of Grays Harbor, said the letter would at least give the projects’ proponents something to start thinking about as they await the official decision. Combined, the three projects planned at the port have been expected to create 100 well-paid jobs, plus additional jobs for longshore and rail workers.