A Washington state energy council has recommended that Gov. Jay Inslee reject a permit for a crude-by-rail oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.
A state energy council, in a unanimous Tuesday vote, recommended that Gov. Jay Inslee reject a permit for a major new crude-by-rail oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington.
The action could doom a project that has sought to bring more Bakken Shale crude from North Dakota and Montana to West Coast refineries in a bid that backers say would reduce dependence on foreign oil.
The project has faced fierce resistance, in part because of concerns over derailments and fires from trains that would carry the crude oil. The permitting review that began in 2013 was the longest in Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council history and drew some 250,000 public comments.
Based on the vote, taken during a brief afternoon meeting, a written recommendation will be drafted and sent to Inslee, who will have 60 days to decide whether to accept or reject the council recommendation.
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The Vancouver Energy terminal would service an average four oil trains a day. That petroleum would be loaded onto vessels for delivery to Washington and California refineries.
The terminal is one of a series of high-profile fossil-fuel projects proposed in Washington state in recent years, all of which have faced strong headwinds from environmentalists seeking to block these developments and accelerate a transition to renewable energy.
“We are extremely disappointed, especially after a review of more than four years in a process that state law says should take one year,” said Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for the Vancouver Energy project, in a written statement. The council “has set an impossible standard for new energy facilities … This decision sends a clear anti-development message that will have a chilling effect on business in the state of Washington.”
Environmentalists are looking to Inslee to accept the council’s recommendation and kill the permit.
“Our governor is a champion of addressing climate change and protecting public safety. We trust him to get this right,” said Rebecca Ponzio, director of the Stand Up to Oil campaign, in a written statement.
The plant would sit on more than 47 acres at the Vancouver port along the Columbia River. It would directly employ 176 people and another 440 off site in what proponents say would be a major economic boost to the region.
Even if Inslee decides to approve the permit, the project also is expected to run into big problems at the Port of Vancouver, where the November elections resulted in opponents of the terminal holding two out of the three seats on the Port Commission. The commissioners are expected to take a vote early next year on whether the lease that would allow the terminal should be terminated.
“I think if I changed my position, I would be run out of town,” said Don Orange, who was elected to the commission by a big margin earlier this month in a campaign against an opponent who raised more than $596,000 from terminal proponents. “We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And we are going to stand up to this place.”
The terminal was first proposed during a period of high oil prices and a lack of pipeline capacity to transport Bakken Shale crude to markets. Since then, oil prices have declined and new pipelines have come online to service these fields.
Vancouver Energy officials say their project still can be profitable
“We are still confident in the economics of this project and believe there is still a need,” said Hymas, the spokesman. “We have talked about it as an opportunity to strengthen energy security. It could displace up to 30 percent of the foreign oil that is imported to the West Coast.”
The prospect of 28 additional oil trains traveling through Western states each week helped galvanize opponents.
Derailments and explosions rank among the big concerns, with a series of high-profile derailments and fires during the past half decade underscoring the risks of oil trains. Those included a July 2013 derailment by the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic that killed 47 people and a June 2016 incident on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge that caused no injuries but prompted a partial evacuation of the town of Mosier after four derailed cars caught fire.