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Oil Train Project In Pacific Northwest Dealt Big Blow By Washington Attorney General

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMPSON, FILE
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMPSON, FILE

More than a month of hearings over a proposed oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, Washington came to an end on Friday with the state’s attorney general dealing a significant blow to the project by calling for its denial.

“Protecting the environment and public safety are top priorities of my office, and we considered the evidence presented with the care those priorities demand,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement timed to coincide with the closing arguments of the project’s environmental review. “The bottom line is that the potential benefits of this project are dramatically outweighed by the potential risks and costs of a spill.”

The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has been holding hearings on the construction of the proposed oil-by-rail terminal — dubbed the Tesoro-Savage terminal proposal — for the past five weeks. Witnesses testifying on behalf of Vancouver Energy — the joint venture between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. that is behind the terminal proposal — argued that the project would be a boon for the local economy, bringing in over 100 jobs and more than $100 million in improvements to the port of Vancouver. In pre-written testimony submitted to the council earlier this summer, a consultant working with Tesoro Savage said that even the risks posed by the project, which would create the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country, could yield economic opportunities, arguing that oil spills create temporary jobs for cleanup crews.

“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement identifies many economic impacts arising from an accident associated with Project operations, but fails to recognize economic activity that would be generated by spill response,” Todd Schatzki, vice president of Analysis Group wrote in his testimony. “When a spill occurs, new economic activity occurs to clean-up contaminated areas, remediate affected properties, and supply equipment for cleanup activities. Anecdotal evidence from recent spills suggests that such activity can be potentially large.”

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The Fight Over Oil Trains In The Pacific Northwest Is Heating UpClimate by CREDIT: Brent Foster via AP, File Twenty-one activists were arrested on Saturday while protesting the…thinkprogress.orgWitnesses in opposition to the project spoke of the increase in oil-by-rail traffic that the terminal would bring: some estimates say as much as a five-fold increase in oil trains through the Columbia Gorge. Opponents also highlighted the inherent dangers with oil-by-rail shipments, citing a train derailment outside of the Oregon town of Mosier that occurred earlier this summer and sent some 42,000 gallons of Bakken crude spilling into the town’s soil and wastewater system, as well as into the nearby Columbia River.

In a separate action held while hearings were taking place, the Vancouver City Council unanimously voted to ban new oil refineries and facilities in the city. The ban only applies to facilities that deal with less than 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day, however, and thus would not apply to the Tesoro-Savage project. Nonetheless, the ban was seen by some as a symbolic stand in opposition to the project. Governor Jay Inslee (D) will ultimately have the final say on whether or not the project goes through, and he has publicly derided oil trains in the past, calling for a moratorium on shipments of crude-by-rail until better safety standards can be put in place.

Between 2010 and 2014, shipments of crude oil by rail increased from 1 million barrels annually to nearly 25 million barrels annually. Some figures suggest that the oil train boom might finally be coming to an end, hampered by low oil prices and expanded pipeline capacity. But traffic of oil trains hasn’t slowed much in the Pacific Northwest, which, due to its proximity to the Bakken formation in North Dakota, remains the quickest and most cost-efficient route for oil companies looking to bring their goods to market. For those who oppose oil-by-rail shipments through the Pacific Northwest, projects like the Tesoro-Savage terminal also signals a troubling commitment by the region to developing fossil fuel infrastructure for decades to come.

The Washington EFSEC will now review documents and submitted testimony related to the Tesoro-Savage project, and will release its final recommendation near the end of the year. Gov. Inslee is expected to make a final decision on the project’s fate either late this year or early 2017.