VANCOUVER — A huge oil terminal along the Columbia River that would increase train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge and transfer oil to barges and ships at the Port of Vancouver was denied a permit by the council tasked with evaluating the project’s impacts.
The terminal has been a source of concern for Lower Columbia River fishing industry leaders, who fear the consequences of any significant oil spill.
The Washington State Energy Site Evaluation Council, after completing an Environmental Impact Statement on Vancouver Energy’s application to build and operate the rail to marine terminal, found five significant and unavoidable impacts that would occur if the terminal was to be built.
EFSEC staff recommended denying the permit and the Council on Nov. 28 followed that recommendation. That leaves just one more step — the approval or disapproval of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee near the end of this year — before the project is completely dead.
“It has been a long process with voluminous information; probably the longest process in this council’s history — with issues of great significance that have never been faced by this council before,” interim EFSEC Chair Roselyn Marcus said.
With newly-elected members that have opposed the oil terminal to take office in January, the Port of Vancouver is expected to take the additional step of canceling the Port’s lease with Vancouver Energy the first of the year.
The five unavoidable impacts are:
• Socioeconomic impacts to Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood.
• Fire and medical service response delays due to increased rail traffic.
• Increased accidents and deaths in the rail corridor as a result of increased train traffic.
• Potential impacts to the dock and transfer pipeline, which could result in a spill, due to liquefaction of some soils in the event of a large earthquake such as the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
• The impacts from a fire spill, or explosion at the facility.
Vancouver Energy, a joint venture of the Tesoro and Savage companies, had proposed to build a $210 million terminal that would be capable of transferring an average of 360,000 barrels of oil per day from crude oil unit trains barges or ships that would transit the Columbia River and head for refineries along the West Coast. The company promised that it would create more than 300 jobs during construction and hundreds more on-site and off-site jobs during operations.
Operations of the terminal and the resulting shipping could also impact aquatic species, according to the EIS. One way for that to occur is for juvenile salmon and steelhead migrating downstream in the Columbia River could be stranded due to deep-draft vessel wakes. However, those are impacts that could be mitigated by restoring more habitat along the Columbia River.
The study also looked at the risk of crude oil spills by train, during transfer at the facility to barges and ships, finding that the likelihood of a spill somewhere along the supply chain varied widely. EFSEC calculated a spill of nine barrels or less during transfer at the dock had the highest annual probability at 1 in 14. A spill of 50,000 barrels of oil or more while on trains was the least likely to occur, with a probability of 1 in 48,000. Although unlikely, according to the EIS, the risk is severe if these accidents would happen.
“The proposed Tesoro crude-by-rail terminal would send five loaded ‘bomb trains’ down the Columbia River each day. This is flatly unacceptable. The Council’s decision reflects the reality of this danger and the community’s overwhelming opposition to this project,” said Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Governor Inslee has an obvious choice to make: it’s time for Washington to move on from reckless oil train terminals.”
In a statement, Vancouver Energy said it is “extremely disappointed” by the decision.
“EFSEC has set an impossible standard for new energy facilities based on the risk of incidents that the Final Environmental Impact Statement characterizes as extremely unlikely. The FEIS confirmed that construction and normal operation of the facility would have no significant unavoidable impacts that cannot be mitigated,” the statement read.
EFSEC will deliver the recommendation to Gov. Inslee’s office by Dec. 29. The ultimate decision will be his. At the same time, the company will have 20 days to ask for a reconsideration of EFSEC’s ruling.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement is at www.efsec.wa.gov/Tesoro%20Savage/FEIS/FEIS_PAGE.shtml