Paloma Ayala photo
OIL TRAIN rolls along a bend at Syncline, between Bingen and Lyle, seen from Highway 14 on Washington side of the Columbia River. A proposed terminal in Vancouver would boost the amount of crude oil bearing trains going through the Gorge every day, according to a report by the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.
As of Friday, November 27, 2015
The oil train issue has rekindled in the Columbia River Gorge.
Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council released an environmental impact review Tuesday for Tesoro-Savage’s proposed terminal in Vancouver, Wash., which considers the impact on congestion, air quality and the risk associated with explosive derailments.
According to EFSEC’s report, the terminal would receive an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day, boosting the number of trains rolling through the Gorge by an estimated 36 per week. On average, four trains would arrive at the facility per day.
Local environmental groups have spoken out against the terminal and plan to protest during the public comment period, which began Tuesday.
“For people in the Gorge, people who like to access the river and care about safety (along the river), these terminal fights are very important,” said Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel.
He listed potential impacts such as congestion from mile-long-trains (which could block emergency responders), a negative effect on Columbia River salmon, and the risk of fiery derailments, citing recent examples — North Dakota in May, as well as Quebec two years ago.
EFSEC wrote in its report that railway workers and neighbors “could be at risk of injury or death” in the event of an explosion at the Vancouver site.
However, the agency specified that the terminal would be obligated to follow local, state and federal rules for disaster prevention. Included were fire suppression equipment, proper electric wiring, and storage tank standards that require “that vapors in the storage tanks be isolated from possible ignition sources to reduce the potential for fire and explosion.”
Since 2013, Tesoro Corporation, an oil company, and Savage Industries, a logistics firm, have attempted through the joint venture called Vancouver Energy Co. to site a heavy-duty terminal at the Port of Vancouver. It would be the largest proposed oil-by-rail facility in the United States.
“This project would significantly increase train traffic in the Columbia Gorge, mostly on the Washington side,” said Liz Terhaar, administrative coordinator for Riverkeeper’s Hood River office.
Terhaar said the project would run at 42 percent of the capacity of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
At the Columbia River facility, oil would be unloaded from trains, stored on-site, and loaded onto ships, which would deliver crude oil to refineries along the West Coast.
Based on information in Vancouver Energy’s application, EFSEC reported, “the most likely sources would be northern mid-continent crude oil produced in North Dakota, Montana and the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada.”
Environmental groups aren’t alone in their opposition to increased train traffic — multiple governmental bodies in the Gorge have weighed in with resolutions against crude oil and coal shipments running through their turf.
The City of Hood River issued a resolution last December calling for a total ban on oil shipments through the city, and Hood River County followed suit in July with a call for greater state and federal oversight of crude oil shipments. The Dalles and Bingen passed similar resolutions this year.
Most recently, Portland issued an anti-oil train resolution on Nov. 4.
VandenHeuvel feels confident that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee could strike down Tesoro-Savage’s oil train terminal proposal, given EFSEC’s findings.
“I think this report today gives ample reasons to deny (the proposal) … it shows very significant impacts to things we care deeply about,” he said. “It isn’t a low profile thing that’s going to slide through.”
The next public meetings regarding the Tesoro-Savage terminal will be in January. Washington’s energy council will hold a hearing in Vancouver on Jan. 5 and Spokane Jan. 7.