In our View: Skip This Slice of Oil Pie

North Dakota's Bakken boom could aid Clark County, but terminal wrong tack

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The most pertinent analogy, perhaps, was delivered by Curtis Schuck, the Port of Vancouver's senior sales director. As part of a two-day series about North Dakota's oil boom and Vancouver's role in it, written by Columbian reporter Eric Florip, Schuck was quoted as saying, "Instead of everybody out there fighting over the same pie, and the size slice, we want new pie. And so that's what we're out here doing, is developing new pie."

Many in Vancouver and her surrounding communities have been arguing over the pie for more than a year. The Port of Vancouver has agreed with Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies — which now are pursuing their joint venture under the collective name of Vancouver Energy — to build an oil terminal that would transfer an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day. The crude would arrive from the Bakken region by rail and would be transferred at the port to ships for delivery to refineries along the West Coast and elsewhere.

Following a series of derailments and explosions throughout North America, the idea of transporting 15 million gallons of crude through Clark County each day has generated plenty of interest from local residents. Barry Cain, who is planning a multibillion-dollar waterfront development in Vancouver, has said the oil terminal would be incompatible with his project, and the Vancouver City Council has formally voted to oppose any project that would increase the amount of oil-bearing trains traveling through the city. The oil terminal plan is currently under review by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

All of that has been well-documented over the past year, but The Columbian's series — which was published Aug. 17 and Aug. 18 — helped bring the issues into sharp relief. And along the way, it did little to suggest that the benefits of an oil terminal would outweigh the drawbacks for Vancouver.

The oil boom in the north-central portion of this country has led to difficult discussions that will reverberate for years in many regions. The Bakken area has yielded 1 billion barrels of oil in the past couple years, and the supply is expected to last for decades. Federal officials have struggled to play catch-up with regulations regarding the safety of rail cars and the penchant for Bakken crude to explode, and other environmental concerns also have been raised. In addition, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, 59 percent of Bakken crude is transported by rail — a fact that intensifies the spotlight on the Obama administration's inexplicable failure to move forward on a proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

All of that serves as a bit of background to represent the fact that the metaphorical Bakken crude pie is huge. Schuck and the Port of Vancouver have opened a field office in Williston, N.D., for the purpose of building relationships in the region and forging partnerships that can benefit Clark County. As Schuck said, it is part of an effort to become "North Dakota's port," and that can extend well beyond crude oil in an agriculturally rich part of the country.

The proposal for an oil terminal in Vancouver remains the wrong idea at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. The safety concerns and the possibility of a disastrous derailment outweigh the potential benefits, as does the conflict that would be inevitable between a cavalcade of oil trains and a nearby waterfront development. Port of Vancouver officials are wise to try to tap into North Dakota's growing population and wealth. But it would be best for our communities if the pie is not topped with a layer of crude oil.