Opponents of oil terminal raise new concerns

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

Published:

 

Opponents of building the Northwest’s largest oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver aren’t letting up on the port. They returned Tuesday, raising concerns about how commissioners decided the lease with Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, urging the port to conduct a public hearing about canceling the agreement and renewing their demand for an uncensored copy of the contract.

Delivering the concerns and requests were members of the Clark County Natural Resources Council, who spoke during the open forum portion of the commissioners’ regular public hearing. In a letter from the resources council’s attorney, John Karpinski, the group outlined why it thinks the lease, approved in 2013, should be terminated. The group contends the lease:

o was “premature, unnecessary” and that it “invites expansion.”

o was “erroneously based on safety of Bakken crude transportation, storage and handling.”

o “did not comply with the state Environmental Policy Act.”

o “may not have complied with rules for leasing publicly owned land.”

Karpinski, a land-use attorney, also has filed a request to the port under the state’s open records law seeking more information about the oil terminal decision, including communications by current and former port administrators and commissioners’ emails.

If the oil terminal is a benefit to the community, he said to commissioners Tuesday, then the port has “nothing to fear” in conducting a public hearing to examine the lease, including options to cancel the contract and why the port doesn’t think that’s possible.

The port made no indication it’s willing to do that. Port Commission President Brian Wolfe asked opponents why they’re “afraid to go through the EFSEC process” — a reference to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The evaluation council is examining the proposal by Tesoro and Savage to build a rail-and-river operation handling as much as 380,000 barrels of crude per day.

If the evaluation council finds that safety and environmental concerns cannot be adequately addressed, Wolfe said, “then the port will walk away.”

Backers say the estimated $150 million to $190 million oil terminal would produce jobs and increase port revenues. But opponents say the risks are too great, citing concerns about public safety, and negative impacts to air, land and water.

Tuesday’s hearing involved legal arguments that remain either unchallenged or unsettled in court, including to what extent the port may prevent the public from seeing lease details and whether the port complied with state environmental rules when it approved the contract.

Trade secrets?

The port has maintained certain redactions in the lease fall under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, arguing that if the information were made public, it would harm the port, including damaging its competitiveness. The censored information includes a “conditions precedent outside date” by which either party may walk away from the lease.

The Clark County Natural Resources Council calls the port’s trade secrets exemptions a “smokescreen.” It submitted documents challenging the port to show there’s a competing terminal that allows it to prevent the public from reviewing lease details.

The resources council isn’t alone in questioning the port’s redactions. In an email to the port in February, Bronson Potter, attorney for the city of Vancouver, wrote that it’s “doubtful that any of the information redacted would qualify as being a ‘trade secret.’ “

The resources council also argues the port failed to conduct its own environmental-impact analysis under the state’s Environmental Policy Act before it approved the lease. That’s another reason to reopen the contract, the group argues, to include an environmental-impact analysis.

In January, Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson dismissed a similar claim by three environmental groups. However, those groups have indicated they’ll appeal Gregerson’s decision to the Court of Appeals.

Bakken crude

The resources council also questioned whether port commissioners had all of the necessary information about the volatility of Bakken crude coming from North Dakota oil fields before they voted twice last year to unanimously approve the lease. “What did the port commissioners know about the safety of Bakken crude and when did you know it?” Karpinski wrote in his letter.

Speaking to commissioners Tuesday, Linda McLain, a member of the resources council, addressed part of a letter that Wolfe sent last month to the city of Vancouver. In it, Wolfe cites a report in May by Turner, Mason & Company — an engineering consultant to the petroleum and petrochemical industries — that says “the makeup of Bakken crude is no different than other crude.”

But the May report cited by Wolfe came months after commissioners took their second vote in October 2013 to approve the lease, said McLain. That indicates commissioners are relying on after-the-fact information to justify their approval of the contract.

In one of four white papers submitted to the port by the resources council, the group notes that an analysis by the Wall Street Journal shows that equipment used to make volatile crude safer wasn’t installed in the Bakken oil fields.

Quoting the recent Journal story, the group notes that the “result is that the second-fastest-growing source of crude in the U.S. is producing oil that pipelines often would reject as too dangerous to transport.”