Press Talk: Oil should not define who we are

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor


photoLou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor.

If the world ran on olive oil — extra virgin — we’d be having a completely different community conversation.

We’d mostly all agree that throwing a little of the sweet stuff on al dente vermicelli just after it is served is as good as it gets.

But unfortunately, when the topic of oil comes up around these parts, we’re talking about the gunk that’s pulled up from deep within the crust of the Earth.

We don’t eat it. We burn it.

Make no mistake, we need that gunk today. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to cook that simple pasta dish I described above. But it’s one thing to appreciate the fuel that drives your stove. It’s quite another to embrace it.

Truth is, all this fossil fuel we are consuming is slowly killing us. Well, maybe not so slowly anymore. And if we don’t reverse course, soon it will finish us off.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole bunch of alternatives, so we turn a blind eye to that which keeps us warm in the winter.

Still, there are signs the public is awakening to the pending — and intensifying — problem.

There are those among us who are taking a stand.

• • •

Here in Vancouver, this issue is playing out. Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies are asking that the city of Vancouver give its blessing to what would be the largest oil-handling facility in the Northwest at the Port of Vancouver.

Technically, the Tesoro-Savage proposal doesn’t need the city’s blessing. The companies have convinced the Port of Vancouver this is the sweetest deal in the land. And even though the Port of Vancouver is in the city of Vancouver, the port people could simply tell the city to frack sand.

Of course, the port and Tesoro-Savage partnership are much more polite than that. Why? Because if the city throws its support behind the project it would go a long way in getting the powers to ultimately approve it.

And those “powers” would ultimately be Gov. Jay Inslee.

Earlier this week, representatives of the Tesoro-Savage proposal and the port showed up at a city council meeting to pitch the project. Everyone trotted out fancy graphs and fancy charts and fancy words. They told the council this project — if approved — might not be the second coming, but it would be close. Honest!

Great jobs will spring, the sun will shine, and a frown will never again be seen. And we shouldn’t worry — too much — about safety, they said. They have it under control. Just don’t look too close at all those news stories showing oil trains blowing up.

Also, the council was told, don’t worry about that beautiful waterfront project that someone else is proposing just a few hundred yards away from its proposed monolithic oil terminal. Why, they’d be just like kissin’ cousins.

Be happy!


• • •

Here’s the thing.

Even if you buy in to their pitch, even if you believe the port people have Vancouver’s best interest in mind, even if you believe this thing will be safe, even if you agree a waterfront project could live side by side with this oil facility … you don’t have to acquiesce to it.

Communities have a right — no, an obligation — to define themselves. We could decide, for example, that we like the idea of being like Texas or New Jersey. Our new motto? “Oil. It’s gunky and it’s slippery. But it’s what we do!”

We could.

Or we could decide to define ourselves in some other way. A better way.

As we face these changes that would force our hand, it’s time for us to take control of that definition.

If oil handler is it, fair enough. But I suspect we have some leaders out there who are willing to say otherwise.

And hopefully, that means keeping this oil thing to a minimum. Unless, of course, it’s with fresh, sweet basil, a little sauteed garlic and that vermicelli we like so darn much. Then I’m all in.