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Feb. 5, 2023

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Attorney seeks wider oil-terminal review

Letter says if bigger facility contemplated, more study needed

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

The recent release of a largely unredacted contract is having repercussions for Washington state’s ongoing examination of the environmental impacts of what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

In an Aug. 18 letter to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, calls on the council to expand its study of the oil terminal in light of new information revealed by the port in its lease with Tesoro Corp., a petroleum refiner, and Savage Companies, a transportation company.

The new details include that the companies have the ability to expand or build a second oil-by-rail facility if they exceed handling an average of 400,000 barrels of crude per day with the first terminal. The port had previously concealed the 400,000 figure from the public but divulged it and other details on Aug. 6 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit against it.

“This is the first time that the public has been informed that Tesoro-Savage and the port reasonably anticipated that the proposed facility could handle an average of 400,000 barrels per day; the average through-put capacity provided in Tesoro-Savage’s application is 360,000 barrels per day,” Boyles said in her letter. “To our knowledge, this 11 percent larger volume capacity is not the basis for the current environmental review or analysis in Tesoro-Savage’s air and water permits. We ask (the evaluation council) to ensure that its environmental analysis, as well as its calculations in its Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act permits, is based on the proposed facility’s actual maximum capacity under its physical and operational design (which is apparently more than 400,000 barrels per day), rather than any anticipated operational limit.”

Anna Gill, a spokeswoman for the evaluation council, said Friday the council is working on a response to Boyles’ letter. She said the council’s development of a draft environmental impact statement and permits is based on the 360,000-barrels-per-day number. Gill said the council received a redacted copy of the oil terminal lease when the companies submitted their building application in 2013.

Tesoro and Savage, in partnership as Vancouver Energy, want to build an oil transfer terminal at which crude would arrive by train, then be transferred to marine vessels bound for West Coast refineries.

Earlier this month, Jennifer Minx, a spokeswoman for Tesoro, told The Columbian the 400,000-barrels-per-day threshold was negotiated at the time the lease was signed in 2013. The companies have designed the proposed terminal to handle 360,000 barrels of crude per day, she said. “We don’t intend to seek permits for more than that amount and have no plans to develop a second terminal at the Port of Vancouver,” Minx said.

Yet Boyles said in her letter that an additional or expanded facility, “as contemplated by the lease, changes the scope” of the project’s review under the state Environmental Policy Act because “it could be a reasonably foreseeable future action.”

The Environmental Policy Act forbids taking a single project and piecemealing it to avoid a discussion of cumulative impacts, Boyles said. “Clearly, one impact of the Tesoro-Savage proposal will be to ‘serve as a precedent for future actions,’ ” Boyles said, quoting state administrative code, “and this type of indirect impact must be considered in the draft environmental impact statement, especially as the unredacted lease illustrates that a second project was already at least under consideration several years ago.”

Boyles is representing Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, ForestEthics, Spokane Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, Climate Solutions and Vancouver’s Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association.

She copied the letter she sent to the evaluation council to all parties involved in the oil terminal’s adjudicative process and to Cassandra Noble, administrative law judge for the evaluation council.

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect that the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council received a redacted copy of the oil terminal lease in 2013, not an unredacted copy of that lease.

Columbian Port & Economy Reporter