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Port of Longview may be looking at oil-by-rail terminal

Special meeting Wednesday will feature proposal of 'expanded energy facility' to commissioners

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: August 28, 2015, 3:02pm

The Port of Longview, already the site of a proposed oil refinery, may also be pursuing a separate oil-by-rail transfer terminal, according to documents obtained by Columbia Riverkeeper.

The environmental group recently received a draft agreement, project summary, maps and other documents that suggest the port has discussed an oil transfer terminal that could handle as much as 164,000 barrels of crude in a day. The Washington Energy Storage and Transfer facility was outlined by Waterside Energy Inc., the same company that announced plans for the Riverside Refinery at the Port of Longview earlier this year.

The two facilities could exist side by side, according to the documents. A summary provided to the Port of Longview in May said the oil transfer terminal would first supply crude directly to the Riverside Refinery, with any excess oil loaded onto barges and shipped down the Columbia River to other West Coast facilities.

The terminal would also handle up to 72,500 barrels of liquefied petroleum gases, or LPG, per day, according to the summary. But it wouldn’t handle more than two total trains — either two oil trains, or one oil and one LPG — in a single day, according to the document.

Though the port continues to work with Waterside Energy, the proposal described in the documents is outdated, said Ashley Helenberg, the port’s director of external affairs.

But on Wednesday, Waterside plans to present an “expanded energy facility” to port commissioners during a special meeting, she said. Helenberg said she couldn’t provide further details. A press release about the meeting issued by the port Friday also included few specifics.

A Longview terminal would represent another oil-by-rail plan in a growing list of proposals across the region. The primary route used by railroads currently sends oil trains directly through Clark County and downtown Vancouver. Each potential facility could increase the number of trains rolling through town.

“It’s been an unprecedented onslaught of proposals on the Columbia, more so than anywhere in the nation,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper’s executive director. “I think the future of our river is at stake right now.”

Opponents have focused much of their attention on Vancouver, where Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. want to build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver. The facility would handle an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day. The plan is being reviewed by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

The Longview terminal would also seek permits through the EFSEC process, according to the project summary. Waterside Energy hasn’t yet submitted an application to the agency, spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said. But in March, Waterside CEO Lou Soumas sent a letter to EFSEC providing background information about the refinery. The letter also referenced a rail terminal Soumas said could serve other parties to help fill unused capacity.

“We recognize the above is a very high level overview of our proposed project,” Soumas concluded in the letter. “We look forward to providing more detail as we move forward with EFSEC.”

When details of the proposed refinery became public this spring, Port of Longview officials initially described the project as “dormant.” A month later, however, the port announced a “revised” refinery project that was actively being considered.

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The $800 million facility would process about 45,000 barrels of material per day, including 30,000 barrels of crude oil. Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other products would be destined for Washington and Oregon markets, according to the port.

The Longview refinery and terminal would be the latest of about a dozen current or proposed oil-by-rail facilities in Washington. As the amount of oil transported by train has dramatically increased in recent years, so has public concern about risks. A string of fiery derailments and explosions have only heightened those worries.

Next week’s public announcement will begin an open process that allows people to ask informed questions, Helenberg said. The port hasn’t made any decisions on the proposal, she added.

“We understand the sensitive nature of projects dealing with energy commodities,” Helenberg said. “We think it’s really helpful when we present a project … that we do so in a way that everybody can have access to the same information.”

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter