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News / Business / Clark County Business

Carnegie Endowment questions Vancouver Energy mailer

Think tank asks for correction, says flier misrepresents Carnegie's research

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor
Published: December 14, 2015, 5:23pm

A Washington, D.C., think tank wants Vancouver Energy — the partnership that wants to build an oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver — to “publicly correct” what it says is a misrepresentation that appears in a widely distributed mailer promoting the oil terminal project.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday sent a letter to a Tesoro Corp. under a header “Publicizing Correction for Misleading Statements in Vancouver Energy mailing.” Tesoro and Savage Cos. are the partners behind Vancouver Energy.

The three-page letter from Deborah Gordon, director of the organization’s Energy and Climate Program, says that the mailer, titled “We Need Cleaner, American Energy,” misrepresents Carnegie’s research. Gordon says a statement that crude oil from the Midwest’s Bakken formation produces 30 percent fewer greenhouse emissions than other crude refined in Washington is presented in a way that suggests it is based on the Carnegie Endowment’s work.

“Residents who received your mailing have contacted Carnegie,” Gordon wrote in the Dec. 11 letter. “They are confused and deserve to officially have the record set straight as well as removing any reference in future publications.”

In a statement to The Columbian, Vancouver Energy on Monday rejected Carnegie’s complaint.   

“We disagree with assertions made by the Carnegie Endowment that one sentence citing a study implies the remaining content on the page comes from that study. It was never our intent to represent as much, and we regret if anyone who read the piece interpreted it that way,” wrote Tina Barbee, spokeswoman for Vancouver Energy.

The debate is focused on Page 5 of the mailer. The top of the page states “A recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study that looked holistically at how oil is extracted, transported, refined and used determined that some oil sources are substantially less carbon-intensive than others. To achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gases emissions, we need to choose less carbon-intensive sources of petroleum like the Bakken formation.”

Below that is a headline, “Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Crude Oil,” and a statement that “The use of Bakken crude oil instead of current sources of oil reduces carbon emissions by 1.5 million tons per year — equal to removing 250,000 vehicles from the road annually.”  That sentence has no specific footnote attributing the information.

Below is a chart with two bars. The first  is identified as “Current Washington-Refined Crude.” No numbers or measures of any type are attached to the bar. The second, shorter bar, also with no measure, is identified as “Bakken Crude Oil.” Above the bar are the words “30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”

Small print on the bottom of the page, which appears as a footnote but has no asterisk referencing it to any specific information, reads:   “Washington State Department of Ecology/CA (California) Air Resources Board.”

In her letter, Gordon says that the Carnegie Endowment, with Stanford University and the University of Calgary, did in fact prepare an “Oil-Climate Index.” Released in March, it showed that some oils are less carbon intensive than others when considered from extraction through end use. But, she wrote, Bakken crude has not been modeled through the index because key data has not been made public.

“Tesoro could not have extrapolated this information from Carnegie as your brochure leads readers to believe,” she wrote.

Regarding the bar chart statement that Bakken crude is cleaner than other oil, Gordon said it’s not clear whether Tesoro is citing the Carnegie Endowment or if it is citing the California Air Resources Board and the Washington State Department of Ecology. She said she did not believe the two state agencies had used the Oil-Climate Index to study oil emissions and therefore would not have a basis for drawing such a conclusion.

“Without a full review of these agencies’ analyses, we cannot verify the claim you published and implied to Carnegie: ‘Bakken crude oil has 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions,’ ” she wrote.

In its rebuttal, Vancouver Energy spokeswoman Barbee said the bar chart comparison is based on carbon intensity values published by the California Air Resources Board and a study by Life Cycle Associates for Washington’s Office of Financial Management and Department of Ecology to evaluate a low-carbon fuel standard.

“The important takeaway is that Bakken crude oil is less carbon intensive than other crude oils typically refined on the West Coast, as evidenced by this data,” she said.

Barbee also chided the Carnegie Endowment for the public disclosure of its letter. “It’s unfortunate the Carnegie Endowment chose to bring this to the media before allowing us an opportunity to engage with them in good faith,” she wrote. “We remain committed to transparently discussing our project.”

The Columbian was informed of the Carnegie letter by Nick Abraham, editor of Oil Check Northwest, an online publication that describes itself as a watchdog of fossil fuel projects. Abraham, who is also a fellow of the Seattle-based environmental group Sightline Institute, said he had received a copy of the mailer from a Seattle resident and had forwarded it to the Carnegie Endowment after questioning some of its content.

Jeff Hymas, another Vancouver Energy spokesman, said Tesoro had not been aware that the letter had been circulated by a source other than the Carnegie Endowment.

A public comment period on the Vancouver Energy proposal is underway, with public meetings scheduled for next month. If built, the project would become the largest oil transfer terminal in the nation. Oil would arrive by rail car and leave by ship to be refined elsewhere.

Following the environmental impact statement process, Washington’s governor will make a final decision on whether to permit the project.

Columbian Business Editor