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News / Clark County News

Vancouver extends moratorium on crude oil facilities

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter
Published: March 3, 2015, 12:00am

The Vancouver City Council on Monday unanimously voted to extend a moratorium on expanding or establishing crude oil-handling facilities, prompting the audience to break into applause.

Moments earlier, roughly a dozen people took the microphone to praise the council’s stance against oil terminals in Vancouver and voice support for continuation of the six-month moratorium adopted Sept. 11. No one spoke against the extension.

“Corporations do not care about you or me or our families or communities. But you do care. I trust YOU,” Den Mark Wichar, a Hough neighborhood resident, told the council, referring to the companies interested in establishing crude oil facilities locally.

“Thanks for having our backs,” said Cathryn Chudy of Vancouver.

The original moratorium was due to expire March 10. By continuing the moratorium for six months, city staff will have time to prepare a comprehensive review of current and potential new regulations to city code. Among other things, the staff’s work will involve determining which agencies have authority over crude oil, identifying interested parties and their issues, and researching actions other municipalities have taken, according to city documents.

The moratorium doesn’t affect the massive oil transfer terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies that’s currently under review by the state. It would be the largest such terminal in the United States when operational, receiving an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day by rail at the Port of Vancouver. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee regarding the Tesoro project, which the Vancouver City Council formally opposes.

Neither does the moratorium affect the NuStar project, which involves receiving crude oil by rail at NuStar Energy’s two bulk tank terminals in Vancouver, at the port and at 5420 Fruit Valley Road, and shipping it out by barge. The city council’s attempts to head off the project with a moratorium were thwarted when NuStar filed its preliminary application Sept. 10, the day before the council’s special meeting to consider the moratorium. NuStar’s last-minute filing means the project is vested and therefore exempt from the council’s temporary ban.

NuStar has handled jet fuel, antifreeze, diesel, methanol and other products at its Vancouver terminals, but not crude oil. In April, NuStar submitted an application for an air quality permit with the Southwest Clean Air Agency to convert a tank at each of its locations to handle crude oil. The average amount handled daily would be 22,000 barrels, which amounts to about one-third of a unit train.

Because the volume NuStar would handle falls below the threshold to trigger state review, NuStar’s approval remains in the hands of the city.

Critics of the local oil-handling facilities cite a variety of concerns, including potential oil spills, the volatility of North Dakota Bakken crude and global climate change.

Eric LaBrant, chairman of the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association, told the council Monday that the issue of oil trains is a big one to residents of his neighborhood, given their proximity to rail lines and the port.

“If you’ve been to what’s left of North Dakota, you can understand our reluctance to turn Fruit Valley into a dirty oil boomtown,” LaBrant said. “There are some pies we don’t want a piece of.”

Columbian City Government Reporter