Monday, October 26, 2020
Oct. 26, 2020

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EFSEC releases oil-terminal impact statement

Report addresses effects on wildlife, risks of explosions

By , Columbian Political Writer, and
, Columbian Business Reporter
Published:

The two  sides in the fight over a proposed Vancouver oil terminal each received the same weapon Tuesday — a massive environmental review that they can use to bolster arguments for or against the project.

The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council’s in-depth look at the proposed crude-by-rail transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver, released Tuesday, leaves many key questions about the terminal’s environmental impact unanswered.

The review panel’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, containing thousands of pages, kicks off a public comment period that lasts until Jan. 22.

“I’ll just remind you this is a draft document. We’re not saying it’s a perfect document or every analysis is performed that could be performed,” Stephen Posner, manager of the siting council, told The Columbian. “We have to balance the need to get the information out to the public and give them an opportunity to provide input with the idea of producing a perfect document.” With the onset of the holiday season, the state panel approved a 60-day public review period rather than the standard 45-day public review.

At issue is a proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., doing business as Vancouver Energy, to build what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil-transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver. It’s taken two years from the companies’ initial application to get to this point.

“We are pleased that (the evaluation council) has released the draft Environmental Impact Statement, as this is an important milestone for the project,” Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for the project, said in a statement.

Hymas did not comment on the details of the impact statement. But environmental groups opposed to the project were quick to raise concerns Tuesday after seeing the report.

“Many of the risks can’t be mitigated,” Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel said. “There’s an analysis of the train traffic — even if it  doesn’t spill or explode, simply the increase would delay emergency responders through at-grade crossings.”

The state’s review process will include a public hearing Jan. 5 from 1 p.m. until at least 11 p.m. at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds in Ridgefield.

The goal of the document is to provide an in-depth analysis of the terminal, which is slated to receive an average of 360,000 barrels of oil on four unit trains — with 120 cars each — per day. The site evaluation council will produce a final Environmental Impact Statement next year that will go to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will decide whether to approve or reject the project.

The governor’s office would not comment on the ongoing review.

“This is a process that (the evaluation council) must oversee and enforce,” said Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith. “It is not appropriate for the governor to get involved, and he will continue to remain neutral.”

Bill Lynch, chairman of the evaluation council, said during a meeting of the evaluation council on Tuesday he would like further analysis on how a spill or derailment would affect the Columbia River.

Greg Shafer, who represents Clark County on the panel and is only involved with the Vancouver Energy project, said he would like the document to go further in addressing public safety response efforts.

“I can’t recall any of the departments or any other emergency response that said, ‘Yes, we are ready,’ in terms of a derailment or accident,” Shafer said at the council meeting in Olympia.

When it comes to explosions, the analysis states: “Safety considerations and accident prevention plans are designed to reduce the frequency of such incidents and to reduce the likelihood of a crude oil spill. Nonetheless, accidents could occur and the risk of a crude oil spill, fire, and/or explosion cannot be totally eliminated.”

Other safety notes from the environmental review:

• Worst-case scenarios include explosions sending debris well beyond the proposed facility, and a 16-million-gallon spill from the largest holding tank near the Columbia.

• The likelihood of an oil train derailment is about once every two years; the likelihood of a spill is every 12 years. A catastrophic derailment was identified as a once-in-22,000-years event.

• A massive earthquake could cause liquefaction at the proposed facility and deform the ground. Vancouver Energy proposed reinforcing the ground beneath the facility to prevent such potential damage.

The Port of Vancouver, which supports the oil terminal, will hold its own review of the document and submit its own public comments.

“We have a team of more than 20 folks we’ve assembled with expertise in environmental engineering, law, safety, facilities — everything you need to review a document this important,” port spokeswoman Abbi Russell said. “We’ll take as much time as we need.”

Russell said the port sees value in the project through jobs, revenue and services.

Port of Vancouver Commissioner-elect Eric LaBrant, an opponent of the terminal, said he worries about the effects the oil facility would have on his Fruit Valley neighborhood.

“My biggest long-term concern with the oil terminal is how much attention it pays to addressing impacts on the surrounding communities,” LaBrant said. “And so far we haven’t seen that.”

The draft Environmental Impact Statement addresses numerous impacts from oil shipments from the Midwest to Vancouver, ranging from impacts on wildlife migration routes to ecological effects of a spill.

Review: Facility could also handle tar sands

The proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver could handle rail shipments of Canadian oil in addition to oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota.

“It’s possible they could receive diluted bitumen, which we call tar sands, and it would come from Canada,” said Stephen Posner, the manager of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council  that released its draft Environmental Impact Statement on Tuesday.

In the draft environmental review, the chapter on the project’s proposed action made only brief mention of oil from the tar sands.

“Neither these nor other loading facilities in Canada were specifically analyzed in this draft (Environmental Impact Statement) due to the uncertainty of specific source locations,” according to the review.

Yet several pages were dedicated to handling diluted bitumen, or dilbit for short, in the chapter on potential safety issues.

“According to the applicant … Bakken crude oil and dilbit would be the two most common crude oils transported to and from the proposed facility,” reads the review.

Dilbit is heavier and denser than crude oil from the Bakken. Its extraction is also more energy-intensive.

The environmental review recommended Vancouver Energy and its proposed oil terminal “develop appropriate response strategies for cleaning up spills of heavy crude prior to transporting dilbit on the Columbia River.”

—Lauren Dake and Brooks Johnson

The study notes an increase in vessel traffic associated with the transfer terminal could have moderate to major long-term effects on the salmonids and eulachon species in the lower portion of the Columbia River.

Jim Luce, the former chair of the state siting panel and a vocal opponent of the oil terminal, criticized the state panel for releasing the report and launching a public review at the start of the holiday season.

Releasing the impact statement now instead of in January “diminishes, in my opinion, the public’s opinion of the (site evaluation council) as being a fair forum for allowing people to participate,” Luce said.

The state siting panel hired an independent consultant to prepare the draft Environmental Impact Statement. The siting council will draw on the report by Cardno Entrix, the public’s testimony and court-like proceedings to make a recommendation to the governor. The governor’s decision could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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