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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver City Council pursues oil terminal ban at port

Councilors want ordinance drafted to move process forward

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter
Published: April 11, 2016, 8:07pm

The Vancouver City Council directed city staff Monday to draft an ordinance prohibiting bulk crude oil storage and handling facilities and oil refineries due to safety concerns.

If the council adopts the outright ban proposed by city staff, it would put an end to the city’s moratorium on crude oil facilities, which the council originally put in place in September 2014 to allow time for deciding how crude oil terminals should be regulated. The current six-month moratorium, adopted in February, expires Aug. 17.

City staff had been waiting for the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to finish its draft environmental impact statement for the oil terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. at the port. The draft EIS was expected to contain information, such as how the Vancouver Fire Department would respond to a catastrophic event, that would help the Vancouver City Council craft regulations to address crude oil terminals.

But the draft EIS issued Nov. 24 was “seriously deficient,” according to city documents.

Oil terminal opponents say the risks of oil train derailment, fire and explosion are underplayed in the draft environmental review.

The final EIS is expected this fall. After the review is finished, the evaluation council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has final say over the building of the terminal. The governor will have 30 to 60 days to make a decision, city staff said.

To come up with a recommendation for the city council, Vancouver city staff researched other cities, honing in on Bellingham and Hoquiam, which both limit fossil fuel commodity refining and storage. Bellingham prohibits petroleum processing and storage of a barrel or more at a time. Hoquiam prohibits bulk crude oil storage and handling facilities.

The city of Vancouver could decide to expand its ban to other commodities, but further review is required, said Planning Manager Sandra Towne.

The council seemed to want to get the process moving Monday.

“We can keep working on this forever, or we can close the first step,” Councilor Jack Burkman said.

Before taking action, the council will mail city staff’s draft recommendations to stakeholders, such as NuStar Energy and Tesoro-Savage. Then the draft will go to the city Planning Commission for a May 3 workshop and May 24 public hearing before it returns to the city council for a workshop June 13. A public hearing and council vote is scheduled for July 18.

Vancouver’s moratorium doesn’t affect the Tesoro-Savage project, which would be the largest such terminal in the United States and would receive an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day by rail at the port. The potential ban on bulk crude oil storage and handling facilities also wouldn’t impact the Tesoro-Savage project, city staff said Monday.

The moratorium also doesn’t affect a project proposed by NuStar Energy, whose preliminary application was filed before the moratorium went into effect. That project involves receiving an average of 22,000 barrels of crude oil daily by rail at NuStar’s two bulk tank terminals in Vancouver, at the port and at 5420 Fruit Valley Road, and shipping it out by barge.

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

Columbian City Government Reporter