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Sept. 26, 2021

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NuStar seeks to bring ethanol through port

Company’s earlier crude oil proposal remains in limbo

By , Columbian Business Reporter
2 Photos
NuStar Energy, which is currently looking to handle crude oil and/or ethanol at its terminal, is located on Harborside Drive at the Port of Vancouver.
NuStar Energy, which is currently looking to handle crude oil and/or ethanol at its terminal, is located on Harborside Drive at the Port of Vancouver. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A company looking to possibly bring crude oil through the Port of Vancouver — no, not that company — is now eyeing another chemical commodity.

NuStar Energy in December submitted initial plans to handle ethanol, a plant-based renewable fuel, at its terminal on Harborside Drive. At the same time, the company’s plans to handle up to 22,000 barrels of crude oil per day are in limbo.

NuStar’s current plan would be to retrofit its existing facilities to store and transfer ethanol, according to its pre-application with the city. That would include increasing rail-unloading capacity from four to 16 railcars and upgrading two 4.2 million-gallon storage tanks that once handled methanol, a natural gas-based fuel. The company also would install a new vapor combustion system to capture and destroy vapors that escape during unloading.

The application does not say how much ethanol would be handled per day, though it states rail traffic will not increase, since the ethanol will displace existing shipments.

Jon Wagner, a senior planner in Vancouver’s Community and Economic Development Department, met with the company last week as NuStar charts its way forward on the permitting process to receive the ethanol by rail and ship it down the Columbia River.

“The only difference is the commodity,” Wagner said. “If you only had two choices (between ethanol and oil), ethanol is better from a safety standpoint.”

The company had no comment when reached earlier this month by The Columbian.

“The possibility of storing renewable biofuels such as ethanol is one of several options that we are evaluating, but there are no confirmed plans at this time,” NuStar representative Aaron Flett wrote in an email.

The San Antonio-based company has leased property from the port since 2006. In that time, NuStar has handled methanol, jet fuel, antifreeze and other petroleum and bulk products in Vancouver.

The company’s latent plans to bring 22,000 barrels of crude oil through the port per day have been stalled by a requirement to write an Environmental Impact Statement, a lengthy and potentially expensive process. NuStar’s oil proposal is too small to trigger a review by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, a process now underway for Vancouver Energy’s proposal to build a terminal that would see 360,000 barrels of oil per day delivered by rail and loaded onto ships bound for refineries.

NuStar could “come in tomorrow” and continue the crude oil process, Wagner said, which would entail paying for an environmental analyst chosen by the city.

“This is a whole new game for us,” he said. “Well, it’s an old game, but we’ve never played it.”

Wagner said the company wants to do both crude oil and ethanol, or at least they want to get both approved.

To handle ethanol, NuStar would need to fully apply to start the review process, which includes public comment. That could be a months-long endeavor.

NuStar anticipates hiring four more employees — there are currently 22 in Vancouver — if the ethanol plan is approved.

Columbian Business Reporter