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Feb. 2, 2023

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Risks key topic at EFSEC hearings

Vancouver Energy touts spill response capability in state and along Columbia River

By , Columbian Business Reporter
Published:

Analysts, scientists and Tesoro Corp. and BNSF railroad officials took the stand as Vancouver Energy continued to make its case, during the second week of adjudication hearings, that the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil terminal would be operated safely and should be approved by the state.

“We’re pleased we’re moving forward with the hearing and a good fact-based evaluation of the terminal,” Vancouver Energy spokeswoman Tina Barbee said. “We believe this facility makes sense for Vancouver and the state of Washington, and we expect to address any concerns that will be raised.”

The hearings, part of the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council review of the proposed 360,000-barrel-per-day terminal, essentially put the project on trial and allow proponents and opponents to cross-examine witnesses. The evaluation council, active in questioning witnesses itself, will take what it learns and eventually make a recommendation on approval to the governor.

To that end, Vancouver Energy is arguing that the project presents manageable risks. Witness Elliott Taylor, a marine scientist at Polaris Applied Sciences, said “there is an extraordinary amount of spill response capability in Washington state and along the Columbia River,” according to Barbee.

“He testified when comparing this capability to anywhere else in the world, Washington completely exceeds what you see in other places,” she said.

Opponents again jumped on the company’s safety assurances and hit at the liability presented by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., operating as Vancouver Energy.

“If there’s a theme from the opposing parties, it’s, ‘What really is that risk, and how much risk should the public be willing to bear,’ ” said Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney representing several project opponents during adjudication. “Tesoro-Savage is gambling with house money. But the risk is borne by the community, the river and the people.”

Evaluation council members have been keenly interested in who pays for a disaster that exceeds insurance policies and the value of the company. Opponents such as Friends of the Columbia Gorge attorney Nathan Baker say Vancouver Energy is a “shell corporation with the intent of avoiding liability for catastrophes.”

When talking about the what-ifs involved in the project, some experts tapped this week talked about “robust” preparedness plans and initiatives, like requiring better rail cars and a tug escort for oil tankers on the Columbia River. The terminal, at peak capacity, would handle an average of four 120-car oil trains per day delivering largely North Dakota-sourced crude through the Columbia River Gorge.

“Vancouver Energy has already pre-staged emergency response equipment along the Columbia River to respond to an emergency even though the facility has not been constructed,” Barbee said. “Dava Kaitala with the BSNF testified that the volume of rail traffic coming to the terminal is within the normal fluctuations of traffic BNSF handles and would not significantly increase overall traffic.”

The company will wrap up its case next week as adjudication hearings continue through the end of July. Terminal opponents will next have the chance to put experts on the stand to sway the evaluation council. Documents, video and other information about the terminal’s review can be found at efsec.wa.gov.

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