It was callous, it was desperate, it was — in the long run — emblematic of the reasons for opposing an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.
In testimony regarding a proposed Tesoro-Savage terminal along the Columbia River, Todd Schatzki of the Analysis Group delivered a mind-bending defense of the project. “When a spill occurs, new economic activity occurs to clean up contaminated areas, remediate affected properties, and supply equipment for cleanup activities,” he said. “Anecdotal evidence from recent spills suggests that such activity can be potentially large. A complete assessment of economic impact from spills would need to take into an account both the potential losses … but also the potential new opportunities.”
So, an oil train disaster could actually be good for the local economy. Who knew? By all means, let’s welcome 15 million gallons of crude oil into town each day. And if a catastrophe should occur, well, let’s just be thankful for all the lemonade from so many lemons.
All of which can alter our outlook on a number of events. Major earthquake? Delightful. Bridge collapse? Wonderful. A plague of locusts? It’s a new opportunity! Why, Vancouver is only a couple disasters away from a booming economy.
And while Schatzki’s testimony to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is easily mocked, it points out the absurdity of the terminal proposal. It points out the lengths that must be taken to try and put lipstick on this pig. Because, for the most part, proponents of the plan are those with no investment in this community, no stake in Vancouver or the Columbia River, no understanding of the ethos of the Northwest. For the most part, those who support placing the nation’s largest rail-to-marine terminal in Vancouver are carpetbaggers who can easily pick up and move on to the next project.
There are exceptions, sure. There are locals who favor the terminal because they believe the economic benefits outweigh the risks, and those people present a strong argument. But for most of us who are vested in Southwest Washington, the question typically comes down to what kind of region we want in the future.
Would the presence of an oil terminal attract the types of businesses we desire? Would the nation’s largest oil terminal be mentioned on pamphlets and brochures targeting tourists? Would an endless string of oil trains add to the inherent beauty of the region?
Of course not. And those facts dwarf the benefits.
A fallacy of logic
Yet while Schatzki’s fallacy of logic was egregious, it might not have been the most eye-opening testimony from the early days of adjudication hearings surrounding the proposal. No, that likely came from Jared Larrabee, general manager of the project. Asked by Bronson Potter, attorney for the city of Vancouver, about the net worth of Vancouver Energy, Larrabee demurred. “Today,” he said, “I would consider that proprietary information and confidential information.”
That is a problem. Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. are working in concert as Vancouver Energy to bring the terminal to life, and it doesn’t take Warren Buffett to figure out that they are trying to protect the parent companies from the costs of a catastrophe. As Robert J. Blackburn of the Blackburn Group testified about a 2013 oil-train explosion in Canada: “Damage estimates are now at about $3 billion according to recent media reports. Compensation has been a major issue with that incident. The short-line railroad hauling the crude oil filed for bankruptcy because it didn’t have enough insurance to pay the claims.”
Ah, bankruptcy. The all-purpose cloak for covering up corporate malfeasance.
The minimum liability insurance that would be secured by Vancouver Energy is $10 million. The estimated damage from an explosion in the heart of Vancouver is $5 billion to $6 billion.
Then again, some would say that could create a lot of economic activity in the region.