Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Aug. 4, 2020

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Opening statements, expert testimony on oil terminal begins

Vancouver Energy starts making its case for crude-by-rail at Port of Vancouver

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
Oil terminal opponents in the audience waive their hands Monday in support of an opening statement critical of the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal during an Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council hearing Clark College at Columbia Tech Center.
Oil terminal opponents in the audience waive their hands Monday in support of an opening statement critical of the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal during an Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council hearing Clark College at Columbia Tech Center. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Supporters and opponents of the Vancouver Energy oil terminal drew their battle lines Monday morning in opening statements before the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. Shortly after, attorneys with Vancouver Energy began the first of their nine days of allotted hearing time by calling three witnesses to testify.

“We’re pleased to get to a point where the discussion is all about the facts,” said Vancouver Energy spokesman Jeff Hymas.

For the next five weeks, the evaluation council will weigh arguments for the country’s largest oil-by-rail terminal, proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. operating as Vancouver Energy, at the Port of Vancouver.

If approved, the project will bring 360,000 barrels of oil to Vancouver by four trains per day, each a mile-and-a-half-long. The oil then will be shipped down the Columbia River to West Coast refineries.

The first three days of the public hearing are being held at Clark College at Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver.

An hour before the start, a crowd of demonstrators — most clad in red — rallied outside of the building, waved signs and occasionally chanted as speakers decried the terminal.

“I’m here because I’m strongly concerned about climate change and global warming,” said Vancouver resident David Walseth. “There’s only so much an individual can do. … I can also go out and be supportive of things like this. This group thinks we can appeal to the human element of (the evaluation council).” 

Before people were allowed inside, they were scanned with metal detectors and their bags searched. Even the smallest of pocket knives were not permitted.

“The project has become controversial, with very strong views on all sides,” said Jay Derr, attorney representing Vancouver Energy, during his opening statement.    

He also said oil trains are already moving oil through Vancouver on a regular basis and the evaluation council’s recommendation won’t change the West Coast’s growing demand for oil. He also said Vancouver Energy’s proposal fits well in the Port of Vancouver’s heavy industrial area, and he downplayed the risks of spills and derailments many in the opposition have highlighted.

“When you focus on the terminal, it’s not really that complicated. The project is not a refinery, it’s simply a transfer operation,” he said.

Connie Sue Martin, counsel for the Port of Vancouver, said the port sees a long-term market viability for American crude oil. Building the terminal, the port argues, will bring region-wide benefits of more jobs, and tax revenue for schools, roads and emergency services.

Maintain decorum

Early in the hearing, Administrative Law Judge Cassandra Noble told the audience a couple of times to maintain decorum and avoid making outbursts. They were chided once more for waving their hands in the air — a show of support commonly used at other meetings — after Susan Drummond, the attorney representing the city of Vancouver, gave an opening statement.

“Accidents happen. Most aren’t catastrophic, but it only takes one,” she said before mentioning the 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, and the derailment in Mosier, Ore., a little more than three weeks ago.

Drummond likened the proponents of the Vancouver Energy oil terminal to Titanic Capt. Edward Smith when he said he could think of nothing that could sink the doomed ocean liner.

“I ask you to think about need,” said EarthJustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “This project is simply a transfer operation; that means it provides no energy to Washington.”

Brent Hall of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation said the tribes have spent billions of dollars and decades of time restoring decimated salmonid stocks and any accidents associated with the terminal could undo all of it.

Vancouver Energy’s first three witnesses were Brad Roach, the senior economist and market analyst for Tesoro; Alastair Smith, chief of marketing and sales with the Port of Vancouver; and Jared Larrabee, Vancouver Energy general manager.

Project’s pros outlined

Roach said oil production in California and Alaska has been declining for about 30 years, leaving West Coast refiners to look to purchase crude from North Africa, South America and the Middle East. The Vancouver Energy terminal, he said, will enable refiners to access crude from the oil-rich Intermountain West and Midwestern states.

Smith touted the Port of Vancouver’s strong economic growth and good reputation among its peers. He also said the oil terminal was not an obstacle when in 2014 Subaru extended its lease agreement with the port to 2035.

Larrabee discussed operation plans and procedures as well as safety at the terminal. He explained the process for inspecting oil cars and safely loading and unloading materials.

He also showed operational photos of the crude oil unloading facility at Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery. He emphasized that Vancouver Energy’s customers would be responsible for oil whenever it wasn’t at the terminal. He also said that up to five trains could occasionally travel to the terminal in a given day.

The hearing ended early for the evaluation council to make a site visit to the Port of Vancouver. Larrabee will finish testimony and be cross-examined today in a hearing that begins 9 a.m. at Clark College at Columbia Tech Center, 18700 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd.