LONGVIEW — Regional environmentalists are criticizing the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s recent decision to renew air quality permits for a Clatskanie-area ethanol plant, calling the approval a “half-step” toward allowing the company to restart its controversial crude oil operations.
But Global Partners, the company that owns the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery, says it has no plans to restart crude oil shipping at the terminal. And DEQ expressly prohibited using the ethanol permit to store or ship crude oil.
“If we were to restart those (crude oil) operations, we would communicate with the community in advance,” Global Partners spokeswoman Catie Kerns said in a Thursday email to The Daily News.
Global Partners bought the plant in 2012, about three years after the bio-refinery stopped producing ethanol.
Global never restarted ethanol production, and instead the company asked DEQ to approve its ethanol storage and shipping equipment for crude oil shipping, said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper, a Hood River, Ore., environmental organization.
The switch to crude oil shipments happened quietly and quickly, without a chance for public comment, Serres said.
“People in Columbia County never thought they would have oil trains. They thought they would have corn trains,” Serres said. “All of the sudden they had these big, mile-long trains carrying crude oil.”
Those trains are very dangerous, especially if they derail and spill oil into waterways, Serres said. He pointed to a 2016 derailment in Mosier, Ore.
“If you had an oil train derail and spill into the Columbia River, you could affect river commerce and fishing. It would cause hundreds of millions of dollars to damage in habitat,” Serres said. “And that’s setting aside the health and public safety of people.”