Vancouver City Council Votes 5-2 To Oppose Northwest’s Largest Oil Terminal

Hundreds turned out for a Vancouver City Council hearing on a resolution opposing the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal, proposed for the Port of Vancouver. | credit: Cassandra Profita

Hundreds turned out for a Vancouver City Council hearing on a resolution opposing the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal, proposed for the Port of Vancouver. | credit: Cassandra Profita

By Cassandra Profita, OPB

Monday night had turned to Tuesday morning by the time the Vancouver City Council voted to pass a non-binding resolution opposing what would be the Northwest’s largest oil-by-rail shipping facility.

The vote was 5-2 with Mayor Tim Leavitt and Councilor Bill Turlay dissenting. It followed six hours of testimony from residents, most of them opposed to the Port of Vancouver’s planned facility that would transfer North Dakota crude oil from trains to ships bound for West Coast refineries.

It was after 1 am when City Councilor Bart Hansen made a motion to pass the resolution, which expresses deep concern about rail safety, oil spills and explosions and urges Washington Gov. Jay Inslee not to approve the Tesoro Savage oil terminal.

The council debated whether or not to take the vote in the wee hours of the morning. Turlay said he wasn’t ready to take action. Leavitt said he wanted to make some changes to resolution before voting.

“I’ve been told nothing good happens after midnight,” Leavitt joked in pushing to delay the vote. “I know there are ways to improve the resolution. I hope we can get to a unanimous vote. Certainly, I’m not supportive of it as it is now.”

But other councilors pushed ahead. Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said two-thirds of the testimony and comments she’s heard are from people opposed to the project.

“When I look at all the different e-mails that have come back, the voice says that for this community, this doesn’t work for us.”

Big Crowd Dwindles

By the time the board voted a crowd that had started out in the hundreds had dwindled to a few dozen.

More than 170 people signed up to testify at the hearing. At 11 p.m., more than four hours after the hearing began, the council voted to extend the meeting even later to take additional testimony. By 1 am, the council had heard from 101 people.

Even before the resolution was formally taken up, a majority of the city council had voiced opposition to the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal.

The hearing addressed two resolutions on the terminal, but most residents came to talk about the one that opposes the project as a whole. That resolution asks the Port of Vancouver to cancel its lease with Tesoro-Savage and urges state agencies and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee not to approve the project. It also supports new laws and regulations to improve crude oil transportation safety.

The council unanimously approved a resolution that calls for the city to play a bigger role in the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council review process.The council is in the midst of completing an environmental review of the project and is tasked with making a recommendation to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say. That resolution supports the city’s intervening in that process by presenting evidence to the state council, making arguments and appealing a decision to approve the oil terminal.

Most who testified Monday night voiced support for both resolutions and opposition to the oil terminal, although there were many who spoke on behalf of project backers Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies.

Emotional Testimony

The resolutions drew some emotional testimony from both sides.

Don Orange, owner of Hoesly Eco-Automotive of Vancouver, told the council that he’s angry about the prospect of “thousands of pounds of filth” coming into his neighborhood and hurting his business.

“You can call this a terminal. To me, it’s a toilet,” he said. “It’s coming in here on a freight train and we’re flushing it off into ships. This small businessman thinks it stinks.”

On the other side, Port Commissioner Jerry Oliver expressed sadness that the council would consider opposing the project he thinks will benefit the country as a whole by distributing more domestically produced oil to U.S. refineries.

“It makes me sad, not so much that you’re turning your back on the Port of Vancouver, but that you have so little faith in our ability as a community to make this happen,” Oliver said.

Safety And Business Concerns Raised

The Tesoro Savage oil terminal would transport up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The oil would come from North Dakota’s Bakken fields by trains, be transferred to vessels on the Columbia River and then shipped to West Coast refineries. It’s the largest oil terminal project among the several proposed in the Northwest.

While project supporters noted that the city council doesn’t have the authority to stop the project, opponents of the project said it’s important that the city council let the governor know where it stands.

“It’s difficult to imagine the governor supporting this project if the city of Vancouver opposes it,” said Clark County resident Don Steinke after presenting the council with a box of 2,000 signatures in support of the resolutions.

Vancouver resident Carol Rose says she’s worried about safety in her community if the proposed project is built.

“It’s a tremendous amount of oil, and it’s a danger,” she says. “I’ve lived here for 40 years. I don’t want to have to move because of this.”

Many project opponents voiced concern about the risk of oil train derailments and explosions like the one that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last year.

Project supporters defended the safety record of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. Earlier this year, Tesoro committed to using newer rail cars that meet higher safety standards.

Many who testified in support of the project were employees of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. They told the council that they appreciate the jobs and economic development the oil terminal would bring to the area and vouched for the companies’ track records in treating their employees well.

Jared Larrabee, general manager for Tesoro, said the resolution opposing the project is premature because the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council hasn’t completed its environmental review.

“The resolution is making a predetermination without having all of the facts, in our view,” he said. “The resolution contains several inaccuracies and assertions that haven’t been validated by the forthcoming Environmental Impact Statement.”

He and other Tesoro representatives supported the resolution that would support the city intervening in the state’s environmental review process. But they urged the council to delay its vote opposing the project or to reconsider it altogether.

Todd Coleman, director of Port of Vancouver, criticized the city’s resolution and said it would damage the port’s ability to do business.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he told the board. “You can’t have a thriving port and all the things that come with that success and then attempt to choose between cargo. A vote for this resolution is a vote against this community’s ability to attract private sector business.”

Six things you should know about the Pacific Northwest’s largest oil train terminal in Vancouver, Wash.


The Port of Vancouver’s rail loop would be used to unload 360,000 barrels of oil daily from trains. (Courtesy of Port of Vancouver)

By Rob Davis |
April 14, 2014 The Oregonian

A series of fiery explosions expanded opposition and heightened scrutiny of a Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. oil train terminal in Vancouver, Wash., a project that promises to be a bellwether for a growing number of facilities in development along the West Coast.

As we noted in a weekend story, a majority of Vancouver City Council members recently announced they opposed the $110 million terminal, which could process 360,000 barrels of oil daily.

Here are six things you should know about the terminal proposal.

1. It’s big.

It could unload four mile-long trains a day. It could move 131 million barrels of oil annually – seven times more than moved through Washington last year. It would allow Tesoro to move oil to its California refineries for less than the full rail journey would cost.

2. After three major oil train explosions, safety concerns are now driving the debate about the Vancouver terminal.

Building the biggest oil train terminal in the Pacific Northwest was always going to be controversial. But the string of fiery oil train wrecks turned an environmental debate about oil spills and fossil fuels into one about whether the project will put residents’ lives at risk.

Here’s how Jack Burkman, a three-term Vancouver city councilman, put it: “I’m stopped everywhere in town by people I never would’ve expected to be concerned about this. There’s too much lack of understanding. While the likelihood of an accident may be really, really low, the problems we’ve seen have been horrific. That’s what people are having a hard time wrapping their arms around.”

Todd Coleman, the Port of Vancouver’s executive director, put it this way: “(For) people who would’ve otherwise been neutral – fear is powerful.”

3. The string of accidents undercut arguments that something similar couldn’t happen in Vancouver.

When an oil train derailed in Quebec last July, exploding and killing 47 people, the port and Tesoro-Savage said something similar couldn’t happen in Vancouver. They said the BNSF Railway Co., which operates the main line through Vancouver, operated under stricter standards than the rail company in Quebec.

Then a major accident happened on a BNSF rail line in North Dakota in December.

gs00036566a-itoilterminal-02jpgjpeg-9cc3987e1e8f2f1c4. The Port of Vancouver has kept secret key details about the terminal.

The port signed a lease in July 2013 with Tesoro-Savage but redacted information in the contract, keeping secret how many trains could go to the site each day.

The Oregonian has asked the port to release an unredacted copy of the lease. A spokeswoman Friday said the agency was re-considering its decision.

5. The Port of Vancouver is trusting that state and federal authorities will address oil train safety.

Uncertainties about tank car safety and crude oil composition led the Port of Portland to reject crude-by-rail terminals until safety gaps are addressed. But in Vancouver, the port is counting on stronger safety standards being in place by the time the project – worth $45 million over 10 years in lease revenue to the port – finishes a state permitting process expected to take a year or longer.

There’s no guarantee safety standards will be ready by the time the terminal is, though. Improving the country’s tank car fleet, for example, could take a decade.

Coleman, the Port of Vancouver official, said his agency may have approached the project differently and gotten safety questions answered up front if it had known more accidents would follow the first major accident last July.

6. The port says a required safety plan will be a backstop if others don’t address safety issues first. But it’s unclear how robust that plan must be.

If federal and state regulators don’t improve oil train safety, Coleman, the port official, said his agency will be able to step in and require key safety measures.

The basis? Two sentences from the port’s 429-page lease with Tesoro-Savage. It says little about what’s required. The lease says:

— Rob Davis

Greenhouse Gases, More To Be Weighed In Vancouver Oil Terminal Review

Protesters opposing an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver gather Wednesday outside the Clark County Public Service Center before a meeting there of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. | credit: Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian

Protesters opposing an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver gather Wednesday outside the Clark County Public Service Center before a meeting there of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. | credit: Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian


The Columbian; Source: OPB

The Washington state board reviewing what would be the Northwest’s largest oil-by-rail terminal will undertake a sweeping analysis of the facility’s environmental effects — from the extraction of the oil to its ultimate consumption.

The environmental review for the proposed $110 million Tesoro-Savage oil terminal will consider impacts well beyond its location at the Port of Vancouver, the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council unanimously decided Wednesday.

Opponents of the oil terminal said they were heartened by the decision, while the project’s proponents remained unfazed.

“It’s generally encouraging that they’re looking at impacts outside of Vancouver throughout the state of Washington and the region,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for the environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper. “As the process moves forward, we’re going to be looking for more specifics.”

The general manager of the proposed terminal, Jared Larrabee, said Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies have known since they first filed their application with EFSEC last summer that the council’s review would be “very robust.”

“We’re fully on board with going through that process,” Larrabee said.

The proposed facility would generate 250 temporary construction jobs and 120 permanent jobs, according to the companies, and boost local and state tax revenues.

EFSEC, a state council created in 1970 to address controversy over the siting of nuclear power plants, is reviewing the terminal proposal before making a recommendation to the governor, who has the final say.

The council consists of a governor-appointed chairman and an employee each from five state agencies. During deliberations on the Tesoro-Savage proposal, Vancouver, Clark County, and the state Department of Transportation have representatives on the council, as does the Port of Vancouver, which approved a lease for the project.

Although the council’s Wednesday work session was public, the council did not take comments. Instead, the council chewed over a summary of the 31,074 overwhelmingly critical comments it had already received about the oil terminal proposal.

Since they knew they wouldn’t be able to speak directly to the council, about 50 opponents gathered outside the Clark County Public Service Center in downtown Vancouver before EFSEC began its meeting there.

“I’m hoping that everyone who is going to be inside will see we are out here and we care. We’re very concerned about the environment and safety,” protester Victoria Finch said. She lives close to the rail line that would supply the terminal with as many as 380,000 barrels of crude a day.

“We want EFSEC to turn it down. If they don’t, we want the governor to turn it down,” said protester Lehman Holder, chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter.

Opponents have argued the environmental impact statement should include the effects of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from the transportation of the oil to and from the terminal and its daily operations, but also from consumption of the oil.

Toward the end of the council’s meeting, EFSEC member Christina Martinez asked how far the environmental study’s consideration of greenhouse emissions would go.

“There’s some question of whether it fits into an area that’s speculative,” Chairman Bill Lynch said. “Some general analysis is appropriate because, obviously, burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases.”

Martinez pressed the point.

“It came up quite a bit in the scoping comments,” she said. “There’s a way for us to do that in the document without going to the nth degree.”

Don Steinke, who organized the pre-meeting protest, was taken aback.

“The biggest impact was almost an afterthought: the emissions from burning the fuel they’re shipping out,” he said.

Another Vancouver resident who has been tracking the oil terminal proposal was more upbeat.

“Listening to the tone of the board is encouraging,” said Eric LaBrant, who lives in the neighborhood closest to the proposed terminal. “They’re looking at details and asking questions. I’m going to be breathing those details — benzene and hexane and carbon monoxide. My kids are going to be breathing that when they’re taking spelling tests and riding their bikes.”

EFSEC staff can’t yet say how long the environmental review will take, let alone how long it will be before the council forwards its recommendation to the governor on whether to approve the oil terminal. The council will discuss the time line more specifically at its regular meeting April 15 in Olympia.