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NW Push For Clean Fuels Could Mean More Crude, New Refinery


An aerial view of the Columbia River.

An aerial view of the Columbia River.

Amelia Templeton

The push for cleaner fuels in Oregon and Washington has led to proposals that would bring the region more crude oil and a new refinery along the Columbia River.

Riverside Energy, a subsidiary of Houston-based company Waterside Energy Inc., intends to build a refinery to process mostly crude oil and some biofuels that can meet a growing demand for low-carbon fuels in the Portland metro area, according to interviews and documents.

“We believe the West Coast markets are going to be underserved when it comes to lower carbon fuels, and our intent is to produce lower carbon fuels,” Riverside CEO Louis Soumas said in an interview. “We don’t have to go out of the region to find a good market for it.”

Longview, Washington, is the likely site for such a refinery. On Tuesday, the Port of Longview announced it would pursue a deal for the refinery project. Documents obtained by Columbia Riverkeeper and shared with media show Riverside has selected Longview as well. If constructed, the refinery would be the first built on the West Coast in 25 years.

According to documents, the petroleum and biofuel refinery would produce somewhere between 40,000 and 45,000 barrels of fuel per day. It would receive roughly a dozen trains of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota each month, as well as from ships providing biofuels.

Two-thirds of the refinery’s output would be liquid petroleum fuel refined from crude oil, documents show. The rest of its processing would be seed and vegetable oils.

A project outline Riverside submitted to the Port of Vancouver and obtained through a public records request made by OPB, states “the refinery is being designed to have the lowest carbon footprint of any U.S. refinery.”

At various stages, Riverside has pitched state and port officials on a refinery that could “supply the Washington and Oregon markets with enough renewable diesel to achieve an 8 percent blend into the existing fuel supply” and “comply with Washington States proposed Carbon Fuel Standards at the 10-year target threshold.”

The refinery’s target market would be Portland, according to Soumas and a document from the Port of Vancouver. Vancouver entertained proposals from Riverside before saying no to the possibility of a refinery. The port there is already considering a project that would create the nation’s largest rail-to-marine terminal for crude oil.

Soumas, who previously lived in Washington, has a background in renewable energy projects. He said the company has been watching West Coast clean fuel developments for several years, and anticipated the market would grow after California established a low carbon fuel standard in 2007.

“The governments in the Western U.S. have always been — in our opinion — have always been leaders in environmental policy and we expect that to continue,” Soumas said.

In March, the Oregon Legislature reauthorized a measure that requires the state to reduce carbon emissions from transportation by 10 percent during the next decade.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has outlined a clean fuel standard for Washington, but the standard has not passed the state Legislature.

A refinery handling Bakken crude is one approach to meeting the new standards many environmental groups who championed them didn’t expect.

“I have to say refineries really didn’t come up in the conversation,” Jana Gastellum, Climate Program Director at the Oregon Environmental Council, said of her organization’s lobbying efforts.

Ben Serrurier, a policy specialist with Climate Solutions, which has advocated for low carbon fuels legislation in the Northwest, said the point was to let the market figure out how to meet goals for reduced carbon emissions.

But, he said, “any increased investment in fossil fuel dependence is — I think personally and as an organization — is not the right direction for Washington or Oregon.”

Officials implementing Oregon’s new clean fuels law said if the new refinery can get its carbon levels low enough, it could help the state reach new fuel standards.

“They could be more attractive because they would produce a cleaner, lower carbon product that would be more marketable in the Oregon fuels market, said Cory-Ann Wind, a planner with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s clean fuels program.

“If they’re a significant producers of these fuels, then it would give the industry as a whole another way to comply with the standard,” Wind said.

Washington currently has five refineries with a combined total production of more than half a million barrels per day. Oregon gets more than 90 percent of its fuel from those refineries.

The refinery proposed by Riverside would capture 3 percent or 4 percent of the market, Soumas said. He thinks a new, specialized refinery would have an advantage over existing refineries trying to switch to lower carbon fuels.

“It can use the latest and greatest technologies and it can build from the ground up with the crude and renewable components together,” Soumas said. “For them to convert those to include the renewable component would be very challenging given their current systems.”

Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said he was unfamiliar with the Riverside project. He said he did not know why a new new refinery might have an advantage over existing ones in producing lower-carbon fuel.

The WSPA has lobbied against such standards on the West Coast, arguing the fuels outlined by them are not feasible.

“Our members, who manufacture almost all of the fuel that’s available on the West coast, have very serious concerns with the low carbon fuel standard,” Hull said.

Hull added that new refineries face a lot of hurdles and difficult permitting processes before they become operational.

In Washington, the permitting process for large-scale energy projects can take several years, as has been the case with several coal, oil and natural gas terminals across the Northwest.

“Believe me, any developer in the energy business who is working on the West Coast, there are those who think we’re crazy,” Soumas said. “We don’t believe that’s the case.”

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