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Q&A: Vancouver Oil-By-Rail Environmental Review

Washington state released a detailed report Tuesday assessing the environmental impact of a proposed rail-to-marine oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

If built, the project would be the largest of its kind in the country.

It could move 360,000 barrels of crude oil daily by train from North Dakota to Vancouver. From there, the oil would be transferred onto ships and sent to West Coast refineries.

Here’s a closer look:

What does the report say?
The report really looks at all kinds of impacts this project could have to the environment. And that’s defined broadly to include impacts on water and air quality, fish and wildlife and noise. The report also addresses possible emergencies that could result from oil spills and tank car derailments.

The detail it goes into is incredible. It looks at things like the quality of the soil where the terminal could be built and the risk that soil might destabilize during an earthquake. The draft report looks at how more ships on the Columbia River could create additional sound and wake that could have some effect on riverbanks and juvenile salmon.

Train traffic has been a huge issue with this proposed project. What does the report say about that?

The report looks at cumulative impacts. There are other proposed oil and coal by rail projects around Washington state that combined would increase rail traffic.

Not surprisingly, it says there would be more congestion along the rail lines and through Columbia River towns like Washougal and Camas.

And that means there could be a greater number of accidents – people getting hit by trains.

What’s been the reaction to the report  by supporters?

One of the businessmen working to get the oil terminal built says the report is an important part of the process: identifying potential problems so they can be dealt with.

“So it doesn’t mean that a project can’t get permitted or approved. In fact, quite the opposite,” says Jared Larrabee, general manager for the Vancouver Energy Project. “It can be helped to identify things and then to address things so that everyone is aware and you can address and fix those things.”

The Vancouver Energy Project is the joint venture formed by the Tesoro Corp. oil company and Savage, a logistics company.

How have critics of the oil terminal responded to the new report?

Environmental groups say the report outlined many of the concerns they’ve already raised. Columbia Riverkeeper executive director Brett VandenHeuvel says it’s important not just for the public to know about those concerns; it’s also critical that the report draws the attention of Washington’s top statewide office holder.

“Gov. (Jay) Inslee in Washington is the final decision maker here and we think that the report provides more than adequate reasons for him to deny the project,” VandenHeuvel says.

The state also commissioned three separate studies as part of this report that came out of concerns they heard from the public. What were those?

Yes, one looked at how the oil terminal, trains and ships carrying crude oil would hold up to an earthquake. One thing they found there is that the facility is designed to withstand an earthquake – but some of the soils where the facility would be built might not hold up.

They also looked at the risks of a crude oil spill involving one of their ships on the Columbia River, at the oil terminal itself, or a train derailment.

The report’s authors concluded that: “accidents could occur and the risk of a crude oil spill, fire, and/or explosion cannot be totally eliminated.”

What’s the process going forward?

There’s a public comment period. So the public can weigh in with their thoughts on the project from now until Jan. 22.

There are also two public hearing that will take place. One will be here in Clark County on Jan. 5. And a second one will take place Jan. 7 in Spokane.

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