This seems rather ironic: The Columbia Pacific Biorefinery in Clatskanie, built to produce renewable corn-based ethanol fuel, is apparently cashing in on domestic oil production.
According to this story in the Longview Daily News, the company is at least temporarily importing crude oil and ethanol from the Midwest by rail and shipping it out of the Columbia River on ocean-going barges. Bio-refinery co-manager Mark Fleischauer said the barges can serve the Asian markets and refineries on the West Coast.
But the newspaper reports he declined to comment further on where the products are going, where they are coming from, how much will be shipped or how it will affect employment.
The $200 million ethanol plant is owned by Cascade Kelly Holding LLC. The company invested $20 million in fixing the plant after buying it out of bankruptcy, but low ethanol prices and high corn prices have prevented the plant from producing ethanol.
The company cut the work force at the plant from 72 to 20 last year, though it still plans to produce ethanol one day. Meanwhile, domestic oil production rose by 760,000 barrels a day last year with increased drilling for shale oil in North Dakota, Montana and Texas.
So, instead of producing ethanol at a loss, the company is shipping fuels produced elsewhere using the Port of St. Helens dock Morrow Pacific wants to use for its coal export project in Oregon.
Port of St. Helens Director Patrick Trapp said the move toward shipping oil and other commodities could help diversify the company’s operations and support future ethanol production.
I’m interested to see whether the company agrees with that assessment.