Science & Environment

Portland adopts limits on fossil fuel terminals

By Todd Milbourn (OPB)
Aug. 24, 2022 10:07 p.m.

Supporters say restrictions will reduce potential for environmental disaster.

The Portland City Council voted on Wednesday to limit the expansion of fossil fuel terminals in the city.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said the move will bolster Portland’s efforts to combat climate change and help safeguard the city in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.


Dan Serres, the conservation director at Columbia Riverkeeper, called it “an important first step to protect the health, safety, and climate of Portland’s residents.”

The zoning code change prohibits the construction of new fossil fuel terminals and prevents any of Portland’s existing 11 terminals from expanding.

Fuel tanks sit along the river bank in Portland.

Fuel tanks sit along the river bank in Portland. The Portland City Council voted Wednesday to limit expansion of the tanks as a step in fighting climate change and safeguarding the Willamette River in the event of an earthquake.

OPB File Photo

The existing terminals are collectively referred to as the Critical Energy Infrastructure hub. The area — along the bank of the Willamette River in North Portland — houses about 90% of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel used in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Many of the tanks were built before scientists fully understood the region’s seismic vulnerability. The tanks stand atop soils researchers say would likely give way — or liquefy — during a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

A study commissioned by the City of Portland and Multnomah County in 2020 found between 95 million and 194 million gallons of fuel could be released in a major earthquake. The fuel would spew into the air as well as into the Willamette River, and cause $359 million to $2.6 billion in damages, the study found.

The city passed a similar ordinance in 2016. Industry groups opposed the measure and appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. The case eventually went to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals, which ruled the city needed to modify the ordinance to be consistent with city land-use policies.

The city’s ongoing fight with the oil terminal operator Zenith Energy will not be impacted by the ordinance. Zenith operates a controversial oil terminal in Northwest Portland. In 2021, the city denied a land use compatibility statement to prevent Zenith from expanding its operation — a move that is now under appeal.


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