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Environment | Energy | News | Climate change

Final Report On Vancouver Oil Terminal Highlights Safety, Environmental Risks


Vancouver Energy’s proposed facility (highlighted in blue) at Terminal 5 at the Port of Vancouver.

Vancouver Energy’s proposed facility (highlighted in blue) at Terminal 5 at the Port of Vancouver.

Courtesy of Tesoro Corp.

A Washington energy council has released a massive environmental report that could decide the fate of a controversial $210 million oil terminal in Vancouver.

The state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, discussed findings from the Final Environmental Impact Statement Tuesday afternoon at a special meeting in Olympia.

The lengthy report, more than 1,200 pages, is one of the final steps in a regulatory process that’s spanned more than four years. The final review is an update to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that was released in November 2015. EFSEC staff say they received more than 250,000 comments on the draft through mail, email and public testimony.

“This document has been worked on for quite a long time,” said Stephen Posner, who manages the council.

Posner and other EFSEC staff briefed the council on the FEIS and fielded questions at Tuesday’s special meeting. Posner said while the document is in its final form, questions on potential risks and hazards still remain. 

“There is still some degree of unknown,” Posner told the council. “If it’s determined that there’s going to be problems or issues that can’t be resolved, then more analysis may need to be done.”

The FEIS is an in-depth review of potential risks associated with an oil terminal proposal by Tesoro and Savage, the companies behind Vancouver Energy. If built, the crude-by-rail terminal would handle more than 360,000 barrels of oil a day to the Port of Vancouver, making it the largest marine oil terminal in the country.

“The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement is an important milestone in EFSEC’s evaluation of the Vancouver Energy project,” said project spokesman Jeff Hymas in an emailed statement.

“While we are just beginning our in-depth review of the FEIS, our initial assessment provides confidence that EFSEC’s thorough evaluation of the facts will demonstrate our ability to build and operate the project safely and in an environmentally responsible way,” Hymas said.

The FEIS noted some significant impacts could be unavoidable, including rail accidents, emergency response delays resulting from additional train traffic and environmental justice impacts to low-income populations along the rail corridor. 

“As someone who lives nearby, I’m definitely taking a close look at the report,” said Port of Vancouver Commissioner Eric LaBrant, who lives in Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood and has spoken against the terminal project.

“The real question now is what they do with this? The biggest decision on the project is yet to come,” he added.

And while it’s unclear which way EFSEC is leaning on the terminal project, environmentalists were quick to raise concerns after seeing the report.

“It clearly shows that there’s no possible mitigation for a major oil train derailment,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Based on that issue alone, we would hope that the council would reject this project and we certainly hope that Gov. [Jay] Inslee denies it in the end.”

EFSEC staff said the likelihood of an oil train derailment is about once every two years, but that won’t always result in a spill. The report calculated the likelihood of a smaller spill of nine barrels or less at the terminal’s dock is closer to once every 14 years.

The final review also added additional modeling and analysis, including seismic review of the project to see if it could withstand an 8.9 magnitude earthquake. According to the document, a major quake could result in a large oil spill due to liquefaction of some ground soils and damage to the facility. 

The council’s next step is a recommendation to the governor on the terminal proposal. EFSEC can either recommend the project, recommend against it or recommend it with conditions. They’ll announce their decision at a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28 in Olympia.

Tuesday’s meeting is open to the public, but no public comment will be taken. It will take place at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room 4 of the J.A. Cherberg Building in Olympia. 

Once the recommendation is in, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will have 60 days to make a final decision.

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