Washington state DNR opposes Vancouver rail-to-marine oil terminal

A proposed Vancouver, Wash., rail-to-marine crude oil terminal poses such serious fire, landslide, and spill risks that the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) should not certify it without more safety and environmental safeguards, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources said.

“Based on the evidence as a whole, DNR asserts that EFSEC cannot meet its obligations to assure the public that the proposal contains adequate safeguards for public welfare and protection and to ensure the proposal will have minimal adverse environmental, consequences,” DNR said in a June 20 filing prior to EFSEC’s scheduled June 27 adjudication hearing on the proposed project.

“Accordingly, EFSEC should deny the application to certify the proposal,” DNR’s filing recommended.

The joint venture of Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co. LLC and Savage Cos. would receive crude by rail and load it onto ships bound for US West Coast refineries, its sponsors say. No oil would be refined there and it would not increase transportation fuel use in the area, they note. The facility was expected to handle an average 360,000 b/d of light crude and cost $75-100 million when it was announced in 2013.

EFSEC’s previously scheduled hearing will occur weeks after a Union Pacific train hauling crude derailed across the Columbia River and farther upstream in Mosier, Ore. About 1,000 bbl of Bakken crude spilled from overturned tank cars. The town was briefly evacuated and water use restrictions were imposed for several days. The spilled crude did not ignite and no one was injured (OGJ Online, June 8, 2016).

DNR’s filing outlined concerns about possible wildfires, for which the department’s firefighting crews would be available only during the summer fire season, while the terminal would operate year round. “In addition, response to a crude oil fire requires specialized training, materials, and equipment that DNR wildland firefighters do not possess,” it said.

Fire’s estimated cost

The filing noted that Vancouver’s fire expert, Robert Blackburn, has estimated that a derailment and fire within the city limits could cost $5-6 billion. “As noted by Mr. Blackburn, commercial insurance is not available for such catastrophic losses, and even the largest railroad would be unable to cover them,” it said.

Landslide risks to train travel along the rail corridor also have not been addressed, the filing continued. “A landslide hitting a train would create an obvious potential source of derailment. Without hitting trains, however, landslides can also indirectly lead to derailments by forcing trains to stop suddenly and by damaging tracks,” it said.

The Columbia River Gorge, which contains a significant part of the rail line associated with the proposal, has been among the most landslide-prone areas in the state in the recent past, according to the filing.

Another estimate found that damages associated with a worst-case spill into the Columbia River would exceed $84 million, and associated ecosystems would take nearly 9 years to recover.

Noting that a 2013 crude-by-rail accident in Lac Megantic, Que., killed 47 people and destroyed the city’s downtown, DNR’s filing said that dollar figures associated with a catastrophic oil train derailment and fire do not provide “an adequate measure of the true human cost of a worst-case disaster involving shipment of crude by rail (OGJ Online, July 8, 2013).”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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