Vancouver port OKs oil train terminal

The Port of Vancouver, looking east from Terminal 5 (Courtesy: Port of Vancouver, July 23, 2013)
The Port of Vancouver, looking east from Terminal 5 (Courtesy: Port of Vancouver, July 23, 2013)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Port of Vancouver commissioners approved a 10-year, $45 million lease for 41 acres of oil terminal facilities at the port, a plan supporters say brings jobs while opponents worry about the environmental impact.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains from the oil fields of North Dakota would travel through the Columbia River Gorge and come close to downtown Vancouver on their way to the port.

Up to 380,000 barrels a day would come into Vancouver on several trains each about a mile long. Each barrel contains 42 gallons.

The Port of Vancouver (KOIN 6 News, file)
The Port of Vancouver (KOIN 6 News, file)

Once it arrives at the port, the crude would be stored, then transferred to tankers on the Columbia River for transport to refineries in California and Alaska.

Port of Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Oliver told KOIN 6 News it’s an economic windfall for Clark County and would create 200 construction jobs alone.

“Permanent jobs at the facility will be in the order of 80 to start,” he said. “These are family-wage jobs.”

Critics worry a train accident could result in a disaster along the scope of the derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec earlier this month. That derailment — of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train hauling oil which then exploded — killed at least 42 people and destroyed much of the town.

Dan Serres of Columbia Riverkeepers is also concerned about the possibility of trouble at sea once the oil is transferred.

A spill of really any size on the Columbia River would have an incredibly negative impact on water quality on the Columbia River and then on salmon habitat,” he said. “And then there’s people downstream who drink the water.”

The terminal would be run by Tesoro Corporation along with the Savage Companies.

“There will be a lot of opportunity for community involvement and engagement in the process,” said Curtis Dowd of the Savage Companies. “We intend to have an open dialogue.”

The proposal now goes to Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The council will make its recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will make the final decision.

If all is approved, the trains could be running in a little more than a year. According to the Association of American Railroads, a surge in North American oil production and a lack of pipeline capacity boosted the amount of crude moved by rail in America to record levels in 2012.

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