Public debates VXR oil terminal’s environmental impact

Proposed rail-to-marine oil transfer can handle 360,000 barrels of crude per day

Rail-to-marine oil transfer along the Columbia River can handle an average 360,000 barrels of crude per day. (Vancouver Energy)
Rail-to-marine oil transfer along the Columbia River can handle an average 360,000 barrels of crude per day. (Vancouver Energy)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Hundreds gathered at the Clark County Fairgrounds on Tuesday for the first of several public hearings on a controversial oil terminal proposed for Vancouver.

The hearing focused on an environmental impact statement for the oil-handling facility that covers everything from earthquake hazards to explosion risks.

“This is a pressing issue with great ramifications for the health and safety of our community,” an opponent publicly commented.

Opponents of the Vancouver oil terminal proposal wore red to a public hearing on Tuesday, January 5, 2016. (KOIN)
Opponents of the Vancouver oil terminal proposal wore red to a public hearing on Tuesday, January 5, 2016. (KOIN)

It was a sea of red as hundreds of opponents in matching apparel voiced their concerns with the oil-by-rail facility.

While the vast majority of attendees spoke out against the proposal, those in favor discussed how it could benefit the community.

“We will employ roughly hundreds of more people in the local Vancouver area,” one person commented.

If the proposal is approved, Vancouver Energy would get the green light to build a rail-to-marine oil transfer along the Columbia River that can handle an average 360,000 barrels of crude per day.

The oil would be temporarily stored on site and then loaded onto marine vessels for transport to refineries on the West Coast.

“We are producing more oil than we’ve ever produced in United States history since the 1970s,” Vancouver Energy General Manager Jered Larrabee said. “This really is an opportunity to move domestic crude oil, North American crude oil, to the west coast refineries that are used for transportation fuels that we use everyday.”

Rail-to-marine oil transfer along the Columbia River can handle an average 360,000 barrels of crude per day. (Vancouver Energy)
Rail-to-marine oil transfer along the Columbia River can handle an average 360,000 barrels of crude per day. (Vancouver Energy)

Despite the economic benefits he discussed, Larrabee contended that safety issues are his biggest concern.

The same can be said for the hundreds of opponents who have been fighting against the proposal for years.

“The oil that’s being transferred on the trains is much more volatile than typical oil,” Bryan Rittenhouse with Friends of the Columbia River Gorge said. “It’s coming from the North Dakota oil fields and… it’s a much more volatile mix of oil.”

A draft environmental review released by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council in late November lays out a variety of operational mandates that, if implemented, could ensure the safe transport of oil through the proposed rail terminal.

If the proposal is approved, Vancouver Energy would have to execute a number of safety precautions to minimize risks:

  • Provide secondary containment for above ground crude oil transfer pipelines to reduce the risk of spills
  • Implement mitigation measures to reduce risks from seismically induced soil liquefaction
  • Require all tank cars used to transport crude oil meet or exceed appropriate regulatory specifications
  • Coordinate with local first responder agencies (like Vancouver Fire Department) to provide full-time and voluntary responders with appropriate training
  • Purchase and station additional crude oil spill and crude oil fire and explosion response equipment
  • Provide comprehensive annual instruction for Vancouver Fire Department
  • Develop appropriate response strategies for cleaning up crude oil spills

And the list goes on. The report also indicates there are a number of issues to be resolved before the council can move forward with its review.

In October, the president of the Vancouver Fire Association announced he was “adamantly opposed” to the oil terminal.

“A disaster down here would be catastrophic,” Mark Johnson previously said. “Our members are not risk adverse.”

In an EFSEC survey, numerous local emergency response agencies indicated the need for additional resources in the event of a potentially devastating spill or explosion scenario. Many of the agencies also expressed concerns that they were not adequately staffed to deal with the incidents.

Other hearings are scheduled for January 12 in Ridgefield and January 14 in Spokane.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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