Vancouver oil port could help Whatcom refineries


VANCOUVER, Wash. — Port of Vancouver commissioners voted Tuesday, July 30, to approve a lease for a Columbia River terminal that would take in crude oil by train from North Dakota and ship it to West Coast refineries.

About 60 people were at the port’s office for the vote, which followed a public hearing Monday night, The Columbian reported.

The project will be reviewed by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which will make a recommendation to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee for a final decision.

Construction can’t begin until the project receives state and federal permits, said port spokeswoman Theresa Wagner. That could be a year to a year and a half away.

If the Vancouver oil terminal does get up and running, it could be another possible source of crude oil for refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Bill Kidd, spokesman for BP Cherry Point, said that crude oil from the Vancouver terminal could be transferred from rail cars to barges for the trip to Whatcom County refineries and others in the region if the price makes sense.

But environmental defenders of the Columbia River hope they can convince state officials to block the Vancouver oil terminal.

“After the port haphazardly rushed this lease, we look forward to Gov. Inslee taking a hard look at the threat of Bakken oil trains and the shocking terminal on the Columbia River,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, one of the opponents.

Port managers recommended approval of the deal with Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. for the economic benefits. Neighborhood and environmental groups oppose it because of safety and ecological risks.

Oil trains from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota would run through the Columbia River Gorge and Vancouver.

Demonstrators outside Monday’s hearing held banners in French and English that read, “In solidarity with Lac-Megantic,” a reference to the Quebec town where 50 people were killed July 6 when a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.

Vancouver and Portland members of the national environmental group Climate Parents presented the three port commissioners with 14,000 signatures demanding they reject the Tesoro-Savage plan. Speakers at the workshop said the terminal would increase the risks of oil spills, releases toxins into the air and worsen climate change.

Tesoro is a current tenant at the port. With Savage, it wants to build a 42-acre terminal with six storage tanks capable of handling 360,000 barrels a day for shipment to 19 West Coast and British Columbia refineries, The Oregonian reported.

By comparison, the Alaska pipeline is averaging 559,000 barrels a day this year, according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. A barrel is 42 gallons.

The Vancouver terminal operation would involve as many as four, mile-long oil trains a day, operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

The 10-year lease would bring the port $4.5 million a year. It currently operates on revenue of $34 million a year.

The companies also would invest up to $100 million in the terminal that would employ 120 workers, and agree to rail and operation safety plans.

Tesoro, Savage and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway have said they’ll use modern equipment, rail cars and double-hulled vessels.

BNSF invested $100 million in upgrades last year in Washington, including track through the Gorge, spokesman Gus Melonas told

The Oregonian. The company is training emergency response personnel in Stevenson and Vancouver on tank car operations, he said.

Trains already deliver oil to the U.S. Oil refinery in Tacoma and the Tesoro refinery near Anacortes. BP PLC plans to build a rail yard at its Cherry Point refinery north of Bellingham.

An oil terminal already is operating on the Columbia at a former ethanol plant at Port Westward near Clatskanie, Ore. Other oil terminals are proposed in Tacoma and Grays Harbor County.

Bellingham Herald reporter John Stark contributed to this story.

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