Vancouver oil terminal seeks support from Tri-Cities

An oil train parked on tracks near Canal Drive in Kennewick.
An oil train parked on tracks near Canal Drive in Kennewick. Tri-City Herald

An oil industry executive called on Pasco on Monday to build political support for a $210 million oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver.

Dan Riley, vice president for government relations for Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co., discussed plans to establish the oil terminal during a brief visit Monday, when he spoke to the Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

Tesoro, the West Coast’s largest seller of transportation fuels, and its partner, Savage Energy, want to convert an existing dock at the Port of Vancouver into an oil terminal to handle up to 360,000 barrels of crude per day.

Dubbed Vancouver Energy, the terminal would accept Bakken crude shipped by rail by way of Pasco and the Columbia River Gorge. It would be transferred to tanks in Vancouver. From tanks, it would be loaded onto ships destined for refineries in Alaska, Washington and California, though not Oregon, which has no refineries.

Vancouver Energy’s lease with the Port of Vancouver precludes it from exporting crude overseas.

It’s been nearly four years since Vancouver Energy applied with Washington’s Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council or EFSEC for the requisite permits. Riley said EFSEC is expected to forward its recommendations to Gov. Jay Inslee in the coming months. The governor is responsible for making the decision to approve or reject.

Vancouver Energy is prohibited from having any contact with the governor or his staff, but Riley is optimistic that Inslee, a Democrat, will give Vancouver Energy the thumbs up.

He implored Pasco chamber members to let Inslee know if they support the project, noting that opponents are doing the same.

Whatever the governor decides will certainly be appealed.

The project is highly controversial for its association with carbon fuels, global warming and recent rail disasters, including a fiery oil train wreck at Mosier, Ore., on June 3, an accident federal officials blamed on Union Pacific Railroad.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the project in 2015 concluded that the added trains would increase the chances of derailments and oil spills.

Riley said Vancouver Energy and its rail partner, BNSF, are committed to safety, including adopting next-generation rail cars with the latest safety features, enhanced monitoring of rail conditions and a supplemental budget to pay for emergency training and equipment.

“We’ve invested heavily in spill prevention,” he said. “It’s all about safety.”

Riley said the terminal will create jobs and has a positive environmental story to tell. Crude from the Bakken Formation has a lower carbon content than the foreign sources that help fuel the West Coast. The net difference would be the equivalent of removing 250,000 cars from the road.

The Sightline Institute, a Seattle think tank that has challenged Vancouver Energy and similar fossil fuel infrastructure projects pending across the Northwest, called its viability into question in a recent opinion. In light of President Donald Trump’s support for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, Vancouver Energy may wind up starved for crude.

Riley disagreed, saying those pipelines transport oil to the east. Vancouver Energy opens a much-needed route to the west.

“There are no pipelines to the west,” he said.

Vancouver stands to benefit directly, with 320 jobs during construction and 176 at full operation. The Tri-Cities would feel some impact, including about four trains a day.

The project would also bump up business at BNSF Railroad’s Pasco hump yard, where the railroad has committed to inspecting every train carrying crude before it heads down the gorge toward Vancouver.

Vancouver Energy has not solicited formal endorsements in the Tri-Cities.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell