Renewable Energy Group, one of three biofuel companies at the center of environmental reviews by the DOE, will not include crude oil as part of the expansion proposed at its Port of Grays Harbor facility.
REG now occupies the Port land that Imperium Renewables once leased after REG’s buyout of Imperium, which completed in August.
Company spokesman Anthony Hulen confirmed REG’s plan to abandon crude-oil storage on Wednesday afternoon after those plans were made public in a statement from the Washington Environmental Council. The council’s statement included a copy of a 16-page comment that REG submitted to the state Department of Ecology, dated Nov. 30.
“Upon further evaluation and significant deliberation, REG has concluded that its future plans at Grays Harbor do not include handling crude oil,” the statement says.
REG’s comment to Ecology was among 100,000 that the department had collected during its two-month-long public-comment period included in its environmental review process on the proposed expansions at Port facilities for both REG and Westway Terminals, Inc. Westway also aims to store crude oil in its facility expansion.
A third Port tenant, U.S. Development, has initiated a similar review process with the city and Ecology, but has not moved beyond the scoping phase of the study, which ended in late 2014.
Though the comment makes REG’s intentions clear, it is not an offical project revision, said Ecology spokesman Chase Gallagher, adding that REG would need to submit a formal revision. That decision would not be reversible, Shay added, with the city’s new ordinance the City Council adopted last year that bans further crude-oil storage development.
With REG’s formal revision filed, crude-oil storage within the City of Hoquiam would be limited to Westway’s five proposed tanks — each with a capacity of 8.4 million gallons — and the U.S. Development project, which proposes six to eight tanks that would collectively hold anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million gallons of crude oil.
The City Council last year adopted an ordinance that bans future crude-oil storage plans.
In Aberdeen, a six-month moratorium adopted in late July has banned crude-oil storage development at least until later this month, when the ban could be renewed for another six months.
In its comment to the state, REG said it was dropping plans for crude-oil storage, but still wants to expand its property. “REG intends to continue to pursue the expansion project, including the proposal to handle all of the commodities identified in its application materials, with the exception of crude oil,” the statement says.
Hulen would not elaborate on what the expansion now entails, simply offering a prepared statement over the phone.
“We at REG are happy to be producing lower-carbon, renewable fuel at Grays Harbor, and look forward to building relationships with all local and regional stakeholders,” Hulen said via phone, reading from that statement.
REG’s revision would likely have little impact on the Port, said Port Executive Director Gary Nelson.
“We obviously support our customers’ decisions and any customer that’s willing to invest in Grays Harbor and create jobs within the terms of their lease and state regulations, we support,” Nelson said. “From our standpoint, we don’t really see any change.”
The comment’s Nov. 30 date — the last day of the environmental review process’ public-comment period — raised some questions about why the news of REG’s decision hadn’t been released more widely and sooner. REG provided its comment to the Washington Environmental Council when it submitted it to Ecology, said Kerry McHugh, a spokeswoman for the council.
After receiving the comment, McHugh said the council was prepared to wait and see what other plans REG would release, but had heard nothing further since.
“Knowing the fact that they were planning to not move ahead with crude was something we felt like we needed to share,” McHugh said.
Hulen declined to comment on why REG waited to make the announcement more public. “I’m not going to comment any further on that,” he said.
As co-leads of the environmental review process, the City of Hoquiam and Ecology had the comment on file and were aware of REG’s plan for more than a month. Gallagher said the department had been and is still working to archive all 100,000 of the comments before making them public.
“Our responsibility with the comments is to gather them from the public, evaluate them and respond to them in the final EIS,” Gallagher said. “That’s been the plan all along, and that’s the process we’ve been in since the end of the comment period.”
City Administrator Brian Shay said the city withheld the information after hearing that REG would submit something more formal.
“This is definitely something we wanted to announce — it’s been so controversial, the City Council changed our ordinance and everything,” Shay said. “We’ve been anxious to be able to share this news and we’re glad the information is out there.”
The city expects the formal revision, Shay said, within the next two weeks.
With the plans now public, Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff, who denounced crude-oil storage during her campaign against incumbent Jack Durney, spoke positively about the news.
“I’m thrilled about REG choosing not to move ahead with using crude oil as an option for their business plan and we look forward to working with them as they continue to develop and expand potentially on their business,” Dickhoff said in a phone message on Wednesday night.
Even amid the delay, the news was welcomed, unsurprisingly, by regional and local environmental activists.
“We are pleased that REG has listened to the people and made this decision,” R.D. Grunbaum, a member with Citizens for Clean Harbor, said in the statement released by the Washington Environmental Council. “Now we need to continue our fight to convince the other proponents that it is time to follow this lead and abandon their risky projects to bring crude oil to Grays Harbor. We can have a healthy environment that allows our families to prosper and a strong economy without the risk of oil spills and accidents.”
The Quinault Indian Nation has also rallied against crude-oil storage plans since their proposal, largely citing the impacts a spill could have on the nation’s fishing industry.
“REG’s decision is a strong affirmation the company took to heart the concerns of thousands of people who spoke out about the dangers of crude-oil storage and transport to our communities and waterways,” nation President Fawn Sharp said in the council’s statement. “The Quinault Nation looks forward to working with REG and other businesses that share a vision for a sustainable future and together build an ever stronger Grays Harbor.”
It will be difficult to determine, Gallagher said, just how REG’s decision would affect the environmental review process moving forward until the company files its official project update.
“We’re still waiting on getting an update from them, and once we do, we can evaluate the scale of those changes and figure out the path forward,” Gallagher said.
Kyle Mittan, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KyleMittan
This story has been updated with a statement from Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff.