Vancouver neighborhoods cut off from fire and police protection by increased train traffic. A highly volatile commodity traveling near homes. An industrial area prone to liquefying in an earthquake.
Those are among more than 100 areas of concern the city of Vancouver wants state regulators to include in their examination of the environmental impacts of a proposed oil-by-rail operation at the Port of Vancouver.
City officials on Monday presented to the City Council a draft 12-page document outlining Vancouver’s concerns about the proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies to run a facility capable of handling as much as 380,000 barrels of crude per day for eventual conversion into transportation fuels. It would be the largest such operation in the Northwest.
The city will send its concerns to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, as part of the council’s scoping process to decide what should be included in the environmental review of the project. The deadline for submitting remarks is Dec. 18.
Senior Planner Jon Wagner told city councilors that thousands of people have submitted comments to EFSEC. “I feel confident the project will be thoroughly reviewed,” he said.
Project opponents want the city to request a comprehensive environmental review and to oppose the project. They include Jim Eversaul, a Vancouver resident and retired U.S. Coast Guard chief engineer, who was among 11 people who spoke to city councilors last month. “It’s just not that many jobs for the price,” he said of the oil-handling facility.
The city’s concerns reflect many of those raised by opponents, including potential oil spills, detrimental impacts to the city’s waterfront redevelopment plan and climate change. But the city isn’t taking a position on the oil terminal, according to its scoping comments. Instead, the city “encourages EFSEC to require a full and comprehensive analysis of the probable, significant adverse environmental impacts of the entire project.”
In an email to The Columbian, Rebecca Boucher, a spokeswoman for Savage, said the company and Tesoro declined to comment for this story.
‘Entirely cut off’
The city’s scoping comments mark the latest step in what’s likely to be a yearlong regulatory process. The EFSEC will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say over whether the oil terminal gets built.
In its comments, the city asks for an analysis of the “entire range” of impacts, not only of the oil terminal site itself but also of moving “the commodity to the port by rail and the shipping by ocean-going tanker on the Columbia River.”
Under the Tesoro-Savage plan, oil would be hauled to the port by train from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, where crude is extracted by hydraulic fracturing. The oil would be stored at the port and transferred to ships headed to U.S. refineries. The companies say the project’s benefits include about 250 temporary construction jobs, 120 full-time jobs and a significant boost to local and state tax revenues.
Noting the possibility of increased train traffic through Vancouver, the city asks state regulators to examine the cumulative impacts of the Tesoro-Savage plan, two other oil-by-rail proposals in Grays Harbor, a potash-by-rail export facility planned at the Port of Vancouver, and two coal-export proposals in Longview and near Bellingham, all of which involve more trains.
The city also asks state regulators to assess risks tied to the oil terminal and to analyze whether the effects on everything from neighborhoods and transportation to air, land and water will increase the need for public services.
“Some residential areas along the Columbia River could be entirely cut off from emergency services for extended periods of time and increased frequency due to the length of the unit trains and slow speeds of the trains in city limits, or from trains stopped waiting for other trains to move,” according to the city. “Emergency responders may have no alternative but to access these areas by boat. But such a response would be clearly inadequate for fire response or responses to criminal activity.”
Bakken oil ‘highly volatile’
State regulators also should identify the potential risks of an oil-train explosion “and if and how those can be mitigated to nonsignificant levels,” the city says. Regulators also should review the federal government’s investigation into concerns surrounding the shipment of Bakken crude by train.
“Bakken crude oil is recognized as being highly volatile,” the city says. “The disaster at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in which 47 lives were lost, demonstrates beyond question the danger posed by shipping this commodity through population centers.”
The city also says the oil terminal would be built “in an area identified to have a high risk of liquefaction in the event of an earthquake. The analysis needs to address this risk and its potential impacts.”
And state regulators should conduct “a full study” of the effects on the public of toxic air emissions from the oil terminal, the city says, including impacts “to those in poor health.”
The city points to its investments in a larger plan to redevelop Vancouver’s waterfront, including $45 million in transportation improvements. Noting that rail tracks border the waterfront site, the city asks state regulators to identify the oilterminal’s effects on the redevelopment plan, which calls for 3,300 residential units and 1 million square feet of commercial space on 32 acres of riverfront property.
In its comments about climate change, the city quotes Tesoro and Savage from their oil-terminal application. The companies say that while most scientists agree human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are affecting the climate, there are no analytical tools “or established procedures for evaluating climate impacts from individual projects.”
The city sees it differently, remarking that “although there is some controversy with this concept,” EFSEC’s environmental-impact review “should address the potential impacts to climate” of the oil terminal.
In a phone interview, Wagner, the senior planner, said the city thinks “the state ought to see if there is a way to measure it.” He added, “We want the state to define it.”
Fire department weighs in
The city’s remarks to EFSEC include a section devoted to an extensive list of concerns and requests from the Vancouver Fire Department. The department’s requests include:
—An analysis of the “fire and life safety risk and probability of error based on volume of crude oil and transport type,” including risks to homes and businesses along the rail system and Columbia River.
—An examination of the impacts on the fire department’s ability to respond to emergencies and an identification of “deficiencies and needed mitigations such as training or equipment.”
—An evaluation of the proposed fire and spill protection systems for the proposed oil facilities.
—An analysis of the design and construction of the oil storage tanks “in terms of the 2012 International Fire Code.”
Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said Tuesday she expects to seek outside expertise to help the fire department assess the proposed oil terminal’s impacts as part of the environmental review. That’s not an unusual step, she said, given the complexity of the oil-handling facility. “It’s such a large project,” she said.
Staff writer Stephanie Rice contributed to this story.