The state panel reviewing a proposal for an oil-by-rail transfer terminal in Vancouver agreed Tuesday to extend to early next year the timeline for completing a review of the proposal and for making a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee.
The decision by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which was expected, adds six months to a review process that includes an environmental impact examination, judicial hearings and a recommendation to Inslee. That moves the deadline for a recommendation to March 2, 2015.
But if the evaluation council’s discussion of the matter Tuesday is any indication, even the new deadline may not be realistic.
By law, the evaluation council must reach a recommendation within 12 months of receiving an application for a large energy project proposal. But the law also allows deadline extensions, which are not unusual given the size and complexity of proposals. The Tesoro-Savage application, filed on Aug. 29, 2013, is nearing its one-year anniversary.
In an Aug. 6 letter to the evaluation council, Kelly Flint, senior vice president and general counsel for Savage, requested the six-month extension. “While we understand that a precise schedule to complete (evaluation council) review is difficult to predict,” he wrote, “we are suggesting this 6-month extension as reasonable and appropriate, given the current status of project review.”
During its regular public meeting in Olympia that was accessible by telephone, the evaluation council voted unanimously to approve the extra six months.
At one point during the discussion of the extension, Bill Lynch, chairman of the evaluation council, addressed Jay Derr, an attorney for Tesoro and Savage. “This is the only time this is going to happen, Mr. Derr,” Lynch said.
“Right,” Derr replied.
Laughter could be heard over the phone.
Andrew Hayes, a member of the evaluation council and acting assistant division manager for leasing and business management for the state Department of Natural Resources, said it’s unlikely the review will be finished in six months.
But he said he’s “willing to drink the Kool-Aid” and approve the new deadline.
Lynch said there’s a lot involved in reviewing the Tesoro-Savage proposal and that everyone is “working diligently” to reach the recommendation phase of the process.
Tesoro and Savage want to build an oil-by-rail terminal that would receive an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day at the Port of Vancouver. The oil would be stored in six above-ground tanks. Each tank would have a shell capacity of 380,000 barrels for a total storage capacity of 2.28 million barrels. The oil would be loaded onto ships bound primarily for West Coast refineries.
Backers of the project say its benefits include new jobs, revenue for the port and increased U.S. energy independence. Critics cite many concerns, including potential oil spills, explosive oil train derailments and climate change.
The evaluation council has said it expects to issue a draft environmental impact statement on the oil terminal proposal this year.
Eventually, it will make a recommendation to Inslee. Once the recommendation is made, Inslee has another 60 days to accept, reject or send the proposal back to the evaluation council. Opponents may appeal to the state Supreme Court.