Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Last Week’s Message Is Clear Locally as well as Nationally: No New Oil Transportation Projects

By Andrea Lang, Energy Fellow
Credit: Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Last week was a big one for rejecting crude oil transport. In addition to the Obama Administration’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, the City of Portland unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal (Tesoro Savage Project), a proposed oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, Washington.

The Tesoro Savage Project would receive a staggering 360,000 barrels (15 million gallons) of oil per day from train cars, then load and ship the oil on ocean-going vessels down the Columbia River and into the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the obvious climate concerns posed by the huge amount of oil the project would help get to market, the project also poses significant health and environmental concerns. For example, when an oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic Quebec, 47 people died and 26,000 gallons of oil were spilled into a nearby river.  

Based on the many issues posed by the project, a series of government decisions have delayed the companies’ plan to be operational by 2014, and could eventually defeat the project altogether. After entering into a controversial lease with the Port of Vancouver, the companies filed the required application with Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which must certify all large energy projects. Perhaps even more significantly, because the project would entail some in-water construction, it requires permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) under section 404 of the Clean Water Act and section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. Although project proponents had initially hoped to avoid a complicated federal permitting process by arguing that the project fit into an existing general nationwide permit, the Corps decided last June that the project would require a federal permit specific to the project. This means that the Corps must decide under the National Environmental Policy Act whether the project will have significant environmental effects. Further, EPA and the National Parks Service have weighed in, expressing concern about the effects of the project, and urging the Corps to take a close look at the effects of the project on the region as a whole. The fact that these agencies are taking such a careful look at the large-scale effects of this project is certainly a victory against oil transport.

Finally, the City of Vancouver passed a resolution in 2014 opposing oil-by-rail transport in the region, similar to Portland’s resolution last week. Thus, Portland’s decision to oppose “all project proposals that would increase the amount of crude oil being transported by rail through the City of Portland and the City of Vancouver, Washington” is only the most recent in a series of government decisions that amount to victories against the Tesoro Savage project.

The debate over the Tesoro Savage project and other oil-by-rail projects like it could increase in the wake of the Keystone XL project. Some argue that not building the pipeline will mean that much more oil will need to be transported by rail (although others argue that is not the case). But I think that the massive Keystone XL victory and the incremental Tesoro Savage victories add up to show increasing acceptance of the fact that it’s time for this country to rely less on fossil fuels. Building massive new oil transportation projects simply does not make sense, and last week shows that politicians are starting to realize that.

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