Friday, September 29, 2023
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Clash in Washington on Columbia River Oil Depot

RIDGEFIELD, Wash. (CN) - Citing environmental and safety concerns, hundreds of people at a public meeting this week opposed construction of an oil terminal on the Columbia River that would be the largest oil-by-rail facility in the United States.

Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co. and Savage Companies (Tesoro-Savage) plan to build an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver, on the Columbia River.

The facility would send crude oil to refineries across the West Coast, and is expected to handle around 360,000 barrels per day.

If built, it would provide the largest volume of oil by rail transported in the United States, The Columbian newspaper reported.

Numerous groups have been fighting the project since the port approved a lease agreement with Tesoro-Savage in 2013. They claim there are grave risks of oil spills and explosions that could harm the Columbia River and communities along the West Coast.

Washington's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which oversees the review process, held a public meeting Tuesday on its draft environmental impact statement.

By 2:30 p.m. around 300 people had signed up to give a public comment.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Columbia Riverkeeper had put out the word for activists to dress in red to show their solidarity in opposition.

Many in the Clark County Event Center halls wore red clothing. Others showed support of the oil terminal with blue "thumbs up" signs pinned to their clothing.

"My question is, why should we be spending our tax money to train our first responders to save the fossil fuel industry from their self-igniting disasters?" asked Rachel Foley, of Portland, whose son is a firefighter. "Shouldn't we be spending our money to move into a clean energy future?"

Many commentators expressed concern about the possible effects of an earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone. The area has the potential for a large earthquake, in the 8.0 range or greater on the Richter scale. Scientists believe the last big Cascadia subduction zone earthquake happened in 1700. A July 20, 2015 article in the New Yorker described the possible effects, and likelihood, of a massive earthquake in the area.

At the Tuesday meeting, Ted Gleichman from the Center for Sustainable Economy called such an earthquake "a risk which cannot be mitigated, and for which adaptation is a severely difficult and problematic procedure."

Gleichman noted that the region is overdue for another one.

Commenter Martha Wiley said the draft environmental impact statement was incomplete, because it did not properly take into account the worst-case scenario.

"For this analysis, please use the actual experience that occurred in Lac-Mégantic in 2013, when a train carrying crude oil derailed and multiple cars exploded, killing 47 people and destroying the downtown area of the town," Wiley said.

"This dreadful explosion could occur at any point along the route of this proposed project, including downtown Spokane, downtown Vancouver, and too many residential areas to list here.

"Please estimate the number of people who would be killed, the number of buildings destroyed, and the dollar value of the personal and property damage for this worst case situation," she said.

Many opponents held signs stating: "I Stand Against Oil Spills," and raised them to show their agreement with speakers' points. After administrative law judge Cassandra Noble reminded the audience not to wave signs, the opponents waved their fingers in the air to show support.

A number of people spoke in support of the oil terminal.

"As a single dad with three sons, safe, responsible, well-paying jobs are a priority for me, said Mark Rondeau, from industrial contractor Dunkin & Bush. "I'd like to see this project move forward."

Liz Wainwright, from the Maritime Fire & Safety Association, said the Columbia River has "room for growth" and could stand to take on more ship transportation, citing statistics that ship traffic on the river has decreased.

Savage employee Jeremy Miller said that safety was a top concern for his company. "The opportunity to pay safe, long-term jobs is huge for this area," Miller said.

The meeting will continue on Jan. 12. The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council will continue to take comments on the environmental impact statement until Jan. 22.

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