(CN) – A proposed multimillion dollar terminal that would transfer train cars full of crude oil onto ships, then down the Columbia River and out to sea could unleash “significant, unavoidable” harm on the rich habitat of the national scenic area and its inhabitants, according to a government team’s findings from the final environmental impact statement for the site.
The Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project would bring 360,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day to the Port of Vancouver via railroad before sending it down a pipeline onto ships docked in the Columbia River. From there, it would head to refineries across the west coast.
The project has become a lightning rod in Vancouver, Washington, which is like a conservative suburb of Portland, Oregon, just across the river. Controversy stoked the usually sleepy election for port commissioner into an expensive campaign when Vancouver Energy and other backers dumped nearly $500,000 into Kris Greene’s campaign.
Greene’s opponent, Don Orange, won the seat after running an anti-oil terminal campaign.
Still, the project moved one step closer to reality Tuesday, when a team with the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council presented highlights from the final environmental impact statement for the project.
The team found four potential problems that would have catastrophic consequences, according to Sonia Bumpus, project manager with the evaluation council.
The most dangerous events identified by the team were earthquakes, oil spills, train collisions with vehicles or pedestrians, and increased traffic that could prevent emergency vehicles from reaching some of the destitute populations living along the river.
Though a catastrophic earthquake like the massive Cascadia subduction zone quake of 1700 is unlikely to occur, the effects of a similar event would be “significant,” the team found. Of most concern would be the dock that supports the huge pipeline that funnels crude oil onto ships. The team recommended strengthening the steel pilings under the dock and adding reinforced ground anchors.
Bumpus warned that those attempts at mitigation would only reduce the likelihood of failure and the environmental consequences that could come from it.
“The risk can be reduced, but not eliminated,” Bumpus said. “The impact would still be significant.”