Washington state panel outlines risk of oil-by-rail terminal

A major oil-by-rail terminal proposed on the Columbia River in Washington state poses a potential risk of oil spills, train accidents and longer emergency response times due to road traffic, an environmental study has found.

Many of the risks could be decreased with certain mitigation measures, but the study released Tuesday outlined four areas where it said the impacts are significant and cannot be avoided.

The study said that while "the likelihood of occurrence of the potential for oil spills may be low, the consequences of the events could be severe."

The state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council has been evaluating the project since 2013 and released its environmental review a week before it is scheduled to vote to support or oppose the project in a recommendation that will go to Gov. Jay Inslee. Inslee, a Democrat, will decide whether to approve the facility or reject it.

The proposed $210 million terminal for the city of Vancouver would receive about 360,000 barrels of crude oil by trains a day. Oil would temporarily be stored on site for Vancouver Energy, a joint venture of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., and then loaded onto tankers and ships bound for West Coast refineries.

The study identified the four risks that could not be avoided as train accidents, the emergency response delays, negative impacts of the project on low-income communities and the possibility that an earthquake would damage the facility's dock and cause an oil spill.

Measures could be taken to reduce the potential risk of oil spills by other causes, fires and harm to juvenile salmon, the study said.

Critics say the project is a risk to the environment and people while developers promote the terminal as an opportunity to bring crude oil from North Dakota and other areas to a western U.S. port and bring jobs and money to the region.

"Our initial assessment provides confidence that EFSEC's thorough evaluation of the facts will demonstrate our ability to build and operate the project safely and in an environmentally responsible way," Vancouver Energy spokesman Jeff Hymas said in emailed statement late Tuesday.

He labeled most of the impacts outlined in the report as "related to low-probability events not directly associated with our facility that have the potential to occur today, such as a major earthquake or impacts related to the transportation of products that move across the country on a daily basis."

Opponents said the report provided justification for the council to issue a recommendation against the project.

The review "clearly shows that the Tesoro-Savage oil train terminal is bad for Washington," said Rebecca Ponzio, director for the Stand Up to Oil Campaign.

The facility would produce more than 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, with half of that from trains moving along the entire route in Washington state.