Wash. agency cites wildland fire risk to halt oil train plans
The Washington DNR is arguing against a proposed oil-train depot on the grounds that it will boost fire risk to a level state firefighters cannot handle
By Phuong Le
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — A Washington state agency in charge of protecting millions of acres of state land from wildfires is opposing a proposal to build an oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, citing risks of blazes from increased train traffic and other concerns.
The Department of Natural Resources urged a state energy panel to recommend that the project be rejected, according to a brief filed ahead of hearings that begin Monday.
The city of Vancouver also filed a brief stating its opposition to the project.
The Department of Natural Resources said that based on the evidence, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council cannot meet its obligations to assure the public that there are adequate safeguards and that the project will have minimal environmental impacts.
The council, which oversees the siting and permitting of large energy projects, will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say.
Beginning Monday, the panel will hear testimony from numerous witnesses during trial-like proceedings lasting several weeks.
"We're all very concerned about the lack of safety and the probability that bad things will happen around derailments or other accidents," Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said in an interview Wednesday. "We're trying to persuade both (the energy council) and the governor that this is not a wise move. It's not safe."
In its filing, the Department of Natural Resources said the project would "create an increased risk of wildfire ignition along every mile of track used, both from heat and sparks creased by increased daily rail traffic and from catastrophic accidents."
It says state firefighting forces aren't equipped to handle those risks.
Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., operating as Vancouver Energy, want to build a rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal along the Columbia River that can handle an average of 360,000 barrels of crude a day. The facility would receive an average of four crude oil trains a day. The oil would temporarily be stored on site and then loaded onto marine vessels for transport to refineries on the West Coast.
Vancouver Energy says the project can be done safely and will provide jobs and tax revenue as well as reduce dependency on foreign oil.
"We live in the community. We work in the community. We play in the community, so it's obviously important to us to make sure this is done safely and in an environmentally safe way," Jared Larrabee, general manager for Vancouver Energy, said in an interview last week.
Tribal, environmental and other groups have intervened in the proceedings to oppose the project. They plan to raise concerns about the risk of train derailments, the potential for a catastrophic oil spill into the Columbia River, public health issues, tribal fishing access and toxic pollution.