The proposed Vancouver Energy oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver represents a $210 million private investment in Washington’s energy infrastructure. It would create valuable employment opportunities for working men and women in Southwest Washington and generate $2 billion in economic activity. And it would have the capacity to handle enough mid-continent domestic crude to replace West Coast oil imports from Iraq, Russia and several other countries, which is good for national security.
Despite these advantages, the project still faces strong opposition. Opponents have focused more on global fossil fuel usage than on details of the project itself while painting worst-case scenarios regarding the safety of transporting crude oil by rail.
Fortunately, nearly five decades ago, Washington saw the need to get past emotions and politics, and instead focus on facts and rational analysis when siting large energy projects. It created the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to thoroughly and impartially review project applications.
EFSEC has spent three years working with Vancouver Energy applicants, holding days of public hearings and a month-long legal adjudication process earlier this summer. The council also developed a draft Environmental Impact Statement which concluded that: demand for petroleum will continue for the foreseeable future; there is no reasonable alternative to the project; it’s highly unlikely that any major spill will occur as a result of the project; and the project won’t create significant adverse cumulative impacts.
If that analysis weren’t enough to justify approval, several other factors weigh in favor of a positive EFSEC ruling.
Despite efforts to transition to alternative energy sources, petroleum products will remain crucial to our daily lives for years to come. Fuels refined from crude oil moving through Vancouver Energy will help get employees to work, students to school and patients to health care providers. They’ll move our state’s agricultural products to market, and bring products from elsewhere to the shelves of local merchants.
Vancouver Energy won’t increase consumption of fossil fuels, but it will improve our energy infrastructure to continue meeting these daily needs.
Second, we must recognize that oil trains will continue running through Washington whether the terminal is built or not. These trains, like others around the country, also carry hazardous materials that go into fertilizers, computer chips, paper and other necessary products. BNSF, the railroad that would serve Vancouver Energy, has an enviable safety record, with 99.98 percent of hazardous materials shipments arriving at their destination without incident.
Project opponents have never offered their preferred alternative to rail – be it tanker ships, trucks or pipelines – for moving the products we all rely on every day.
Finally, opponents ignore the fact that mid-continental crude provides a less carbon-intensive alternative to crude imported from other countries. Vancouver Energy would generate the same reduction in carbon emissions as taking 250,000 cars off West Coast roads.
EFSEC’s final environmental impact statement and recommendations, including any conditions the panel deems necessary to mitigate project impacts, are likely months away. Then Governor Inslee will have the final say.
Vancouver Energy provides the state of Washington an opportunity to demonstrate that it is open for smart, job-creating private investments. Other major projects that would have generated thousands of jobs and nearly $3 billion in potential stimulus for the state economy have already been abandoned.
For Vancouver Energy to move ahead, EFSEC must ensure that emotion, conjecture and unsupported opinions are not allowed to overshadow the clear and convincing evidence in support of approval.
Rob Harris is Vice President, JHKelly and a member of the Washington Coalition for Energy Independence.