Final public comment regarding a permit for the proposed Vancouver Energy oil terminal proved lively as local residents, environmental advocates, business stakeholders and members of the labor community expressed their praise and concerns surrounding the project’s construction and operation.
Opponents argue the building of the terminal and its activity would contribute to negative air emissions in surrounding communities, whereas proponents see the project as a way to bolster local family-wage jobs and to provide revenue for the local and regional economies. These perspectives – and more – were on display during the public hearing in Vancouver, Washington on June 7.
The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) hosted the event for the final day of public comment on the proposed project’s air permit, which is one of the two permits remaining for final approval. EFSEC is the state agency which handles the evaluation and oversight of large energy facilities.
The proposed terminal project would make its home at the port of Vancouver, Washington and is now four years into the permitting process. Once the project receives all of its permits, EFSEC will release its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project, followed by deliberations and a recommendation to Governor Jay Inslee who will either approve or reject the project.
Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will release an assessment on the proposed terminal’s in-water construction measures involving the existing dock.
Promoting Energy Independence, Jobs and Revenue
Operation of the terminal would potentially replace 30 percent of foreign crude oil used on the West Coast.
“From a national level, this is an opportunity for more energy security and more energy independence,” Jared Larrabee, general manager for Vancouver Energy, told Lens. “We have the opportunity with a terminal like this to have access from midcontinent crude oil to deliver it to West Coast refineries and to displace foreign crude oil.”
According to data from the Washington Department of Ecology and the California Air Resources Board, Bakken crude oil has approximately 30 percent lower carbon emissions than typical crude oil refined in Washington state.
Additionally, according to Vancouver Energy, the project would provide $2 billion to the local and regional economies of the City of Vancouver, Clark County and surrounding counties when operating at full capacity, in addition to $7.8 million in tax revenue annually.
And during construction, the project would create 320 full-time or equivalent jobs. Once operational, the terminal would allow for 176 on-site and 440 off-site jobs, and over 1,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs annually, according to Vancouver Energy’s website.
Opponents Raise Environmental Issues
Opponents of the project testified during the public comment event that the project should not be approved due to negative environmental impacts stemming from the terminal’s construction and operation.
“The draft permit can’t address” or require Vancouver Energy to “mitigate for all of the air pollution emanating from this project,” said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “Secondly, we are challenging the ongoing contention that the project is a minor source of air pollution, particularly with volatile organic components. Lastly, the permit lacks any specific or enforceable measures to ensure air pollution will not adversely affect communities in the Columbia River Gorge.”
However, EFSEC found in the “Cumulative Impacts” section of its November 2015 draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that the site’s air quality emissions “would not exceed any of the comparative thresholds, and construction and operations would not be anticipated to produce significant air quality impacts in the study area for the proposed facility.”
Possible negative impacts might occur within 1,000 feet of the terminal’s location, EFSEC added, with potential greater impacts closer to the site.
“The permit has over 50 conditions that we need to adhere to in order to operate,” said Larrabee. “Those conditions span from monitoring and testing to reporting to enforcement, and to allowing the agencies to come in to monitor and to request information.”
Safety measures will play an important role for the proposed terminal, he added. The project’s capacity for operations will phase-in to ensure safety standards are met.
“One of the largest commitments we’ve made there is our commitment to start the facility at half of its optimal capacity and not to increase that until we’ve gone a full year demonstrating that there are no public safety or environmental incidents,” said Larrabee.
“We’ve made that commitment not just for the terminal itself but for the complete supply chain so the rail to the facility, the terminal itself and the marine vessels away from the facility,” he added.
If there are no incidents after the first year, Vancouver Energy would be permitted to increase capacity by 25 percent, and then to the full 100 percent one year later.
Also, the terminal will only accept rail cars that go above and beyond federal guidelines.
Approximately $40 million, or 25 percent of the facility’s total capacity, would go directly to safety, health and environmental protections, according to Larrabee. The company spent $2 million on emergency response equipment, he added, which team members have trained on for the past four years as if the facility was already up and running.
Larrabee predicts EFSEC will hold a hearing on the final permit on storm water discharge 30 to 45 days after the air permit hearing. Next, the project will await a recommendation from EFSEC with its final EIS and then a final determination by Inslee.
“We think (Inslee’s) decision is made based on the record that is put forward, so we think there’s a strong, solid record of recommendation. We also think this fits squarely within his plans and the things that he’s trying to accomplish,” said Larrabee.
The project “provides jobs, it provides infrastructure, it provides a reduction in carbon intensity, an environmental benefit, and it does all of that without impacting individual people negatively from a perspective of taxing or things like that. We think it fits within the platform that the governor should like.”