Tag Archives: Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC)

Oil industry desperate: claims oil spills are good for wildlife and the economy

Repost from Hazmat Magazine

Testimony Implies Oil Spills Are Good For Wildlife and the Economy

By J Nicholson, August 11, 2016

As reported in thinkprogress.org, the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has been holding hearings on the matter of a proposed oil-by-rail terminal that could be built in Vancouver, Washington.  If approved, it would be the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country, handling some 360,000 barrels of crude oil, shipped by train, every single day.  It would also greatly increase the number of oil trains that pass through Washington, adding a total of 155 trains, per week, to the state’s railroads.

Environmentalist activists worry that an increase in oil trains could lead to an rise in oil train derailments, like the kind seen in early June when a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude derailed outside the Oregon town of Mosier, spilling 42,000 gallons of oil near the Columbia River.

But according to witnesses that testified before the EFSEC on behalf of Vancouver Energy – the joint venture between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. and the entity behind the Tesoro-Savage terminal proposal – oil spills might not actually be that bad for the environment.

“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement identifies many economic impacts arising from an accident associated with Project operations, but fails to recognize economic activity that would be generated by spill response,” Todd Schatzki, vice president of Analysis Group — a consulting group that released an economic report on the terminal commissioned by Tesoro Savage — wrote in pre-filed testimony.  “When a spill occurs, new economic activity occurs to clean-up contaminated areas, remediate affected properties, and supply equipment for cleanup activities. Anecdotal evidence from recent spills suggests that such activity can be potentially large.”

Schatzki’s pre-filed testimony also includes references to both the Santa Barbara and BP oil spills’ role as job creating events.  He notes that the Santa Barbara oil spill created some 700 temporary jobs to help with cleanup, while the BP spill created short term jobs for 25,000 workers.  Schatzki does not mention that BP has paid individuals and businesses more than $10 billion to make up for economic losses caused by the spill.  Nor does he mention that California’s Economic Forecast Director predicted that the 2015 Santa Barbara oil spill would cost the county 155 jobs and $74 million in economic activity.

For the Columbia River region, the impacts of an oil spill could be equally economically devastating — a report from the Washington Attorney General’s office found that an oil spill could cost more than $170 million in environmental damages.

Keystone Pipeline (Credit: cfact.org)

Schatzki also argued that an oil spill would not necessarily have a large impact on commercial and recreational fisheries.  The Columbia River, which cuts between Oregon and Washington and borders much of the oil-train route, is one of the most important fisheries for both states.  In 2015, the total economic value of Columbia River salmon was $15.5 million, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Those fisheries, however, would not necessarily be impacted by an oil spill, Schatzki argued, because fishermen would simply avoid the areas where the spill had taken place, moving their operations elsewhere.  During cross examination, however, Schatizki said that he did not look at other fishermen’s responses to oil spills when crafting this analysis, nor did he specifically look at the length of fishing seasons or the geographic extent of various fisheries within the Columbia River.

In testimony given on July 7th, another Tesoro-Savage-associated witness, Gregory Challenger, argued that oil spills could actually have benefits for fish and wildlife.  Challenger, who worked with Vancouver Energy to analyze potential impacts and responses in the event of a worst-case discharge at the facility and along the rail line, told the committee that when oil spills cause the closure of certain fisheries or hunting seasons, it’s the animals that benefit.

“An oil spill is not a good thing.  A fishery closure is a good thing.  If you don’t kill half a million fish and they all swim upstream and spawn, that’s more fish than were estimated affected as adults,” Challenger said during his testimony.  “The responsible party is not going to get credit for that, by the way.”

 To prove his point, Challenger cited National Marine Fisheries Service data that showed that 2011, the year after the BP oil spill, had been a record year for seafood catch in the Gulf of Mexico.  And while that’s true, Shiva Polefka, policy analyst for the Center for American Progress’s Ocean Policy program, cautioned against trying to make sweeping statements for how all ecosystems would respond to an oil spill.  Following the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, researchers discovered that crude oil had soaked into the rocky beaches near the spill site, emitting toxic compounds for years that had long-term adverse impacts on salmon and herring populations.

“Does cutting fishing effort benefit fish?  Absolutely,” Polefka said.  “Enough to mitigate the horrible effects of large oil spills in every case?  Absolutely not.”

During his testimony, Challenger also brought up the Athos 1 oil spill, which sent 264,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River in 2004.  The spill, Challenger said, took place during duck hunting season, and forced an early closure for recreational hunting in the area.

“There were an estimate of 3,000 birds affected by the oil, and 13,000 birds not shot by hunters not shot by hunters, because of the closed season,” he said.  “We don’t get any credit for that, but it’s hard to deny that it’s good for birds to not be shot.”

According to U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), seabirds are especially vulnerable to oil spills, because of the way that oil affects their usually-waterproof feathers — when those feathers become matted with oil, a seabird loses its ability to regulate its temperature.  Often, it will try to preen itself to remove the oil, which only forces the oil into its internal organs, causing problems like diarrhea, kidney and liver damage, and anemia.  Oil can also enter into a seabird’s lungs, leading to respiratory problems.

Opponents of the terminal were quick to dismiss Schatzki and Challenger’s testimony as “hollow,” especially in the face of the recent derailment and oil spill in Mosier.

oil spill07“We see Tesoro moving towards these more desperate arguments to try to downplay the risk of the project,” Dan Serres, conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper, told ThinkProgress. “It’s hard to imagine that EFSEC will buy the argument that oil spills pose anything other than a grave risk to the Columbia River estuary.”

Following the EFSEC hearings, the committee will submit a recommendation to Washington Governor Jay Inslee to approve, conditionally approve, or deny the project.

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    Vancouver oil terminal hearings wrap up, decision expected late 2016

    Repost from Hood River News

    Gorge leaders oppose Vancouver oil terminal as hearings wrap up

    By Patrick Mulvihill, August 5, 2016
    ERIC STRID, of White Salmon, speaks out against an oil terminal proposed in Vancouver. Hearings before the state energy council wrapped up this week, marking a tonal shift as opponents and proponents await the council’s decision, expected in late 2016.
    ERIC STRID, of White Salmon, speaks out against an oil terminal proposed in Vancouver. Hearings before the state energy council wrapped up this week, marking a tonal shift as opponents and proponents await the council’s decision, expected in late 2016. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

    Gorge leaders spoke out against a proposed oil-by-marine terminal in Vancouver as hearings over the project’s fate came to a close July 29.

    Washington State’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) heard closing arguments for an environmental review of the terminal proposed by Vancouver Energy, a venture spearheaded by Tesoro Corp.

    EFSEC is charged with recommending whether Washington Gov. Jay Inslee should approve or reject the 360,000-barrel per day oil hub at the Port of Vancouver, and panel’s decision is expected in late 2016.

    At Friday’s hearing — the final chance for public oral testimony — local elected leaders and environmental advocates evoked the recent memory of Mosier, where a crude oil bearing train derailed and caught fire on June 3.

    Arlene Burns, mayor of Mosier, gave the panel a stark depiction of the aftermath.

    “We’re really still exhausted,” she said. “This is going to be an ongoing, long-term process that we’re going to be dealing with,” Burns said.

    She noted that Mosier’s groundwater had been contaminated by oil during the spill. Drinking water has been declared safe, but concerns remain for the rainy season washing out remaining oil in the ground.

    Peter Cornelison, a Hood River City Council member and field representative for Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, argued the risks of a new terminal — and boosted train traffic — would affect all river communities.

    Proponents of the terminal highlighted economic benefits and stressed a need for United States’ independence in the oil industry. They said the terminal would be held to regulatory safeguards.

    “We believe the evidence has demonstrated that this project is necessary to secure a strong sustainable reliable supply of energy for the citizens of Washington,” Jay P. Derr, an attorney representing Tesoro, said.

    “We ask the council to recognize and remember the benefits the Port of Vancouver provides, and work hard to avoid … hurting those structures and processes that allow the port to provide those benefits to the community,” said David Bartz, a port attorney.

    Most testimony disagreed with the terminal’s backers about the project’s safety and economic value.

    Washington Attorney General’s Office came out last week against the terminal. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the potential benefits of the project are “dramatically outweighed by the potential risks and costs of a spill.”

    The cities of Vancouver and Spokane also voiced opposition, a sentiment expressed in recent months by letters and resolutions by tribes, advocacy groups and governments throughout the region.

    Lauren Goldberg, staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper, said the local group hopes in light of the Mosier derailment, EFSEC will recognize the risk of another fiery oil train wreck in the Columbia Gorge.

    Both sides in the issue will now file closing written briefs, ending testimony. EFSEC is expected to issue a decision in late 2016. From there, Inslee will make a decision that can be appealed in state supreme court.

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      Critics say oil train report underestimates risk

      Repost from the Spokane Spokesman-Review
      [Editor:  Oh…this sounds SO familiar….  Benicia sends solidarity and support to our friends in Washington state.  – RS]

      Critics say oil trains report underestimates risk

      By Becky Kramer, December 18, 2015
      In this Oct. 1, 2014 file photo, train cars carrying flammable liquids heads west through downtown Spokane, Wash. | Dan Pelle photo

      The chance of an oil train derailing and dumping its cargo between Spokane and a new terminal proposed for Vancouver, Washington, is extremely low, according to a risk assessment prepared for state officials.

      Such a derailment would probably occur only once every 12 years, and in the most likely scenario, only half a tank car of oil would be spilled, according to the report.

      But critics say the risk assessment – which includes work by three Texas consultants who are former BNSF Railway employees and count the railroad as a client – is based on generic accident data, and likely lowballs the risk of a fiery derailment in Spokane and other communities on the trains’ route.

      The consultants didn’t use accident data from oil train wrecks when they calculated the low probability of a derailment and spill. The report says that shipping large amounts of oil by rail is such a recent phenomanon that there isn’t enough data to produce a statistically valid risk assessment. Instead, the consultants drew on decades of state and national data about train accidents.

      That approach is problematic, said Fred Millar, an expert in hazardous materials shipments.

      Probability research is “a shaky science” to begin with, said Millar, who is a consultant for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm opposed to the terminal. “The only way that you can get anything that’s even partly respectable in a quantitative risk assessment is if you have a full set of relevant data.”

      To look at accident rates for freight trains, and assume you can draw credible comparisons for oil trains, is “very chancy,” he said. “Unit trains of crude oil are a much different animal…They’re very long and heavy, that makes them hard to handle. They come off the rails.”

      And, they’re carrying highly flammable fuel, he said.

      Terminal would bring four more oil trains through Spokane daily
      The proposed Vancouver Energy terminal would be one of the largest in the nation, accepting about 360,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields and Alberta’s tar sands. For Spokane and Sandpoint, the terminal would mean four more 100-car oil trains rumbling through town each day – on top of the two or three per day that currently make the trip.

      The proposed $210 million terminal is a joint venture between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. Oil from rail cars would be unloaded at the terminal and barged down the Columbia River en route to West Coast refineries.

      A spill risk assessment was part of the project’s draft environmental impact statement, which was released late last month. A public meeting on the draft EIS takes place Jan. 14 in Spokane Valley. State officials are accepting public comments on the document through Jan. 22.

      The spill risk work was done by a New York company – Environmental Research Consulting – and MainLine Management of Texas, whose three employees are former BNSF employees, and whose website lists BNSF Railway as a client. The company has also done work for the Port of Vancouver, where the terminal would be located.

      The risk analysis assumes the trains would make a 1,000-mile loop through the state. From Spokane, the mile-long oil trains would head south, following the Columbia River to Vancouver. After the trains unloaded the oil, they would head north, crossing the Cascade Range at Stampede Pass before returning through Spokane with empty cars.

      Report used data on hazardous materials spills

      Oil train derailments have been responsible for a string of fiery explosions across North America in the past three years – including a 2013 accident that killed 47 people in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Other oil train derailments have led to evacuations, oil spills into waterways and fires that burned for days.

      But since shipping crude oil by train is relatively new, there’s not enough statistical information about oil train accidents to do risk calculations, the consultants said several times in the risk assessment.

      Instead, they looked at federal and state data on train derailments and spills of hazardous materials dating back to 1975, determining that the extra oil train traffic between Spokane and Vancouver posed little risk to communities.

      Dagmar Schmidt Etkin, president of Environmental Research Consulting, declined to answer questions about the risk assessment. Calls to MainLine Management, which is working under Schmidt Etkin, were not returned.

      Stephen Posner, manager for the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Council, which is overseeing the preparation of the environmental impact statement, dismissed questions about potential conflicts of interest.

      “There aren’t a lot of people who have the expertise to do this type of analysis,” Posner said.

      Schmidt Etkin also worked on a 2014 oil train report to the Washington Legislature, he said. “She’s highly regarded in the field.”

      According to her company website, Schmidt Etkin has a doctorate from Harvard in evolutionary biology. The site says she provides spill and risk analysis to government regulators, nonprofits and industry groups. Her client list includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard and the American Petroleum Institute.

      Posner reviewed the scope of work outlined for the spill risk analysis.

      “We put together the best analysis we could with limited sources of information,” he said. “This is a draft document. We’re looking for input from the public on how we can make it better.”

      Spokane ‘a more perilous situation’

      The “worst case” scenario developed for the risk assessment has also drawn criticism. The consultants based it on an oil train losing 20,000 barrels of oil during a derailment. The risk assessment indicates that would be an improbable event, occurring only once every 12,000 to 22,000 years.

      In fact, twice as much crude oil was released during the 2013 Lac-Megantic accident in Quebec, said Matt Krogh, who works for Forest Ethics in Bellingham, Washington, which also opposes construction of the Vancouver Energy Terminal.

      “If I was looking at this as a state regulator, and I saw this was wrong – quite wrong – I would have them go back to the drawing board for all of it,” Krogh said.

      Krogh said he’s disappointed that former BNSF employees didn’t use their expertise to provide a more meaningful risk analysis. Instead of looking at national data, they could have addressed specific risks in the Northwest, he said.

      Oil trains roll through downtown Spokane on elevated bridges, in close proximity to schools, hospitals, apartments and work places. In recent years, the bridges have seen an increase in both coal and oil train traffic, Krogh said.

      “The No. 1 cause of derailments is broken tracks, and the No. 1 cause of broken tracks is axle weight,” he said. “We can talk about national figures, but when you talk about Spokane as a rail funnel for the Northwest, you have a more perilous situation based on the large number of heavy trains.”

      Elevated rail bridges pose an added risk for communities, said Millar, the Earthjustice consultant. The Lac-Megantic accident was so deadly because the unmanned train sped downhill and tank cars crashed into each other, he said. Not all of the cars were punctured in the crash, but once the oil started burning, the fire spread, he said.

      “If you have elevated tracks and the cars start falling off the tracks, they’re piling on top of each other,” Millar said. “That’s what Spokane has to worry about – the cars setting each other off.”

      Governor has the final say

      Railroad industry officials say that 99.9 percent of trains carrying hazardous materials reach their destination without releases. According to the risk assessment, BNSF had only three reported train derailments per year in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The railroad has spent millions of dollars upgrading tracks in Washington in recent years, and the tracks get inspected regularly, according to company officials.

      Whether the Vancouver Energy Terminal is built is ultimately Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision. After the final environment impact statement is released, the 10-member Energy and Facilities Siting Council will make a recommendation to the governor, who has the final say.

      Environmental impact statements lay out the risks of projects, allowing regulators to seek mitigation. So, it’s important that the EIS is accurate, said Krogh, of Forest Ethics.

      In Kern County, California, Earthjustice is suing over the environmental impact statement prepared for an oil refinery expansion. According to the lawsuit, the EIS failed to adequately address the risk to communities from increased oil train traffic.

      “If you have a risk that’s grossly underestimated, you’ll be making public policy decisions based on flawed data,” Krogh said.

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        Washington regulator unaware of oil train consultant’s connections

        Repost from The Oregonian / OregonLive
        [Editor:  The consultant’s connections with BNSF were noted nearly a month ago here and in Curtis Tate’s McClatchy DC report.  On November 24 Tate wrote, “The rail spill analysis portion of the Washington state draft document was written in part by three consultants who are former employees of BNSF and its predecessor, Burlington Northern. In addition to the state agency for which they prepared the analysis, their clients include BNSF and the Port of Vancouver.”  I  understand that the Washington agency that hired the consultant, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, was asked about the possible conflict of interest in advance of publication of Tate’s article, but they never got back to him.  Staff at the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council should have been aware well in advance of the Oregonian story.  – RS]

        Washington regulator unaware of oil train consultant’s connections

        By Rob Davis, Dec. 17, 2015, updated Dec.18, 2015 9:44 AM
        vancouver oil train
        An oil train parked outside Vancouver, Wash., in 2014. A terminal proposed there would bring four oil trains to the city each day. (Rob Davis/Staff)

        A consulting firm that helped write a report underestimating the risks of catastrophic spills from a proposed Vancouver oil train terminal has worked for two groups that will gain financially if the project moves forward.

        Stephen Posner, the Washington energy regulator who approved the company’s hiring, didn’t know about all those connections until The Oregonian/OregonLive told him. But he did not answer repeated questions about whether he would investigate further.

        Three of the four authors who wrote the risk analysis for Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council are former executives of BNSF Railway Co. The railroad would move oil trains to the Vancouver terminal.

        The authors’ company, MainLine Management, lists BNSF as a client on its website.

        MainLine, which didn’t respond to repeated queries, recently worked for another project supporter: the Port of Vancouver, which owns the land where the terminal would be built.

        Much remains unclear about MainLine’s relationships with BNSF and the port. It is not known whether BNSF is a current MainLine client. It’s also unclear whether MainLine’s past work for the port would constitute a conflict.

        Washington law prohibits the energy council from hiring consultants with a significant conflict of interest with a project’s applicant or others involved.

        MainLine finished its work for the port before it was hired to analyze the terminal. The port awarded a $121,000 contract to MainLine in April 2013 to analyze part of its freight rail system serving the oil train terminal. A port spokeswoman said the final payment was sent to MainLine Sept. 25, 2014, four months before the firm was hired to analyze oil spill risks.

        The relationships raise questions about the thoroughness of Washington’s review of the experts it’s using to independently evaluate the Vancouver oil terminal.

        The $210 million terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Services is the highest profile project pending before the Washington energy council.

        The small agency is designed to be a one-stop permitting shop for major energy projects, studying their impacts and recommending a decision to Gov. Jay Inslee. The governor has final approval.

        Posner, the agency’s manager, approved hiring MainLine. He said he was unaware the firm listed BNSF as a client until The Oregonian/OregonLive told him.

        But neither Posner nor an agency spokeswoman, Amanda Maxwell, would commit to inquiring further about whether the company has a current connection with BNSF.

        Before MainLine was hired, Posner said he discussed the company with Washington’s lead consultant, Cardno. He said his agency relied on Cardno to vet MainLine’s clients and past work.

        How did Cardno review MainLine’s potential conflicts? That’s unclear. Posner told The Oregonian/OregonLive to direct that question to Cardno, which didn’t immediately respond.

        Cardno has provided written assurance that its subcontractors, including MainLine, are forbidden to discuss the terminal with any outside party, Maxwell said.

        “This written assurance provided by Cardno is the basis for trusting in the credibility of the work being performed,” she said.

        When we asked Posner whether he was concerned that MainLine could have a conflict, the spokeswoman, Maxwell, interrupted, saying it was inappropriate for him to comment.

        “Without having the information, it’s not something he could put in context,” she said.

        The agency should have that knowledge and be able to answer such a question, said Robert Stern, a good government advocate who helped write California’s post-Watergate conflict of interest law. He said the energy agency’s review appeared inadequate.

        “Maybe they don’t have any conflicts, but how do you know?” Stern said. “There should be something in writing saying we have no conflicts of interest.”

        Both BNSF and the Port of Vancouver stand to benefit financially from the project’s construction. The port estimates netting $45 million in lease revenue from the project over 10 years. BNSF has rallied supporters to send comments to the energy council praising the project, saying its construction would strengthen the rail company’s customer base.

        Gus Melonas, a BNSF spokesman, didn’t specifically answer a question about whether MainLine is currently under contract with the railroad.

        “BNSF does not discuss specific relationships involving contract companies,” Melonas said by email, “however MainLine Management Inc. has worked with Northwest agencies providing modeling on rail related projects.”

        If built, the Vancouver project would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest oil train terminal, capable of unloading 15 million gallons of oil from four trains daily. The oil would be put on barges and sent to coastal refineries.

        It has drawn strong opposition from Vancouver elected officials and environmental groups amidst a string of fiery oil train explosions nationwide since 2013.

        The report co-authored by MainLine lowballed those risks. It called a 2013 oil train spill in Aliceville, Alabama the worst on record, using it to analyze impacts of a disaster in the Pacific Northwest. The study said a slightly larger spill is “the most credible or realistic” worst-case scenario.

        But a far larger spill has already happened. An out-of-control oil train derailed and exploded in Quebec in July 2013, fueling a raging inferno that killed 47 people and leveled part of a small Canadian town.

        The analysis incorrectly said the Quebec accident spilled just 36,000 gallons of crude. Far more did. Canadian safety regulators concluded 1.5 million gallons escaped from tank cars. Much of it burned in the resulting fire.

        Just a third as much oil spilled in the Alabama accident.

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