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Vancouver City Council passes oil moratorium

Repost from The Columbian

Vancouver City Council passes oil moratorium

Unanimous vote approves emergency six-month measure
By Stephanie Rice, September 11, 2014
An oil train passes through Vancouver. The Vancouver City Council on Thursday unanimously passed an emergency six-month moratorium on new or expanded facilities that would accept crude oil. The moratorium won’t affect the oil transfer terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies that’s currently under review by the state. (Steven Lane/The Columbian)

The Vancouver City Council on Thursday unanimously passed an emergency six-month moratorium on new or expanded facilities that would accept crude oil.

The moratorium won’t affect the oil transfer terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies that’s currently under review by the state.

While the six-month moratorium was straightforward — a public hearing will be Oct. 20, and it will expire March 10, 2015, unless extended by the council — a last-minute filing muddied the issue.

The special council meeting was announced Wednesday in accordance with a state law requiring 24-hour public notice. It was meant to head off plans by NuStar Energy L.P. of San Antonio to apply to start storing crude oil at its two bulk tank terminals in Vancouver, one at the port and one at 5420 Fruit Valley Road.

At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, a preliminary application was filed by NuStar with the city, said Brent Boger, an assistant city attorney.

Boger said he doesn’t know whether a pre-application qualifies the project as vested, and therefore exempt from the moratorium.

A pre-application signals interest to do a project in the city. During a pre-application conference, the applicant learns what the city would require before permits would be issued so the applicant can decide whether to go forward with an application.

Without a moratorium, NuStar would be allowed to store crude oil under current city zoning, Boger said.

Jon Wagner, a senior planner, told the council he hadn’t had enough time to thoroughly review the thick packet submitted by NuStar.

NuStar has handled jet fuel, antifreeze, diesel, methanol and other products at its Vancouver terminals, but not crude oil. In April, NuStar submitted an application for an air quality permit with the Southwest Clean Air Agency to convert a tank at each of its locations to handle crude oil.

The terminals would receive oil by rail, and then ship it out by barge.

NuStar spokesman Chris Cho said Thursday the potential crude-by-rail project at the Vancouver terminal is in the early stages of development, but a pre-application was submitted for a building permit to start the lengthy permitting process.

“If we receive regulatory approvals to build the facility, we anticipate it would handle an average of 22,000 barrels per day — approximately one-third the capacity of one unit train per day,” Cho said. “This project would provide revenue to the port, create jobs, bring more low-cost crude to the region, and further support U.S. energy independence. It would also be a state-of-the-art facility that would be operated safely, in accordance with NuStar’s very high safety standards,” Cho said.

Cho emphasized that NuStar operates rail facilities at many terminals and invests in safety equipment, technology and specialized training for employees and ensures trains comply with all regulatory safety standards.

Aside from the NuStar questions, the council focused on wanting the six months to discuss how crude petroleum facilities should be regulated. The proposed moratorium referenced Bakken crude oil, but Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle suggested the moratorium cover all crude oil facilities and other councilors agreed.

The only councilor who objected to the moratorium was Bill Turlay, but he changed his mind and voted with his six peers.

Initially, Turlay, speaking to the audience that filled the council chambers, said he remembers when many of them showed up to protest coal trains.

Now it’s oil trains, he said.

Critics of the Tesoro-Savage facility cite many concerns, including potential oil spills, the volatility of North Dakota Bakken crude and global climate change.

Turlay, who believes that carbon dioxide has only a negligible effect on climate change, said instead of rushing to a moratorium he wants a public debate about causes of climate change. His comments prompted laughter and groans from the audience.

Turlay said he does have concern about safety, but trusts the rigorous review by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council weeds out any dangerous proposals.

Councilor Jack Burkman pointed out to Turlay that smaller projects need city, not state, approval. Those smaller projects don’t have to be reviewed by the state evaluation council, and that’s the point of enacting a moratorium.

Councilor Alishia Topper told Turlay the council was doing what he said he wanted, which was to slow down and carefully weigh the pros and cons of additional regulations.

When it came time for roll call, Turlay said he changed his mind and voted “yes.”

In June, the City Council voted to formally intervene in the EFSEC process, a legal maneuver giving the city the right to present evidence and appeal.

The council also approved a broad policy statement opposing any proposal that would result in an increase of Bakken crude oil being hauled through Clark County.

Tesoro-Savage wants to build an oil-by-rail terminal that would receive an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day at the port.

Eventually, the evaluation council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will approve or deny the project.

While the city’s moratorium won’t stop the Tesoro-Savage project, Vancouver resident Jim Luce, a former chairman of EFSEC who opposes the oil terminal, said it could influence Inslee.

“It sends a signal to the state — and the governor — that the Vancouver City Council is not enthusiastic about siting oil terminals in its backyard,” Luce said Thursday.

Erin Middlewood contributed to this article.