The Oregon Public Utilities Commission has yet to vote on whether to approve the sale of old storage tanks from Portland General Electric to a fuel transport company, but the decision is already proving to be controversial.
After an OPUC public hearing Tuesday, June 13, in Salem, the agency's commissioners opted not to vote on the proposal at this time after receiving testimony and correspondence from various groups.
Global Partners LP, an oil transloading company that operates Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery at Port Westward in Clatskanie, proposes to purchase nine existing fuel storage tanks from PGE.
PGE operates its Beaver energy generation plant at Port Westward, neighboring the bio-refinery site.
The site doesn't actually refine oil of any kind, but serves as a transport location to offload shipments of ethanol that come in by rail through Columbia County. The fuel is transloaded onto barges that then carry it to its final destination.
In 2014, Global rolled out plans to expand infrastructure for its oil shipping and transfer operations in Clatskanie, saying the company needed more storage space for fuel to expand and diversify operations. Global planned to build additional tanks on site, in addition to other upgrades including pipeline infrastructure and dock improvements.
At the time, Global was shipping crude oil by rail through Columbia County to the bio-refinery. Since then, in response to a decline in the crude oil industry, Global switched commodities and now soley transports ethanol at the bio-refinery.
But rather than build new tanks, Global proposes to use existing diesel storage tanks at Port Westward on PGE's site, which aren't being used by PGE. Selling the tanks to Global requires approval by the OPUC, the state agency that regulates PGE.
Representatives with Global Partners say the prospective tank sale is nothing more than the company acting on plans it introduced years ago in an effort to improve safety, keep jobs at its facility and allow the company to operate more efficiently.
Opponents of the tank sale, including Columbia Riverkeeper — an environmental advocacy group —say the tanks aren't earthquake safe and allowing Global to store more oil means more explosive oil by rail. Some suggest the infrastructure expansion could signal a resurrection of crude oil shipments by rail.
"Railroads and oil companies continue pressure to increase dangerous oil train traffic and terminals through our communities and along special places like the Columbia River," stated Rebecca Pon-
zio of the Stand Up to Oil coalition.
Columbia Riverkeeper pointed to Global Partners' previous permit violations, when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality discovered in 2013 that Global was shipping six times the amount of crude oil it was permitted to transport.
In a statement released Tuesday, Global reiterated that its plans for extra storage tanks aren't new, noting any plans to ship more barrels of oil than it is already allowed would require an entirely new permit from DEQ.
"Any claim that the sale under consideration by the OPUC is a new project is simply false and misleading," Dylan Remley, vice president of terminal operations for Global, stated. "The continued implementation of Global's infrastructure improvement plan will enable us to further fulfill our promise to the community of ensuring a safe environment while providing family wage jobs."
Global's infrastructure improvement plan has already been approved by state regulatory agencies. If the sale of PGE tanks to Global Partners isn't approved, Global could proceed with its original plans to build new tanks.