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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - This is the site at the Port of Vancouver where the Tesoro Savage oil terminal is proposed.  It's on the other side of the Columbia River from Hayden Island. One of the most controversial developments ever proposed in the Portland area — the Tesoro Savage oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver — has advanced to a critical stage after Washington regulators issued a draft environmental impact statement.


The terminal would serve what amounts to an oil pipeline on wheels — four daily trains with up to 120 cars each arriving from North Dakota, perhaps via tracks in the Columbia River Gorge.

It would be the region's largest oil-by-rail project, equipped to handle 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day. That’s about 42 percent of the oil volume proposed for the Keystone XL pipeline recently rejected by President Obama, said Dan Serres, conservation director for the Columbia Riverkeeper.

The project is proposed by Tesoro Corp., a Texas oil company, teaming with Savage, a Utah-based supply chain management company, which formed a joint venture called Vancouver Energy. They hope to haul crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and deliver it to West Coast oil refineries, via up to 350 marine vessel trips per year up the Columbia River.

The draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, issued last week by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, triggers the beginning of a public comment period that could attract thousands of critics and supporters.

The DEIS includes exhaustive analysis of just about every impact one could imagine for a project of this scope at the terminus of a 1,187-mile rail line. The state agency reviewed the potential for oil spills, air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and adverse impact of marine vessels on endangered fish species. It analyzed worker safety, rail line safety, congestion on the rail lines, earthquake, landslide and tsunami hazards, and the impact on recreation. Even odors and noise pollution are evaluated.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - A ship waits at the Port of Vancouver, where a massive oil-by-rail terminal is proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage. Tesoro responded to an interview request by submitting a brief email.

“This is an important milestone for the project and we look forward to entering the next stages of the permitting process,” stated Tina Barbee, spokeswoman for Vancouver Energy, in the email.

Vancouver Energy says its project will reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, helping fill the void due to declining production of oil in Alaska's North Slope and in California.

The company says the project will create 320 fulltime jobs during construction, and 176 permanent jobs to operate the facility, plus 440 spinoff jobs off-site.

Serres and other environmentalists said the DEIS contains enough red flags to justify rejection of the oil terminal by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Inslee gets to make the final call after presiding over a quasi-judicial hearing process on the findings by the state energy siting council.

The liberal Seattle Democrat has made fighting climate change one of his signature issues.

Last month, the Portland City Council passed a resolution decrying further oil-by-rail shipments in this area, a position already held by the Vancouver City Council. In the November election, Eric LaBrant won an open seat on the Port of Vancouver Commission on a platform opposed to the oil terminal.

Environmentalists and Portland city commissioners are most concerned about rail accidents from the oil trains in the Columbia River Gorge or if the trains are routed through Portland, as well as the impact on climate change. Scientists say much of the world’s oil reserves needs to stay underground if we are to avert major climate disruption and global warming, a position Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has adopted.

Tesoro and Savage insist the oil will not be exported but sent to refineries on the West Coast. Since there are no oil refineries in Oregon, the oil would be transported to Washington or California. "We currently do not anticipate that crude oil handled at the facility will be exported," Vancouver Energy says on its website. However, it notes that the oil is actually owned by its customers.

Environmentalists are skeptical the oil is for domestic use, and fear Tesoro wants to export it.

“I think at 360,000 barrels of oil a day, it’s safe to say that’s not just devoted to Oregon or Washington,” Serres said. Tesoro is one of the companies seeking to overturn the current U.S. ban on exporting unrefined domestic oil, Serres said. “This is a nationally and internationally significant project.”

Now it’s the public’s turn to weigh in. Residents have until Jan. 8 to submit comments on the DEIS. In addition, a marathon public hearing is planned for Tuesday, Jan. 5, from

There’ll also be a public hearing on Jan. 5, from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. if needed. That takes place at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, Hall B, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road in Ridgefield.

To read the DEIS and make comments: 1.usa.gov/1NNPIZE

Public comments on the DEIS may be submitted until Jan. 8, 2016.

To see Tesoro’s take on the project: www.vancouverenergyusa.com

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