Oil companies have proposed new oil-by-rail shipping terminals and refineries on the Lower Columbia River. Since 2013, Columbia Riverkeeper and our allies have protected the river from dirty oil.
Oil trains endanger Columbia River communities
Rail lines along the Columbia provide the flattest route between crude oil and tar sands deposits and ports serving the Pacific Rim. In June 2016, we experienced first hand how dangerous oil trains can be when a 96-car unit train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation derailed, spilled, and burned in the small Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Oregon.
See a short video with Riverkeeper's Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel:
Even before the Mosier derailment, Northwest communities were taking action. Riverkeeper is part of the Stand Up to Oil campaign, a region-wide effort to stop new and expanded oil-by-rail traffic through the Northwest. Together with partner groups, we have stopped nearly every new oil-by-rail terminal. Yet, oil trains supplying existing facilities still pose a risk to the river.
Elected leaders are taking action, too. Vancouver banned future oil-by-rail terminals, and Portland prohibited all new fossil fuel terminals. Additionally, several tribal nations have taken strong action to oppose oil-by-rail on the Columbia River.
Oil-by-rail proposals still threaten our region
Existing oil-by-rail facilities continue to threaten the Columbia River by sending oil trains, each loaded with 3 million gallons of crude oil, down the Columbia River. Riverkeeper is working with partners in the Stand Up to Oil coalition to reduce risks from these facilities.
A crude oil spill at Port Westward, or anywhere in the Columbia River Estuary, could devastate the Columbia’s natural and economic resources. Neighboring industries dependent on shipping would be put on hold until the cleanup is complete, farmers near the oil terminal risk crop contamination, and rail communities are put at risk each time an explosive train passes through town.
Zenith, Portland, Oregon
Traffic from trains carrying the world’s dirtiest fuel could spike in Portland, OR, and other communities along the Columbia River. Zenith Energy wants to expand shipments of heavy tar sands crude at its Willamette River facility in Portland, OR. Zenith started shipping tar sands crude to China in 2018. According to OPB, the Zenith facility may expand to handle at least one tar sands train per week—and possibly more. Mile-long trains transporting tar sands oil to Portland would travel along the Columbia River.
Tar sands are a mixture of mostly bitumen, sand, clay, and water. Bitumen is made of hydrocarbons—the same molecules in liquid oil—and used to produce gasoline and other petroleum products. Tar sands shipments pose serious risks to our safety and clean water. Learn more about tar sands and Zenith’s dangerous plans.
Global Partners, Port Westward
Near Clatskanie, Oregon, a facility owned and operated by Global Partners poses the greatest risk for bringing oil trains along the Columbia River and through Portland. Global Partners converted a former ethanol refinery and shipping terminal at Port Westward, Oregon, to a oil-by-rail terminal in 2012. Global Partners shipped oil for four years. Global has stopped shipping oil, but the company could resume oil-by-rail shipments in the future. Columbia Riverkeeper continues to watchdog operations at Port Westward closely.
In 2017, Riverkeeper learned that Global Partners sought to purchase additional oil storage tanks capacity at Port Westward, raising the potential for renewed and increased oil train traffic through the Columbia Gorge, Portland, St. Helens, Scappoose, and Rainier to Port Westward in the future. The Public Utility Commission of Oregon approved the tank sale in June 2017—a move that could allow more oil train traffic if oil prices rebound.
Global Partner's background
In 2012, Massachusetts-based oil company Global Partners LP began shipping crude oil from Port Westward near Clatskanie, Oregon. No public hearings or notifications occurred when Global Partners quietly and quickly turned a defunct ethanol facility into a crude oil terminal. Seemingly overnight, mile-long unit trains carrying explosive crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota began traveling through the Columbia River Gorge, Portland, and Columbia County to the shipping terminal at Port Westward. At Port Westward, the crude oil is loaded onto ocean-going barges and shipped through the sensitive Columbia River Estuary—the most important juvenile salmon habitat in the Columbia River Basin.
Watch this video "Voices Against Oil Trains" highlighting the threats of oil-by-rail in the Pacific Northwest:
Global’s oil terminal at Port Westward began operating without public involvement. In 2013, Global blatantly violated its permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) by shipping 6 times more crude oil than allowed. DEQ fined Global Partners, a paltry $117,000 for these serious violations. On August 19, 2014, DEQ approved a new air pollution permit, allowing Global to expand its oil terminal. This disappointing and dangerous permit allows Global to bring 50 unit trains of explosive crude oil through the Northwest. Global is ill-prepared for an oil spill at their Port Westward terminal, and oil trains put residents along the rail lines at risk each time explosive crude oil passes.
Case study: Vancouver oil-by-rail
On January 29, 2018, Governor Jay Inslee rejected the largest proposed oil train terminal in the United States. His decision solidified a major victory for our climate and river communities. Governor Inslee determined that the terminal proposed by Tesoro posed unacceptable risks to the health, safety, and sustainability of communities throughout Washington.
Riverkeeper partnered with amazing Vancouver activists and the Stand Up To Oil coalition to organize record-setting opposition to dirty oil. Over 300,000 people weighed in against Tesoro, and Washington’s Energy Council hearings on Tesoro broke records for public attendance. We salute the incredible work of Columbia River Tribes that stood up to oil-by-rail. Several Tribal Nations presented a rock-solid case to Washington’s Energy Council and the Governor on the significant, dangerous impacts of oil-by-rail. We are honored to work in solidarity with these Tribes to protect the Columbia from the perils of oil-by-rail and other dangerous fossil fuel projects.
We also salute the tireless work of countless people across the Northwest. Our community organizers empowered the public and turned out record-breaking crowds to hearing after hearing, and our attorneys from Earthjustice shined throughout this long fight. We’re proud of our staff at Columbia Riverkeeper, who were there at the very beginning to strategize and organize with all of our partners.
Tesoro Savage Process Timeline:
- April-July 2013: Port of Vancouver negotiates lease for Tesoro Savage proposal
- July 6, 2013: An oil train derails in Lac Megantic, Quebec. The disaster caused 49 fatalities and sparked alarm about the recent, rapid increase in oil trains throughout North America.
- August 2013: Initial Application to EFSEC submitted by Tesoro-Savage.
- January 2014: Application amended by Tesoro-Savage.
- May 2014: Land Use Consistency Hearing.
- December 2014: Tesoro preliminary EIS found inadequate.
- January 2015: Application amended by Tesoro-Savage.
- January 2015: Adjudication process officially commenced.
- November 2015: DEIS released for public comment.
- January 2016: Over 2,000 people attend public hearings on DEIS – a new record for EFSEC.
- January 2016: EFSEC receives over 250,000 comments urging denial of Tesoro Savage.
- April 2016: Port of Vancouver extends lease agreement, institutes 3-month rolling reviews.
- May 2016: Application amended by Tesoro-Savage.
- June 3, 2016: Oil train derails in Mosier, OR, prompting region-wide calls for denial of Tesoro.
- June-July 2016: Adjudication hearing in Vancouver and Olympia.
- October 2016: Application amended by Tesoro-Savage.
- October 2016: Stormwater Construction Permit released for public comment.
- May 2017: Notice of Construction Air Permit released for public comment. Hundreds attend public hearing.
- July 2017: Industrial Stormwater Permit released for public comment. Hundreds attend public hearing.
- November 28, 2017: EFSEC takes unanimous vote to deny oil terminal.
- December 19, 2017: Final written EFSEC recommendation released.
- January 9, 2018: Port moves to rescind the lease.
- January 29, 2018: Governor Inslee rejects Tesoro.
- February 27, 2018: Tesoro Savage and Port mutually agree to terminate lease, effective March 1, 2018. Tesoro declines to appeal Governor Inslee’s decision to reject the terminal, finally ending the Tesoro Savage oil terminal proposal.