Legislators call to broaden scope of Westway and Imperium economic and environmental impact review

The Westway and Imperium expansion projects that are proposed to bulk up storage and rail capacity at Port of Grays Harbor in Hoquiam to handle a flux of crude oil have some Washington legislators saying pump the brakes.

Seven members of the Washington State legislature issued a letter to Imperium and Westway and ICF International.

They asked for a more thorough environmental and economic evaluation of what would be an addition of an estimated 858,800 barrels of crude oil shipped per day, which equates to 12.3 loaded trains per day. If all the proposed plans were implemented as they are now that would exceed the volume of oil shipped in the planned Keystone XL pipeline.

The letter is in response to Imperium Renewables and Westway Terminals, the two companies that operate fuel shipping operations at the Port of Grays Harbor, announcing they would complete an Environmental Impact Statement last Wednesday, May 28. The companies claim they have already completed all environmental review requirements, but the state Shorelines Hearings Board made a ruling asking for more information. Legislators say the evaluation is too narrow in scope and want to broaden analysis to include economic and environmental implications across the whole state. The EIS would take about a year to complete.

The seven Washington State include Rep. Ruth Kagi (32nd District), Rep. Jessyn Farrell (46th District), Rep. Gerry Pollet (46th District), Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (34th District), Rep. Gael Tarleton (36th District), Rep. Reuven Carlyle (36th District) and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th District).

“Due to the gravity of the proposed projects and the widespread nature of the potential impacts, we recommend that the agencies broaden the scope of the review process to include the impacts felt by cities and counties across Washington. We also encourage the agencies to consider the cumulative impact of other large-capacity fuel export proposals in the Pacific Northwest,” stated the letter.

In the letter they contented three fundamental reasons for the review: potential of increased threat of oil spills, the Impacts of additional rail and vessel traffic, and the net economic impacts the transport of crude will have on the State.

“There is a game changing factor afoot by changing from pipes lines to trains. There are now a series of proposals that will have Washington transporting more oil than the Alaskan pipeline. This could have serious economic and environment effects, and so what we are asking for is a more through comprehensive analysis of the projects.”

Regarding the potential for oil spills while the crude is being transported through Washington Waterways, the letter states, “The lack of tug escorts available to tankers, the lack of appropriate staffing requirements for oil barges, and the lack of appropriate emergency response planning given the proposed expansion projects are all factors that heighten the risk of a catastrophic oil spill.”

The crude poses more risks than regular crude because it has a lower flash point, making it more combustible, and a more problematic clean up because it sinks.

Concerning the impacts of additional rail and vessel traffic, Legislators purported that the “Rail traffic will likely cause congestion at rail crossings, increased air and noise pollution along rail corridors, and increased rail maintenance and improvement costs.”

Moreover, they said the extra traffic would affect the transport flow of other key commodity industries like agriculture and aerospace. In addition, Legislators asked for an extensive review of the potential marine life impact, especially on fisheries, resulting from the exacerbation of the already congested shipping lanes.

So far, 11 refineries and port terminals are planning, building, or already operating oil-by-rail shipments in Oregon and Washington. The proposed expansion would put more than 12 loaded miles of loaded trains per day on the Pacific Northwest’s railway system.

Addressing the net economic impact, Legislatures said they want an “apples –to-apples” account of net cost and benefits the transport of crude would have on the State before they can make a decision. Although they said the potential for full time family wage jobs will be good for the State, they propose those benefits be “objectively quantified,” and that the potential problems arising from the project are tantamount to job creation.
Legislators also questioned if the current railway infrastructure can handle the increased traffic and what the potential expansion and maintenance would mean for taxpayers. In addition, as a “trade-dependent state,” legislators are concerned with how Washington can absorb more “bulk fuel export projects” when there are already some in the works. They assert that the extra projects would need to fit current growth projections and fit with the already functioning industries.

“We want a comprehensive review. The question is how broad will the environmental and economic impact will be. In my view the agency has the responsibility to review the direct impact that will affect Washingtonians,” said Carlyle.

In 2004, the Sightline Institute reported that in Puget Sound some refineries were already receiving oil by rail. One of the closest to Seattle is the refinery in Tacoma (U.S. Oil and Refining), which in 2004 had a handling capacity of 35 thousand barrels per day and contributed to a half an oil train per day operating on Washington rails.

Other operational stations/refineries in the Puget Sound region include Ferndale (another in construction), Anacortes and Clatskanie, Ore. In addition, some already operating, are seeking permits to ship the crude are in Anacortes, three in Hoquiam and two in Vancouver. There are also three proposals for Grays Harbor that would transport oil along the Washington coast.

Legislators are not the only one’s asking to broaden the review. On May 20th, 2014, the Friends of Grays Harbor sent a nine-page letter to Westway and Imperium EISs and ICF International naming issues in the proposal addressing impact to native cultural fishing practice intrusion, a lack of a plan for spill cleanups, seabird and mammal disruption, emergency tsunami plans and plans for sea level rise, to name only a few.

“The far-reaching impacts of these projects, especially the impacts to Washington’s economy, warrant a thorough and comprehensive analysis; an analysis at least as thorough as the process already underway for the Gateway Pacific and Millennium Bulk coal export terminals. We must not abdicate our fiduciary duty to review and protect our state’s interests, and for this reason we urge you to a broad and robust review.”

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