Northwest Oil Terminal Plan Would Mean Jobs — And More Oil Trains

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About three trains containing oil from the Bakken oil fields currently pass through the Vancouver, Wash., region every day. That number would more than double if the Vancouver Energy Project is approved. Conrad Wilson/OPB News

itoggle caption Conrad Wilson/OPB News

America’s oil boom is going through some growing pains. But despite the recent dip in oil prices, some segments of the industry are focused on long-term growth.

In southwestern Washington state, oil companies want to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country at the Port of Vancouver, on the banks of the Columbia River.

Vancouver, a suburb of Portland, Ore., which lies just across the river, is the most direct rail route from the Bakken oil fields to the Pacific Ocean. But the proposal has raised tensions in this city between concerns over safety and the desire to create jobs.

‘There’s No Benefit To Us’

Linda Garcia has called a working class part of Vancouver home for almost 20 years. “My neighborhood is my family,” she says.

But Garcia is concerned about how her neighborhood could change if the terminal is built. Many of the homes here, along with an elementary school, are less than a mile from where trains filled with crude oil would unload at the port.

Right now, about three oil trains pass through the region every day. If the oil terminal is built, that traffic would more than double.

Proponents of the terminal plan say it would bring economic development to the Vancouver area, just over Columbia River from Portland, Ore. Conrad Wilson/OPB News

itoggle caption Conrad Wilson/OPB News

“If there were any type of incident, explosion, over-release of chemicals, spill, earthquake — anything that will cause a safety issue — we’re not entirely convinced that our neighborhood will be safe from that,” she says.

Garcia points to the 2013 oil train derailment in Quebec, Canada, which killed 47 people and destroyed part of a town.

Not far from Garcia’s neighborhood, Barry Cain, president of Gramor Development, is showing off a video rendering of a different kind of project: the City of Vancouver’s planned $1.5 billion mixed-use development, The Waterfront. Cain is the developer behind the swanky 32-acre project, right on the Columbia River.

“We’ve got a half-mile long park and we’ll have great restaurants. It’ll be just a beautiful environment,” he says.

Cain hopes that environment does not include the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal. “We’re fighting it, because there’s no benefit to us,” he says.

‘We Need It For Jobs’

But Jared Larrabee, general manager for the Vancouver Energy Project, says the proposed terminal will be “a great benefit to the area.”

The project is a joint venture by the oil company Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, which specializes in supply chain management.

Larrabee says the terminal will create more than 300 construction jobs in the short term and about 200 additional jobs once it’s up and running.

“This is a facility designed from the ground up, specifically to handle this and specifically for this type of operation,” he says. “So what that means is we can design all of the state-of-the-art safety features in right from the get-go.”

Just upriver, Chris Hickey lives on three acres with his wife, son and two massive dogs. “We get salmon and steelhead up here in the creek,” he says. “It’s one of the cool things about the house.”

Hickey says he’d like to see the region’s economy grow, so he’s all for the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver — even if it means more oil trains.

“I worked in Portland for years. So many people work in Portland. And I would love to see more industry here in the Vancouver area. I mean, we need it for jobs,” he says.

Hickey is certainly walking his talk. He doesn’t mind that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway already runs trains carrying crude oil along the tracks that cut right across his driveway. “I don’t worry about it,” he says.

And neither does Burlington Northern. The rail company says it’s not only up to the task of delivering more crude oil safely, but that it’s also well aware of the risks.

The state is reviewing oil terminal proposal at the Port of Vancouver, and several other oil terminals are also being considered along the Washington coast.

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