For Immediate Release, May 6, 2014

Contact:  Marla Nelson, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, (651) 434-7737
John Krallman, Neighbors for Clean Air, (540) 903-0534
Tanya Sanerib, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6407
Lauren Goldberg, Columbia RiverKeeper, (541) 965-0985

Sham Air Permit for Clatskanie Oil Terminal Opposed

Oil Train Facility on Columbia River Tries to Skirt Clean Air Requirements

PORTLAND, Ore.— A coalition of regional and national conservation organizations representing tens of thousands of Oregonians is asking the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reject an air-permit application for a Columbia River facility that has been quietly transformed into a shipping center for highly volatile crude oil.

The groups have submitted comments detailing numerous concerns about the facility in Clatskanie, which was originally permitted for producing and shipping ethanol but instead has been used solely to ship crude oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota, at the rate of 300 million gallons last year. The dangerous oil has been arriving by rail through the Columbia River Gorge, traveling through Portland and other towns. Bakken crude has been involved in a series of explosive rail accidents, including one in the Quebec Town of Lac-Mégantic in 2013 that killed 47 people and incinerated the town’s center. 

“To use a facility permitted for ethanol production to ship this dangerous crude oil through our backyards, without telling the public, puts our communities and environment at risk,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center. “This facility needs to be shut down until all of the risks, including pollution of our air, are considered and it is determined to be safe.”   

Using a 2003 permit issued solely for ethanol, a company called Global Partners, applied for a permit modification in 2012 to be able to “additionally receive and transload crude oil from railcars to barges” using existing storage tanks. Such use was meant to be limited to no more than 50 million gallons per year and secondary to the permitted purpose of the plant – producing ethanol. Instead, Global’s annual report shows that the sole use of the plant was shipping crude oil, amounting to more than 300 million gallons in 2013 alone. 

“Global Partners should never have been able to use the existing permit to construct and operate a crude oil shipping terminal,” said attorney Marla Nelson with NEDC. “Any permit based on Global’s application would be a sham.”  

Normally, under state and federal law, the construction needed to convert the facility to an oil terminal would have required a whole new permit before construction even began, and certainly before the facility started moving substantial amounts of crude.

“While we appreciate Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s efforts to get Global’s operations covered under the Clean Air Act,” said attorney John Krallman with Neighbors for Clean Air, “we need to ensure that Global obtains the correct permit for its operations and pays the price for its violations.”

The dangers of transporting Bakken crude are becoming more apparent every day:

  • Just last week a derailment in Virginia set the James River on fire and polluted the water source for the city of Richmond. 
  • The runaway train transporting 72 tankers of Bakken crude that careened into the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and destroying much of the town’s downtown, also polluted a beautiful lake that was the lifeblood of the town.
  • On Dec. 30, 2013, a train transporting Bakken crude derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D., prompting an evacuation of residents within five miles of the accident.
  • And in January a 122-car train carrying Bakken crude derailed and caught fire near Plaster Rock in New Brunswick, prompting evacuation of the town.

The incidents highlight what could happen in the Columbia Gorge or anywhere else along the train’s route. 

“The scenic Columbia River Gorge attracts tourists and provides unparalleled recreational opportunities,” said attorney Lauren Goldberg of CRK. “Given all the recent oil train explosions, it is not surprising public attention and concern are focused on Global’s oil trains in the Gorge.”   

The comments were submitted by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Neighbors for Clean Air, the Center for Biological Diversity, Columbia RiverKeeper and Sierra Club.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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