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Oil trains approved without public knowledge
A proposal to move oil by rail in Oregon was approved without the public ever knowing. There was no debate, no public hearing. Mile-long trains carrying volatile crude oil from North Dakota just showed up in communities including Scappoose, St. Helens and Rainier.
“We didn’t know. No one knew,” Steven Massey, a Rainier city councilman, told me Monday. “We knew they had over 100 cars. People were alarmed at the blockage at intersections, but we didn’t have any idea they were hauling volatile crude.”
The reason the public was excluded? As I reported Monday, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality signed off on an air pollution permit change in June 2012 that allowed an ethanol fuel plant near Clatskanie to start moving crude from trains onto barges bound for West Coast oil refineries. The state regulator said the shift at the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery had little effect on the site’s air emissions.
It happened fast. The ethanol plant’s owner asked for permission on June 4, 2012. Without involving the public, DEQ approved the request on June 26, 2012. Oil trains began moving a few months later.
Now, as public scrutiny of oil trains increases, DEQ regulators say the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery does need to involve the public and must get a permit to unload crude. The decision puts the state in the unusual position of requiring a business to get permission for something it’s already been doing for more than a year.
DEQ alleges the facility has violated state environmental rules by moving 297 million gallons of oil between December 2012 and November 2013. Its permit allowed it to move 50 million gallons.
No fine has yet been issued, but the company operating the plant, Massachusetts-based Global Partners LP, faces a maximum $25,000 fine for each day it operated out of compliance. The company is contesting the violation.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Port of Portland says it's not, for now, ready to be a petroleum terminal. It says there are too many questions about shipping crude oil by rail.
But the port said Tuesday it could be interested in oil if the transportation record improves.
The port released a statement in response to "numerous inquiries" about its interest in storing or transferring oil shipped to the Columbia Gorge.
It said it is also concerned about oil's environmental effects.
The gorge has become an outlet for volatile oil from the center of the continent, where pipeline capacity is limited.
That oil contains more natural gas, such as the Bakken crude from North Dakota that has exploded in derailments in Canada and the United States — accidents the port cited.