The permits for two potential oil export facilities at the Port of Grays Harbor, expected to increase tanker traffic by 410 percent and rail traffic by 133 percent, have been revoked and will be sent back to the city of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology for more studies and analysis after vigorous opposition by the Quinault Indian Nation and environmental groups, according to a recent letter sent by the state Shorelines Hearings Board.
“A majority of the board will inform the parties that the State Environmental Policy Act analysis, as presented in the record on summary judgment, does not appear sufficiently robust pertaining to seismic hazards, archaeological and cultural resources, and oil spill hazards,” the letter adds.
The appeal was filed by the Quinault Indian Nation, Friends of Grays Harbor, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Grays Harbor Audubon and Citizens for a Clean Harbor.
“We will not let Grays Harbor become an Alberta Tar Sands and North Dakota oil depot,” Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation, said in a press release. “Our history and fishing livelihood demand we protect these waters.”
The city of Hoquiam and the state agency had issued a mitigated determination of non-significance approving the permits of the projects proposed by Westway Terminals and Imperium Renewables individually, instead of together, and the permit process totally ignored a third proposal by U.S. Development looking at exporting crude oil at a terminal in Hoquiam. This is “clearly erroneous,” the letter states. U.S. Development has not yet started its permitting process. However, if all three proposals moved forward, it could bring as much as 2.4 billion gallons of crude oil by train through Grays Harbor.
The approvals “used incomplete information, failed to adequately consider the information it had and failed to mitigate the impacts of this project,” the Quinaults and environmental groups had argued.
The only evidence that the city and state looked at the cumulative impacts of the Westway and Imperium proposals was in the form of a chart adding the amount of rail and ship traffic that could result from both proposals.
“A chart is not analysis,” the Quinaults and environmental groups had argued. “State Environmental Policy Act does not allow agencies and municipalities to pick and choose which cumulative impacts they will study; its clear mandate is that decisions be based on complete disclosure of environmental consequence.”
The Quinaults and environmental groups added, “All that is required is enough information be available to permit meaningful consideration of the impacts of the future action.” And, at the very least, the information on potential rail and marine traffic increased provided by U.S. Development to the Port of Grays Harbor — and posted online in a helpful frequently asked questions sheet on the Port’s website — should be included in the permitting process. In January and February, Ecology officials had been looking informally at all three proposals together, according to emails obtained by the Quinaults. And U.S. Development had participated in multiple community meetings and updates before the Port commissioners with the other proposals. It was only after Imperium and Westway applied for the permits that all of the projects were being considered individually, instead of all together.
The letter from Presiding Administrative Appeals Judge Kay M. Brown agreed with that thought.
“The majority will conclude that the governing legal standard for this issue is whether the U.S. Development project is reasonably foreseeable, and will go on to conclude that based on the uncontroverted record on summary judgment, the U.S. Development project is reasonably foreseeable,” Brown wrote.
An ambiguous letter from Brown sent last month indicated that the permits would be remanded back to Hoquiam and the state, but didn’t give any clear reasoning or expectations. Attorneys for Westway requested a conference meeting to figure out what was going on. Instead, Brown sent a letter explaining the opinion further, but noting the final order is still to come.
The majority of the Shorelines Hearings Board granted a summary judgment motion without even needing to conduct a hearing, basing its decision on six environmental experts for the Quinaults and the environmental groups, who testified in declarations given to the board that the risk of an oil spill on the Harbor is great and the protections required for the permits are woefully inadequate.
The permits “improperly deferred consideration” of the impacts on rail traffic and vessel traffic after the permits are issued, which was also “clearly erroneous,” the letter states, because the studies should be done beforehand, the majority of the Shorelines Hearings Board noted.
The letter also noted several other issues that were up for appeal that the board now considered “moot” and wouldn’t be addressed since the core argument that the permits needed further analysis based on commutative impact was upheld.
The state Department of Ecology is reviewing the commutative impacts of coal export facilities in the state. And R.D. Grunbaum of the Friends of Grays Harbor says that the state should do the same for potential oil export facilities.
“Now that the Shorelines Hearings Board has indicated that a slap-dash permit is not enough, we call on Governor Jay Inslee and the Department of Ecology to issue a moratorium on all crude-by-rail projects until a full cumulative environmental and economic review can be done,” said Grunbaum said. “If any of these projects go forward, it will be bad for Grays Harbor.”
Advocates against the oil trains became even more vocal after an unattended train derailed in Quebec, exploded in the middle of the town of Lac-Mégantic and killed 47 people. Five people are still missing from the accident and may have been incinerated.
Westway is already exporting methanol and Imperium has a biodiesel refinery already at the Port of Grays Harbor.
Heidi Happonen, a spokeswoman for Westway, told the Associated Press, “They’re very interested in pursuing this and continuing to do business there.”
Imperium CEO John Plaza said in a press release that the company was already working on more studies and experts had been hired “who specialize in the fields of heavy industrial construction, spill response mitigation, rail hazards, cultural and archaeological evaluations and many other areas.”
“For Imperium, the good news is that much, if not all, of the additional evaluation materials that the board highlighted in its letter yesterday have already been prepared by Imperium’s expert consultants,” Plaza said in the release.
By 2015, both Westway and Imperium had hoped to start exporting crude oil deriving from the Bakken region of the Midwest. Because of a ban on exporting American oil overseas, the oil would be put on barges and shipped to West Coast refineries.
11 CRUDE OIL PROPOSALS
A Seattle environmental research group issued a report over the summer, noting there are 11 separate crude oil export proposals in Oregon and Washington.
“Taken together, the oil-by-rail projects planned for the Northwest would be capable of delivering enough fuel to exceed the region’s oil-refining capacity,” the report by Sightline states. “Ironically, two of the facilities that would handle oil by rail were originally built to supply renewable fuel,” including Imperium.
“Until recently, the extensive shale oil deposits there were largely untapped because the oil was simply too difficult to extract,” the report adds. “But new fracking and drilling techniques allowed oil companies in the Bakken to unleash a gusher of petroleum that is widely considered the most consequential American oil play in decades. So sudden was the region’s oil boom that companies found themselves with scant infrastructure to move the crude to market.
Railways seized the opportunity to play a role traditionally reserved for pipelines: moving large volumes of crude oil. The rail industry embarked on a breakneck campaign of building tanker cars as refineries and ports began hatching plans to receive the product from train.
“If all of them are built, they would be capable of delivering more than 785,000 barrels of oil per day, a figure that exceeds the region’s total oil refining capacity,” the report notes.