A proposal by Portland General Electric to sell nine oil storage tanks on the lower Columbia River has raised concerns about a potential oil-by-rail terminal in Oregon.
PGE is proposing to sell its old oil storage tanks to the fuel distributor Global Partners LP, which runs an ethanol facility at Port Westward near Clatskanie. The company has used the existing rail line and dock to ship crude oil from the facility in the past, and the additional tanks would add more than a million barrels of storage capacity, according to documents.
When oil prices dropped, the company stopped shipping crude oil from the facility, which was originally built to be a biorefinery, and switched to ethanol.
Miles Johnson with the environmental group Columbia RiverKeeper said with that much storage capacity, the rail line and existing dock, the company could operate an oil terminal about half the size of the facility proposed by Tesoro Savage in Vancouver, Washington.
"To us this is a pretty clear signal they think crude oil prices could increase again," he said. "And if they did, Global Partners would be sitting on a fully permitted oil terminal they could just put into operation without the type of review that a major oil terminal like the one in Vancouver has been receiving."
The company already has the air quality permit needed to operate an oil terminal, he noted.
He and other opponents of oil-by-rail terminals point to the risks of dangerous derailments and fires like the one that happened in Mosier last year.
The storage tank sale needs approval from the Oregon Public Utility Commission. Columbia Riverkeeper is asking the commission to deny the sale because shipping crude oil by rail and by barge is dangerous for people and the environment and not in the public interest.
A call to Global Partners was not immediately returned.
PGE spokesman Steve Corson said the utility had originally built the tanks to store oil as a backup fuel source for a gas-fired power plant.
But the plant has never needed that much oil as a backup fuel supply, and now the tanks are "old and dilapidated," Corson said.
The utility is required to consider the value of the assets to its ratepayers in deciding what to do with them, Corson said.
"They’re an asset the ratepayers have paid for, and they’re an asset we don’t need anymore," he said. "If we leave them there they’ll need to be maintained. Decommissioning them or taking them out would cost money rather than a sale that would offer ratepayers economic advantage."