Permit gives nod to crude oil operations at Port Westward facility

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a new permit for the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery at Port Westward on Tuesday, Aug. 19, the department announced.

The permit applies to crude oil transloading operations at the facility, where oil is transferred from unit trains to oceangoing vessels. Ethanol is not actively produced by the “bio-refinery,” despite its original intent, but the facility is used by owner Global Partners LP, a Massachusetts-based energy company, as a crude oil terminal.

The terms of the permit allow the facility to move up to almost 1.84 billion gallons of crude oil per year. That amount is considerably more than the maximum amount of oil Global can freight to the terminal by rail, under an agreement with the Port of St. Helens that currently limits rail shipments to about 24 trains per month.

Each DOT-111, the most common type of tanker car used to transport crude oil, has a maximum capacity of about 30,000 gallons. More than 60,000 such cars per year would be needed to move the maximum amount of crude oil allowed to be transloaded under the terms of the permit to the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery.

Even still, if 50,000 tanker cars per year — the highest amount, conditional upon rail safety improvements that are planned in Rainier, allowed by the current agreement — transport crude oil to the facility, it could conceivably transload 1.5 billion gallons while complying with the terms of the new permit.

The decision to issue the permit came after a public comment period from February to May.

The DEQ responded to comments from opponents of the permit application by saying none “identified applicable regulatory limitations that were omitted or design elements of the facility that would prevent it from complying” with DEQ requirements.

In particular, the department noted it has no legal authority to rule based on the safety of crude oil trains, considers the crude oil transloading operation at the inactive refinery to be a “new source” of potential pollution, and has already taken the apparent volatility of crude oil from the Bakken oil-producing region in the Midwestern United States into account in issuing the permit.

The DEQ warned earlier this year that the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery violated the terms of a previous permit, although the company is contesting the claims. The department said that “significantly” more than 50 million gallons were transloaded last year, exceeding the amount it claims the air quality permit for the bio-refinery operation itself allows.

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