In Oregon, you can count on the rain and environmentalists blocking any new fossil fuel (coal, oil or natural gas) project. However, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) recently reported on a new breed of companies that are taking advantage of city and state regulations
Companies are now looking to acquire existing facilities, which require minimal permits under city and/or state law to export fossil fuels. Case in point is Zenith Energy’s acquisition of Arc-Logistics Partners LP on December 21, 2017.
Arc-Logistics owned and operated petroleum facilities, including a rail/marine terminal located a few hundred feet from the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. Following the acquisition of Arc-Logistics, Zenith Energy transformed the facility located on Front Avenue in Northwest Portland into an oil import/export terminal.
Zenith Energy is now importing thick, viscous crude oil by rail from tar sands operations in Alberta, Canada. The viscous oil must be diluted by chemicals, such as benzene, toluene or hydrogen sulfide before it can be pump it into oil tank cars and transported by rail. The oil is shipped over 1,000 miles from tar sands operations in Canada to the Zenith Oil Terminal in Portland .
The viscous oil is then pumped from the railroad oil tank cars into large oil storage tanks at the Zenith Oil Terminal. The large oil storage tanks can hold over 63 million gallons (1.5 million barrels) of oil. The oil in the storage tanks is eventually pumped into oil tankers on the Willamette River and shipped to refineries around the world.
The environmental risks of the Zenith Oil Terminal include:
- Transporting bitumen by rail from Canada to Portland crosses majestic mountains, pristine rivers and bountiful farmlands. A railroad accident could cause the oil tank cars to overturn, creating a devastating oil spill.
- The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has cited the Zenith Oil Terminal for a lack of oil tank inspections and poor preparation for potential oil spills.
- The Zenith Oil Terminal is located on an earthquake liquification zone. The soil in a liquification zone can temporarily lose strength during an earthquake, which could cause the large oil storage tanks to rupture, spilling millions of gallons of viscous, toxic oil into our Willamette River.
Recently, the Portland City Council re-approved a ban on creating or expanding large fossil fuel terminals in the city. Under the ordinance, existing terminals can replace or reconfigure their existing storage capacity. The city code changes will not apply to gas stations or fossil fuel storage facilities for airports, rail yards or marine terminals.
Although the new city ordinance will ban the expansion of the Zenith Oil Terminal, it will not stop the import and export of hundreds of millions of gallons of viscous, toxic oil. Is there anything that our city government can do to stop what is a potential environmental disaster waiting to happen? Absolutely!
Portland city government could levy a fee on every gallon of viscous, toxic oil imported and a separate fee on every gallon of exported by ship from the terminal. The rationale behind this type of city fees, include:
- A significant percentage of the fees would be put in escrow, which would only be used if there was an oil spill or environmental disaster at the Zenith Oil Terminal. The funds would be returned to Zenith Oil once the facility closes and there is no environmental remediation. Currently, Zenith Oil could declare bankruptcy if there was an environmental disaster and the city and state would be responsible for the environmental remediation.
- The city and the state have no process to determine how much oil is imported or exported from the Zenith Oil Terminal. An oil import and export fee would provide the city with a relatively accurate estimate of how much oil is at the oil facility at any point in time. It is essential for first to know how much oil is on site, if there is an oil spill, explosion, etc.
- An import fee of $0.25 per gallon and export fee of $0.50 per gallon would prompt Zenith Energy to find alternative, less costly export terminals to ship the viscous, toxic oil overseas.
In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before the current operations at the Zenith Oil Terminal will result in an environmental catastrophe.
I am running for Portland City Commissioner 4, because we need someone on the city council that is an energy expert and will fight against global warming and climate change.
 “Opponents Struggle To Stop A New Breed of Oregon Fuel Terminals” by Cassandra Profits, OPB – December 11, 2019.