The Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board stated that it will reverse the permits issued to two major crude-by-rail shipping terminals in a letter to interested parties. The decision will send the proposals back to the City of Hoquiam and the Washington Department of Ecology to conduct a complete review of the environmental risks and harms of transforming Grays Harbor into an industrial crude oil zone.
Westway Terminal Company and Imperium Terminal Services had proposed construction of new oil shipping terminals in Grays Harbor that would give them the capacity to store 1.5 million barrels of crude oil at any given time. The two companies predicted that they would bring 38 million barrels of crude oil annually through Grays Harbor, via rail and marine vessels.
The State Board has agreed with petitioners Quinault Indian Nation, Friends of Grays Harbor, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Grays Harbor Audubon, and Citizens for a Clean Harbor that the projects cannot proceed with only minimal environmental review. A full opinion from the Board explaining its decision will be issued in the coming weeks.
“These projects aren’t going forward,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the Quinault Indian Nation. “The Board has identified serious flaws in the permitting and environmental review that will require an in-depth look at rail and vessel traffic, seismic hazards, cultural resources, and oil spill risks before any future decisions are made. There is no quick fix here.”
“We will not let Grays Harbor become an Alberta Tar Sands and North Dakota oil depot,” said Fawn Sharp, President, Quinault Indian Nation. “Our history and fishing livelihood demand we protect these waters.”
“These projects would bring more oil barge and ship traffic to Grays Harbor, risks of crude oil spills and harm to salmon, shellfish, aquatic life, and increased rail traffic to communities from North Dakota to Hoquiam. This would harm our treaty rights and cultural historic sites,” said Tyson Johnston, 1st Councilman Quinault Indian Nation. “We could not stand by and let this happen to our community.”
Under this ruling, a third facility proposed by U.S. Development, which would add millions more barrels of crude oil annually through Grays Harbor must be included in future environmental reviews.
“Now that the Shorelines Hearings Board has indicated that a slap-dash permit is not enough, we call on Governor 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 R.D. Grunbaum, with Friends of Grays Harbor. “If any of these projects go forward, it will be bad for Grays Harbor.”
The proposed oil shipping terminals seek to ship tens of millions of barrels of crude oil through Grays Harbor each year. Daily trains over a mile long would bring crude oil from North Dakota or tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada into the port, where it would be stored in huge tanks on the shore of this unique and vibrant estuary. The crude would then be pumped over the Chehalis River onto oil tankers and barges, increasing four-fold the large vessel traffic in and out of this difficult to navigate port. The Quinault Indian Nation and conservation groups argued that regulatory agencies failed to adequately evaluate the risks of oil spills from rail or marine vessels that would expose tribal fishing rights, commercial and recreational fishing and shellfishing, and the economy and environment of Grays Harbor to major harm.
Crude-by-rail systems are a recent, but booming, phenomenon. Instead of pipelines, which are both expensive to build and subject to full environmental review and regulation, crude oil is loaded onto rail tank cars for deliveries to refineries. In 2012, major U.S. railroads transported at least 20 times as many tank cars of crude oil as they did in 2008. The Grays Harbor proposals add marine vessels to this patchwork system. The crude oil can come from domestic or Canadian oil fields, leading to an as yet unaddressed concern that hazardous Alberta tar sands crude will be traveling by rail and tanker within Washington State.