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Environmental Questions Delay Grays Harbor Oil Terminal Plans

PHOTO: Two oil shipping terminals proposed for Grays Harbor on the central Washington coast are on hold. Their permits are being reversed for further environmental study of possible risks associated with increased oil shipments by rail and tanker traffic by sea. Photo credit: Grays Harbor Tourism
PHOTO: Two oil shipping terminals proposed for Grays Harbor on the central Washington coast are on hold. Their permits are being reversed for further environmental study of possible risks associated with increased oil shipments by rail and tanker traffic by sea. Photo credit: Grays Harbor Tourism
October 10, 2013

HOQUIAM, Wash. – Plans for two new terminals to store oil and pump it into tankers in Grays Harbor are on hold after the Quinault Indian Nation and several conservation groups challenged the permits.

Washington state’s Shorelines Hearings Board reversed the permits that already had been granted for the terminals in the Hoquiam area, after allegations that not enough study had been done on their environmental impact, along with a third terminal also proposed.

Kristin Boyles, an attorney for the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, represented the groups and tribe. She says shipping crude oil by rail to Pacific ports is a recent and booming development.

"Nine are proposed right now in Washington state,” she adds. “And I think this board decision helps us take a deep breath and decide as a state whether this is what we want for our future – to become industrial oil-shipping zones. This is using Washington state as a drainpipe for the oil fields."

Most of the oil would come from North Dakota or the tar sands of Alberta, which means it would cross the state before ending up at the ports.

While the oil wouldn't be used in Washington, the companies developing the terminals say the state would still benefit from local jobs and tax revenue.

Boyles says crude-by-rail shipments are on the rise because oil production is growing faster than the pipeline projects to transport it.

"Right now it's not going anywhere, and that's one of the issues,” she explains. “The oil companies are having trouble building pipelines – those take time and they're controversial. And they've found a way to bring the oil in on rail, which doesn't require the same kind of public transparency and safety review."

The final board opinion has not been released. It is expected to describe the issues the state Department of Ecology and the City of Hoquiam must take a closer look at. They could include spill and earthquake risks, the effects of increased rail and tanker traffic, tribal treaty rights and other concerns.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA