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Oregon lawmakers lean on local officials to stop Portland oil terminal

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St. James Terminal,  a U.S. Department of Energy owned marine unloading and distribution point for crude oil located southwest of Baton Rouge, La., is shown in this file photo. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Energy) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Oregon lawmakers lean on local officials to stop Portland oil terminal

August 18, 05:00 PM August 18, 05:00 PM

A Northwest Portland oil terminal is nearing an expansion that state lawmakers and environmentalists claim would increase the risk of an oil spill in an earthquake.

Zenith Energy, a multinational oil and gas company with offices in Texas and New Jersey, has attempted to expand its pipelines for transporting tar sands crude oil. The city blocked its proposed expansion in October 2019. In April of 2021, Zenith scored the certificate of occupancy it first applied for in 2014 from the Bureau of Developmental Services. The move has led it one step closer to building three railcar platforms for moving that crude oil onto ships bound for Canada.

In 2019, the Portland City Council unanimously renewed its 2016 ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure developments, including fuel storage capacity. The planned pipelines at the Zenith terminal in Northwest Portland, according to the company, will not expand capacity. However, environmentalists and progressives see its pending approval by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as a forfeiture of the ban in spirit, if not practice.

Oregon lawmakers, including state Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, have called on the Portland City Council to stop the deal from progressing.

“We must do everything in our power to stop both the threat of train explosions and oil spills in our community as well as curtailing the use of fossil fuels as global science demands,” Pham wrote. “The City of Portland, specifically the Bureau of Development Services under Commissioner Dan Ryan, has a unique role to play here, and the people are counting on our local government to make the right choice.”

Critics of the Zenith terminal expansion also worry about the prospect of an oil spill in the event of an eventual earthquake on the American West Coast, which scientists say is coming sooner or later. Oregon scientists estimate the chance of one happening in the next 50 years is around 14%.

Oregon has joined a host of states moving up their target dates for clean energy transitions this year. The state saw its last coal plant close in 2020. In June, state lawmakers pegged 2040 as Oregon’s new deadline for transitioning its energy grid to 100% renewable energy.

Zenith Energy did not respond to a request for comment on its Portland energy terminal.

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