Oil Terminals

Photo credit: Natalie Jamerson

If built, proposed new and expanded terminals would dramatically increase the amount of oil handling capacity in the Northwest, from a capacity of around 376,000 barrels a day to over 1 million barrels a day. That is significantly more than the Keystone XL pipeline would have moved (830,000 barrels/day).

Oil terminals make poor neighbors. People living near the proposed terminals would be exposed to some of the same problems as neighbors of existing refineries including air pollution, safety risks, odor and noise.

Here are some of the largest and most controversial proposals, where communities are actively fighting them.

Click on the map to the right to see where the terminals are located across the Pacific Northwest >>

Columbia River

Tesoro Savage Oil Terminal (Vancouver, WA)
If built, Tesoro Savage would be the largest crude oil by rail terminal in the nation. With a capacity to handle 360,000 barrels per day four trains would be needed daily to deliver the oil and nearly filling a tanker 700 feet in length for shipment down the Columbia River.

Tesoro Savage could deal a major blow to Vancouver’s economy and quality of life. The project is in direct conflict with a $1.3 billion waterfront redevelopment plan that would build 3,300 new homes, as well as restaurants, shopping and office space. Twenty-two city blocks of the waterfront development would be within 100 feet of the rail line.

Tesoro Savage’s proposal is opposed by the Vancouver City Council, ILWU Local 4, Columbia Waterfront LLC, the Cities of Washougal and Spokane, the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, the environmental community, and people from all walks of life across the Northwest. Learn more about this project here.

NuStar Energy (Vancouver, WA)

NuStar Energy currently operates a bulk terminal at the Port of Vancouver on the Columbia River. The company is proposing to retrofit their facility to become an oil-by-rail terminal. NuStar Energy wants to receive an average of 22,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The company submitted its proposal to the City of Vancouver days before the City passed a moratorium on any new crude oil projects. Since NuStar Energy is proposing to retrofit their existing facility fewer permits required.

Global Partners (Port Westward, OR)

In 2012, without public input, Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery (after being bought out by a 3rd party private equity firm) transitioned quietly and quickly from an ethanol facility into a crude oil terminal. Global Partners then began shipping crude oil from Port Westward near Clatskanie, Oregon.

Seemingly overnight, Global Partners began receiving up to 30,000 barrels of crude oil per day. In 2013, Global Partners violated its permit and shipped six times more crude oil than was allowable through their Port Westward terminal. The State found that their actions were so egregious they labeled them a “serious violation” of state law. Yet, instead of shutting the oil terminal down, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a nominal fine and granted a permit for a massive expansion.

Since then, the global oil sands have begun to shift. World prices for crude oil plummeted, effecting companies throughout the industry. Global Partners was no exception and in early 2016 laid off over half of the terminal workers and suspended oil transportation. In hopes of moving away from such a volatile industry, the company said it plans to transition to methanol or biofuels transportation.

Status: Inactive

Washington Coast
Two Mures Ben Nieves

Photo credit: Ben Nieves

Three major proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor, near Aberdeen and Hoquiam on the coast, would have the combined capacity to handle nearly 164,000 barrels daily, fed by three loaded oil train deliveries every day. Of all the places in the Northwest that would be affected by a ramp-up in oil transport, none stands to be as profoundly transformed as Grays Harbor. If these three terminals are built, the risk of collision and oil spills will surge due to the dramatic increase in shipping traffic: major vessel traffic by more than 5 times, and tank vessel traffic by 44 times. That means between 293 and 428 tankers and tug barges annually, full of oil, would have to navigate the shallow, narrow, twelve-mile long shipping channel of Grays Harbor, which has limited deep water areas to stage ships or tugs. Such a huge surge in oil vessel traffic, in a place not suited to them is inviting disaster. A major oil spill could wreak havoc on the Dungeness Crab fishery and many other natural resource-based industries in the area. Marine resource dependent jobs support more than 30% of Grays Harbor’s workforce, according to a 2013 study by the University of Washington.

Westway Terminal Company

Westway currently operates a bulk terminal at the Port of Grays Harbor, and is proposing a retrofit to receive 48,918 barrels of crude per day from oil train shipments. Since the company is proposing to retrofit their existing facility, there are relatively few permits required. Learn more about the project here.

Imperium Renewables/Renewable Energy Group (REG)

This biodiesel facility planned to retrofit its facility at the Port of Grays Harbor to receive crude oil during the height of early 2010s oil price spikes. But in early 2016, REG purchased the assets of Imperium and, after hearing the concerns of local community groups and the Quinault Nation, announced that their future plans would not include crude oil. That being said REG still hopes to expand the facility and a coalition of organizations are working with REG to guarantee that this will not include crude oil.

Status: Defeated, moving beyond oil

U.S. Development Group

In 2012, US Development proposed building a new oil-by-rail terminal that would have received 45,000 barrels of crude per day in Grays Harbor, the same area as the REG and Westway projects. Their proposal put the facility across the water from a National Wildlife Refuge and the project’s permit applications weren’t even discovered until after a public records request. The project was unanimously opposed by the nearby Aberdeen City Council and numerous community led organizations. In April 2016, the company opted out of its lease agreement with the port, quietly ending its bid to ship crude oil across Washington and through the state’s coastal waters.

Status: Defeated

Learn more about how Grays Harbor is saying no to oil – and what you can do to help.

Puget Sound & the Salish Sea

Photo credit: Natalie Jamerson

Shell Oil is looking to expand their facility by adding oil-by-rail capacity to its existing refinery in Anacortes, bringing in six oil trains per week and 61,200 barrels per day. Trains on their way to the Skagit County refinery would pass through major cities and towns, including Spokane, Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett.

Shell is the only remaining Puget Sound refinery to go through the permitting process to expand their facility for crude oil by rail. Thanks to the efforts of concerned local leaders and conservation organizations, Shell’s proposal to build this rail yard and spur line to handle oil trains now requires a full-blown review under the Washington State Environmental Policy Act. Scoping for the impact analysis was done in the Fall, 2015 and we now expect a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to be released for public review and comment in Fall 2016. When released, this becomes a critical opportunity to ensure that the full suite of impacts – from human health to environmental to economic and beyond – are described and analyzed accurately.

Get involved to say no to more oil trains moving through Skagit and along Puget Sound. Learn more about the project here!


Photo courtesy of Paul Anderson

Photo credit: Paul Anderson

Salish Sea could see big surge in oil and coal tanker traffic
Shell’s proposed refinery expansion is part of a much larger story of plans to dramatically increase oil and coal shipments and exports through the waters of the Salish Sea, which encompasses Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan DeFuca and British Columbia’s Georgia Strait. According to the Sightline Institute:

“The Northwest’s most important waters are under a near-constant threat of oil spills. It’s a fact made plain by the historical record of major spills and the dozens of recent close calls, as well as the best available data and modeling analysis of oil spills risks.


“Yet the risk of spills could soon increase, perhaps dramatically. A spate of new fossil fuel shipment proposals could well generate very large increases in both oil transport and overall vessel traffic in places like the Salish Sea.


“Our accounting includes the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion that would deliver an additional 590,000 barrels of oil per day to a terminal near Vancouver, British Columbia. We also counted oil train deliveries to each of the five refineries on the shores of Puget Sound because there is every reason to believe that these facilities may act as port terminals, simply transferring crude oil from trains directly to out-bound vessels without ever refining it.


“More loaded oil tankers increases spill risks in an obvious way. Less obvious yet still serious is the risk posed by a growing number of large vessels of any stripe moving around the labyrinthine channels and reefs of the Salish Sea. Of particular importance is another fossil fuel export proposal, the Gateway Pacific coal terminal planned for Whatcom County, Washington, which would generate 487 new vessel transits through the Salish Sea each year. Compared to the entire fleet of large vessels in the Salish Sea, fossil fuel shipments—coal and oil combined—could increase overall major vessel traffic by up to 33 percent.”