In 2013, Global Partners bought the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery at Port Westward on the Columbia River. Without public input, Global quietly transitioned the facility from an ethanol facility into a crude oil terminal. 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 of Oregon 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 in 2014. Global continues to operate under air permits and spill contingency permits issued by DEQ in 2014.
Since then, the global oil sands have shifted. World prices for crude oil plummeted, impacting companies throughout the industry. Global Partners was no exception, and in early 2016 Global laid off over half of the terminal workers and suspended oil transportation. Since 2016, Global Partners has primarily handled ethanol.
In 2017 and 2018, Global took significant steps towards re-starting and expanding shipments of crude oil its Port Westward site. Despite strong opposition from people in Columbia County (where Port Westward is located) and uprail communities along the Columbia River, Global continues to push for expanded oil train shipments, oil storage capacity, and more oil tankers on the Columbia River. Unfortunately, Oregon’s state agencies have abetted Global’s effort to piecemeal together a large oil terminal capable of handling either Bakken crude or heavy tar sands oil.
In 2017, Global Partners sought to purchase additional oil storage tanks capacity at Port Westward, raising the potential for renewed and increased oil train traffic through the Columbia Gorge, Portland, St. Helens, Scappoose, and Rainier to Port Westward in the future. Despite fierce objections from local residents and members of the Stand Up to Oil campaign, the Public Utility Commission of Oregon approved the tank sale in June 2017—a move that could allow more oil train traffic as oil prices rebound.
In December 2018, the Port of Columbia County approved a change to allow Global to handle heavy oil at its Port Westward facility. This change, again taken in the face of strong objections from local cities, activists, and members of the Stand Up to Oil campaign, could facilitate Global becoming a major export hub of Canadian tar sands crude.
In 2019, we will continue to watchdog Port Westward’s potential for additional oil-by-rail developments. Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon are challenging an effort by the Port of Columbia County to rezone neighboring farmland for heavy industrial uses, which could be linked to more oil train infrastructure at Port Westward. And local public safety advocates and members of the Stand Up to Oil campaign will push for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to closely scrutinize Global’s changing footprint, which could include new pipeline capacity, new and larger tanks than those allowed in DEQ’s permits, and the handling of heavy oil not contemplated in Global’s current spill plans. All of these changes would translate to more oil trains coming through Vancouver, Portland, Columbia County cities and towns, and the Columbia River Gorge.