PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - A group of people say the city is facing a serious health and safety emergency if a company based in Australia is not stopped from expanding here in Portland.
Environmental and public health advocates, youth leaders and local elected officials were at Portland City Hall Wednesday morning to urge Zenith Energy to halt the expansion of its oil train terminal on the Willamette River.
The group wants to highlight what they call the unacceptable public health, safety, and climate impacts of expanded oil train shipments.
In 2015, the city passed policy against new oil train developments.
The next year, Multnomah County studied oil train risks and determined they posed a serious health and safety hazard.
The group on Wednesday says despite the opposition from the city and county, Zenith Energy is actively constructing new equipment to ship more heavy oil through Portland.
"In the last few months they have started to expand their infrastructure, enabling them to unload more oil obtained by one of the dirtiest methods of extraction on the planet," said Dr. Melanie Plaut, a retired physician, climate activist and member of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Zenith Energy's website says the terminal in Portland can receive, store and deliver heavy and light petroleum products by ship, railroad and truck.
The protest group says the heavy product - tar sands oil- is some of the most difficult to clean up and a spill would be disastrous for the Willamette River.
The group cited reports of the tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan that cost $1 billion and took five years to clean up.
Mayor Ted Wheeler released a statement about the expansion in February, saying:
"In 2014, Zenith Energy applied for a building permit to construct infrastructure that would allow them to offload and operationalize an increased number of oil trains. This permit was issued two years before the Portland City Council approved legislation in 2016 that would prohibit the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure in the City of Portland.
As such, I am committed to undertaking whatever action I am permitted to ensure that there are limits placed on this proposed expansion. I do not support the proposed activity at the Zenith site. The risks associated with running oil trains anywhere, let alone through a major city, are significant, as you might remember from the environmental catastrophe in Mosier, Oregon, three short years ago, when a 96-car oil train derailed.
Risks of derailment, of air and water contamination, of public health hazards, are ever-present.
I continue to be in full support of ensuring that the City of Portland remains committed to mitigating the effects of climate change and investing in renewable and alternative sources of energy."
Zenith responded to the rallies Wednesday and said it has been safely handling petroleum-based products for decades, and said this terminal will meet all local, state and federal standards.
Read their statement in full below:
Zenith Energy’s Portland terminal has been safely handling petroleum-based products since 1947. The terminal is an important link in supplying the Pacific Northwest with energy for our cars, our homes and our businesses. Zenith is committed to delivering safe, reliable, efficient and flexible service to our customers while maintaining the highest environmental and operational safety standards. The Portland terminal meets all local, state and federal standards, including the City of Portland’s Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments – Ordinance No. 188142 (December 2016).
Our business is meeting a key economic need while providing family-wage jobs with benefits. We operate with a focus on safely and in accordance with all regulatory requirements; in fact, many aspects of our current improvement project are above and beyond what is mandated.
We agree that renewables and biofuels are the future, and Portland requires infrastructure to handle that energy. As part of the ongoing work, we invested several million dollars in equipment we recently brought on line that is allowing the terminal to handle renewable fuels (biodiesel), a part of our business we plan to continue growing. We anticipate the vast majority of the biodiesel will supply the Portland area.
Our ongoing modernization project is focused on improving safety, increasing efficiency and enhancing environmental performance; it does not increase storage capacity at the facility. The multi-million-dollar construction project uses local contractors, trades men and women, plus numerous suppliers – currently averaging more than 100 individuals on site per day – providing significant economic stimulus for the area.
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