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Environmental groups fear tank sale to Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery will result in more oil by rail shipments

PORT OF ST. HELENS PHOTO - Nine tanks at a PGE site at Port Westward were approved for sale to the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery. The tanks will be used for oil storage. Environmental groups fear the tank sale could result in more trains carrying volatile oil through Columbia County to the bio-refinery.Global Partners LP will purchase nine old fuel storage tanks from Portland General Electric following approval Tuesday from the Oregon Public Utilities Commission.

The OPUC approved the sale of the PGE assets to Global, an oil transloading company that operates the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery at Port Westward.

The facility serves as a transfer station to receive ethanol shipments by rail and offload them onto barges.

Global Partners says it is currently stifled by a lack of storage infrastructure, so buying and using existing storage tanks will allow the company to increase its capacity without having to build new tanks, as it originally planned.

"Global looks forward to the opportunity to put this underutilized asset to work as part of our infrastructure improvement plan creating jobs and economic opportunity for our friends and neighbors in Columbia County," Dylan Remley, vice president of terminal operations for Global, stated. "As always, we remain committed to safety, the environment and providing economic opportunity in Oregon."

Currently, Global employs 22 people at the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery, which includes both permanent and on-call employees.

While the approval of the sale bodes well for Global Partners, some fear it could ramp up shipments of explosive oil that come through the county on trains.

Trains carrying ethanol to the bio-refinery travel along Highway 30 in Columbia County, near schools and other areas with high pedestrian foot traffic.

One of the biggest watchdogs of the oil-by-rail activity in Columbia County is environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper.

"The Oregon Public Utilities Commission's [decision] today put corporate profits before the safety of Oregonians and the Columbia River. Despite a legal mandate to protect the 'public generally,' the Commission ignored a rare opportunity to reduce the threat of oil-by-rail in communities along the Columbia River," Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, a spokesperson with Columbia Riverkeeper, stated in a news release following Tuesday's vote.

"I do think they are trying to acquire these tanks and other permissions to expand their operations with an eye on going back to shipping crude oil," Miles Johnson, a clean water attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper, added Tuesday.

Catie Kearns, a media representative for Global Partners, said Wednesday that the company plans to stick to shipping ethanol for the "foreseeable future," given current market conditions, but pointed out that the company is permitted by the state to handle both ethanol and crude oil.

Global Partners is bound by an air pollution permit issued to the company by the Department of Environmental Quality which, in effect, limits the amount of fuel it can transport. Global also has an agreement with the Port of St. Helens stipulating Global will not ship more than 32,000 unit train rail cars per year, which roughly equates to 24 unit trains per month, until rail line safety upgrades are made in certain areas.

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