20 Oregon Lawmakers Urge Portland Officials to Deny Zenith Energy’s Application to Expand Oil Terminal

The letter, obtained by WW, reads in part, “The catastrophic risks of approving this application cannot be overstated.”

The proposed expansion of a controversial crude oil terminal in Northwest Portland is now garnering outspoken opposition from 20 state lawmakers.

On Friday morning, 20 Oregon lawmakers sent a letter to City Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office and the Bureau of Development Services—a bureau Ryan oversees—urging them to deny Zenith Energy’s application for a land use compatibility statement that would enable its oil terminal to continue and potentially expand operations in Northwest Portland.

Zenith’s terminal in Northwest Portland receives crude oil from trains, stores the oil in massive tanks, and then transfers the oil to outgoing ships through a pipe system.

The letter sent Friday is penned by Reps. Khanh Pham, Maxine Dexter, Dacia Grayber, Ricki Ruiz, Karin Power, Rob Nosse and Sens. Michael Dembrow, Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, Kate Lieber, Chris Gorsek and James Manning Jr., among others.

Last week, Rep. Pham composed her own letter urging the city not to approve the application public. “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,” the letter read. “I am too counting on Portland to hold firm and reject this dangerous crude-oil-by-rail facility outright.”

Much of the letter today mirrors Pham’s language. It emphasizes the danger the oil terminal poses to Portlanders if a megaquake were to hit the city.

Today’s letter reads, in part: “The catastrophic risks of approving this application cannot be overstated. We recently learned from the city of Portland and Multnomah County’s commissioned inventory of this hub that its aging fuel and oil tanks, including Zenith’s, are at risk of an oil spill on par with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon gulf spill when the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake hits.”

It added: “The climate crisis is happening everywhere and it is happening now—the Legislature took action in 2021 and we will need to take action every legislative session from here on out. In the interim, it is now the city of Portland’s turn: expanding tar sands and crude transloading operations is not consistent with Portland’s land use goals and climate commitments.”

Zenith needs to get a land use compatibility statement from the city before it can receive a renewed air quality permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality. The air permit must be renewed every five years to continue operations.

Back in April, the city’s Bureau of Development Services approved the company’s application for three railcar access platforms. At the time, BDS said the project “represents a significant safety upgrade to the site that includes new fire suppression systems designed and installed to local and national standards, a spill control and containment system in the offloading area, and other safety improvements. This project does not expand the capacity of existing storage tanks.“

Nick Caleb, a climate and energy lawyer at Breach Collective who’s been closely tracking Zenith over the years, says the application is an opportunity for the city to take a deep look Zenith’s operations over the years and reevaluate if Zenith still fits within the city’s comprehensive land use plan.

“Zenith has never had the full scope of its activities reviewed before; they’ve had piecemeal reviews of little parts of it. But this is the first chance that anyone’s had an opportunity to look at the full history of it and the intensification of its activities, and make a broader judgment about whether it’s consistent with what the broader community wants to see,” Caleb says. “We’re encouraging the city to take its power seriously and take that deep look. We’re confident that if they do, they’ll find the facility doesn’t line up with our comprehensive land use plan.”

A spokesperson for Ryan’s office, Margaux Weeke, tells WW that “Commissioner Ryan received the letter and appreciates the issues and concerns that were raised” and that “the city is committed to ensuring compatibility with the city’s comprehensive plan, including policies to increase climate resiliency and keep Portlanders safe. City Council is currently exploring all legal avenues related to this issue.”

Neither the Bureau of Development Services nor Zenith returned WW’s requests for comment.