Portland was recently awarded the title of Climate Action Champions. Despite this, Portland is on the verge of rolling back its environmental code along the Columbia River to allow a fossil fuel terminal to ship dangerous liquefied propane. Does this sound like a city wins presidential climate awards? Our city currently has a law that prohibits the transport of hazardous materials, like liquid propane gas (LPG) via pipeline through conservation zones like the sensitive riparian areas along the shores of the Columbia. This law has existed since 1989. Why change it now? A Canadian fossil fuel extraction and export company wants to ship dangerous liquefied propane from Terminal 6. Mayor Hales has already rolled out the red carpet for LPG, declaring “This is great news” in a public statement on the proposal. Fewer environmental protections and more carbon pollution; doesn’t sound like “great news”.
How To Get Involved:
Step One for Pembina is securing an environmental code amendment from the Portland City Council. This code amendment is presently being drafted by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) meeting on Tuesday, April 7th, 2pm, at will be the second opportunity to testify in opposition to Pembina’s humongous propane terminal. If the PSC recommends denial of the code amendment the the project is dead! If they aren’t swayed by a room of concerned folks speaking out against exporting carbon pollution and they recommend approval, the issue will go to to the City Council for a vote.
Attend the PSC meeting and tell Pembina to keep its carbon in the ground!
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org so we know you’ll be there. Include ‘Propane” in the subject line! Thanks!
What is Propane and Why are We Opposed to Exporting it?
On September 2, 2014, Pembina, a Canadian oil company with heavy investments in the Alberta tar sands, announced plans to build a liquefied propane (LPG) export terminal at the Port of Portland’s Rivergate Terminal on the Columbia River at Terminal Six. LPG is the by-product of the ‘extreme energy’ extraction fracking business. Extreme energy is the term for fossil fuels that are extracted from the Earth with processes that are freshwater and chemically intensive and pose significant risks to both human and nonhuman life.
Pembina’s proposal for the Port of Portland aims to bring propane derived from fracked natural gas refining on unit trains, liquefy it in refrigerated storage tanks and then export the LPG on large vessels creatively referred to as VLGCs (very large gas carriers) to Asia.
Pembina is trying to sell propane as a ‘bridge fuel.’ The company says that using propane is getting us off other forms of energy. But that argument is just sugarcoating the truth. Continuing to invest in carbon-polluting fossil fuels puts real solutions to the climate crisis out of reach. Fracked propane, put on a train and shipped thousands of miles, liquefied in a tank in Portland and exported to Asia and sold to the highest bidder involves lots of literal bridges, and it also involves a trail of fracking chemicals, refinery pollution, diesel train particulate matter, fugitive volatile organic compound emissions and greenhouse gases.
Here are the specifics of Pembina’s proposal :
- One unit train per moth: 1.3 mile long train full of propane every other day
- 36,000 barrels/day, plans to grow to 72,000 barrels/day
- Tankers 2-3X per month called VLGCs (very large gas carriers); Exclusion zone 650-800 ft on either side of vessel, would affect shoreline traffic but not river traffic
- Onsite Port of Portland LPG storage: two big refrigerated tanks, propane kept at -40 Fahrenheit, 600,000-700,000 barrels storage (up to 30 mil. gals.)
- The Pembina proposed propane export terminal would result in over 10,000 tons of CO2 each day*. This is just from the burning of propane, it doesn’t include the massive footprint involved in the fracking, liquefying or shipping process. The carbon from these emissions will not stay within the borders of the region where the propane is burned, rather, it will affect the climate and carbon emissions around the globe.
Portland Officials Must Roll Back Environmental Protections for Pembina and Propane Export
Here’s an interesting fact: Pembina’s propane export terminal proposal is currently illegal under City of Portland zoning regulations. An October, 2014 article in the Portland Mercury outlines the hurdles that Pembina faces:
The project, as currently envisioned, runs afoul of the city’s zoning code—specifically, the city’s rules for safeguarding sensitive wildlife along the Columbia. And unless Portland City Council is willing to slightly tweak those rules, at a hearing as soon as next spring, then the project would be impossible to build.
Planning and code enforcement officials have been weighing what seems like a fairly clean revision: adding pipes and pipelines to that short list of exemptions. Except that’s not as easy as it seems. That kind of change in the zoning code, without limits, could apply to land with similar protections elsewhere in the city, farther up the Columbia and around places like Balch and Johnson Creeks.
According to the city of Portland 33.430.017, the “Environmental Conservation zone conserves important resources and functional values in areas where the resources and functional values can be protected while allowing environmentally sensitive urban development.”
Pembina’s operations require the construction of an LPG pipeline across an Environmental Conservation Habitat (ECH) zone along the Columbia River. Unless the city alters its code, a pipeline is not allowed through this zone. Preserved riparian zones along the Columbia River within Portland city limits are very limited and the proposed rezoning weakens what currently exists.
If the City of Portland were to undergo the extensive recoding process and allow the transport of hazardous materials through ECH zones it would send a clear message that Portland’s environmentally protected areas are simply a piggy bank waiting to be broken when a major industrial development arises. Recoding the city’s environmental areas to cater to a fossil fuel company sends a clear message that city climate plan
Concerned about oil trains exploding? Propane trains are risky too.
Trains carrying propane pose a similar explosion risk to trains carrying Bakken crude oil. In October 2013 13 cars rail cars – four carrying petroleum crude oil and nine loaded with liquifed petroleum gas – came derailed in the middle of the night in the town of Gainford, Alberta. Three of the derailed cars leaked their contents and caught fire.
In January 2014 another propane/crude oil train derailed, caught fire and exploded. 17 rail cars derailed in the New Brunswick province; two of the cars carrying LPG and one car carrying crude oil caught fire in the derailment. Over 100 homes were evacuated after the derailment.
Opposition to propane trains and terminals are not limited to the west coast. In the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire a proposed propane terminal and the trains required to supply the facility are facing fierce opposition from citizens and elected officials. An April 2014 article in the local Sea Coast paper quoted elected officials voicing their concern:
State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark believes the proposed increase in the number of trains carrying rail cars filled with propane through the heart of the downtown poses a risk to development along the rail line. “It seems to me that it’s a public safety issue for the new developments downtown along the rail, including HarborCorp,” Fuller Clark said during an interview Tuesday.5
Mayor Robert Lister said Wednesday that it is a concern to have trains carrying propane “going by any building at all.” “I think it’s worth a serious conversation to think about public safety,” Lister said, noting he has concerns about the speed of the trains and the condition of the tracks.
Pembina’s Web of Fossil Fuel Profits
Pembina is more than just a wannabe propane exporter. They’re deeply invested in the massively destructive Alberta tar sands. Allowing them to profit in Portland allows them to profit in the tar sands. We have to draw the line.
Here’s Pembina’s company map. The central facility in red is called the Redwater Fractitioner. It’s where the propane from the natural gas fracking fields is refined. Just below the Redwater Fractitioner is an image of trains and trucks….that’s where Portland’s proposed export terminal comes in. Note how Redwater is linked to the tar sands refining and extracting (top part of the blurry map).