Right about now, oil executives in Texas are boarding a plane bound for the Northwest. Their goal? To steam roll opposition to the monster oil train terminal that Tesoro wants to construct on the downtown waterfront of Vancouver, Washington.
Hot on the heels of learning that the local city council is narrowly opposed to the project, the oil refining giant is going on a full court press lobbying mission in Vancouver, Washington. The company’s leadership, including senior VPs and CEO Greg Goff, will be meeting behind closed doors with members of the city council and the Port of Vancouver. Then on Tuesday, March 25 from 1:00 to 2:00, they are holding a private meeting with 40 business leaders at the Heathman Lodge.
As a public service to the community of Vancouver, it’s worth explaining what Tesoro is—and why their oil train terminal has no place on the Columbia River.
Tesoro’s plan for Vancouver, Washington
- Tesoro’s oil-by-rail terminal would handle up to 360,000 barrels of oil every day. That’s more oil than even the biggest pipeline in the region can handle and it would require moving 5 loaded oil trains (plus 5 unloaded ones) in and out of Vancouver every single day, on average.
- Tesoro claims that its facilities will use rail tank cars safer than the obviously dangerous models that have exploded catastrophically in communities around North America. (Note that those newer cars also have clear safety flaws.) But as the Vancouver Columbian points out, many other companies would be able to use railways to ship oil to Tesoro’s Port of Vancouver site, and the company won’t guarantee anything about those tank cars.
Tesoro’s deadly Anacortes fire
- In April 2010, an explosion at Tesoro’s Anacortes, Washington refinery killed seven workers, leading state regulators to cite the company for 39 “willful” and 5 “serious” violations of health and safety regulations, and slapping the firm with a $2.4 million fine—the largest penalty in state history. In fact, the state’s Department of Labor & Industries called it the “worst industrial disaster in the 37 years that L&I has been enforcing the state’s workplace safety law.”
- The US Chemical Safety Board investigation and others found that the company’s lax safety culture led to a “complacent” attitude towards flammable leaks and occasional fires; that Tesoro did not correct a history of recurring leaks and placed workers in dangerous conditions; that Tesoro did not adequately maintain equipment before the lethal blast; and that the accident was rooted in “a deficient refinery safety culture, weak industry standards for safeguarding equipment, and a regulatory system that too often emphasizes activities rather than outcomes.”
- Tesoro, along with former refinery owner, Shell Oil, settled a wrongful death suit filed by families of six of the workers who died for $39 million. And the US Environmental Protection Agency has opened a criminal investigation into Tesoro’s role in the fatal explosion.
- In addition to the deadly Anacortes fire, at least two other Tesoro petroleum-handling facilities have caught on fire in the last decade, including one in Salt Lake City and another in Martinez, California.
- Tesoro has been cited for numerous safety and health violations, including more than one hundred air quality violations at a facility in the Bay Area, with fines totaling nearly $3 million dollars. In fact, a 2010 study by researchers at California universities found Tesoro “rank(s) worst in health impacts among all companies with refining operations in the state.”
- Tesoro is one of the top 100 toxic air polluters in the US, has been sued by the EPA for failing to test its products for harmful contaminants. In May of 2013, Tesoro paid a $1.1 million EPA fine to settle a suit over the company’s failure to follow Clean Air Act requirements at its refineries in Alaska, North Dakota, Utah, and Washington. The suit filed covered thousands of violations.
Tesoro’s hostility to workers
- In 2011, the year after seven workers were killed in Tesoro’s refinery, the United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO asked shareholders of several oil companies to allow the firms to disclose more information on their safety practices and accident risks. Tesoro actively discouraged its shareholders from approving these measures, making it more difficult for their investors and oversight agencies to get a full picture of working conditions and hazards.
- Tesoro has a track record of replacing union labor with non-union workers in Los Angeles. And in the Bay Area, after two refinery workers were burned by acid spewing from a broken pipe, Tesoro actually barred federal safety inspectors from the site to prevent them from investigating the accident. This was in spite of strong objections by the United Steelworkers, the union that represents Tesoro’s workers there. Less than a month later, a second “serious sulfuric acid release” sent two more workers to the hospital.
- Today, at the Port of Vancouver, local longshoreman are opposing Tesoro and its oil terminal.
Tesoro’s pipeline spill
- Tesoro CEO Greg Goff said recently, “Protection and care of the environment are fundamental to our core values.” Unfortunately, that was in a prepared statement issued after a burst Tesoro pipeline was responsible for one of the largest spills ever recorded in North Dakota—a spill that the company didn’t even bother to tell the affected landowner about. Not until wheat farmer Steve Jensen had been smelling crude for days, and the tires of his combine were coated with oil, did it become public news. He told a local paper that the oil was “spewing and bubbling 6 inches high.”
- Tesoro tried to hijack Washington policy by contributing $90,000 to a Tim Eyman initiative to give a one-third minority of state legislators the ability to block legislation. Tesoro was the initiative’s second-biggest funder.
- In California, Tesoro spent $1.5 million in 2010 to fund a campaign to weaken the state’s environmental protection laws, and the firm worked to recruit other oil companies to join this effort. As then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the time, “Today, Valero and Tesoro are in a conspiracy. Not in a criminal conspiracy, but a cynical one about self-serving greed.”
- In March 2011, Tesoro CEO Greg Goff went on record opposing any effort by the US EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.
- Tesoro has sought to benefit from the revolving door between government and industry. Jamie Moore, Tesoro’s Director of Federal Government Affairs, worked as senior policy adviser to former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for eight years. During that period, he assisted with formulating the Energy Policy Act of 2005, that exempted oil and gas companies from certain requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and gave $2.8 billion in tax breaks to the fossil fuels industry. Hutchison was one of the biggest beneficiaries of campaign contributions from Tesoro’s PAC in the 2010 election cycle, even though she had already announced her retirement. Hutchison retired in 2012 and joined a lobbying firm in 2013 that has represented Tesoro.