Propane company propositions Longview port

Longview citizens ask port commissioners to “decline to sign” agreement with Haven

It’s an all too familiar scene here in Washington State as yet another fracked product from North Dakota wants access to our public ports. This time it’s a special meeting at the Cowlitz County Expo Center in Longview, Washington on Thursday evening, February 19th.

The hall is filled with 250 to 300 people, the majority of whom are anxious to express opposition to a psychic, economic and physical threat to their community’s security and work life. In front are the seated and typically silent public officials, this time three Commissioners from the Port of Longview. The meeting’s chair, Commissioner Bob Bagaason, readies his gavel to discipline any public impertinence then gives the floor to yet another corporate front man who, without hearing any gavel, takes up more time that he is allotted.

Who is not in the hall?

George B. Kaiser is among the 100 richest people in the world and the richest person in Oklahoma. He took over his father’s Tulsa based Kaiser-Francis oil company in 1966. By 2010, it was the 23rd largest nonpublic energy exploration in the U.S. In 1990, he bought the Bank of Oklahoma which was in FDIC receivership. Now his bank holding company is in nine states and his ownership share is around $2.3 billion. Overall, Mr. Kaiser is worth about $10 billion.

Pierre F. Lapeyre, Jr. and David M. Leuschen are “graduates” of Goldman Sachs where they founded that investment firm’s Global Energy and Power Group in the 1980s. In 2000, they founded their own energy and power focused private investment firm, Riverstone Holdings, a joint venture with the Carlyle Group. Since that time they have created a series of multi-billion dollar energy funds including the 2006 acquisition of Kinder Morgan, one of the largest pipeline operations in the U.S. Their main focus has been taking advantage of the fracking/horizontal drilling revolution in domestic shale oil fields. Riverstone has $6.1 billion committed to investments in energy storage, transportation and processing.

Mr. Leuschen lives on a 160,000 acre Montana ranch, funds his own charitable foundation and through it supported Nature Conservancy’s successful effort to buy a million acres in the Lolo and Flathead National Forests. Mr. Lapeyre resides at his Redding, Connecticut 24 acre estate with 9,832 square feet of livable space currently assessed at around $5.6 million dollars.

Riverstone Holdings and Kaiser Midstream, which is owned by George Kaiser, partnered with Sage Midstream in 2012. Then in April, 2014, Sage Midstream created Haven Energy Terminals, LLC. Greg Bowles is the President of both Sage Midstream and Haven, which are based in Houston, Texas.

This brings us to the Expo Center and Mr. Bowles on a Thursday evening in February.

Mr. Bowles wants to transport the otherwise flared propane and butane from the North Dakota Bakken shale oil fields to the Port of Longview on 100 car unit trains using pressurized DOT 112 tanks that would arrive every day and a half, 20 or so a month. Then, unload the trains at Berth Four in the middle of the Port’s eight berths, store it in a state of the art tank designed for “middle east” security and later transfer the liquified gas via pipelines to 900 foot ships slightly bigger than Panamax tankers three times a month for export to those countries that don’t have a natural gas distribution system like the U.S. Finally, Mr. Bowles wants the Port of Longview Commissioners to sign a lease with Haven Energy Terminals on March 10 so the permitting process can begin.

As you can imagine, the question and answer period with Mr. Bowles was both frustrating, yet enlightening for audience members. Mr. Bowles, of course, was not about a profitable return on the half billion dollar investment by Kaiser, Leuschen and Lapayre. Rather he was about “jobs”, “safety” and “the environment.”

Here’s a few of the exchanges between audience members and Mr. Bowles.

Q. What is the blast zone on the tank car if the whole car went up?

A. It would depend on how the car went up.

Q. What is the safe speed at which this unit train can run?

A. 5 mph inside the facility. Don’t know speed on main line.

Q. Are pipes from tank to ship permanently fixed.

  1. (no answer)
  2. How thick are the tank cars?
  3. Don’t know. (He can find out later)
  4. Are private investors evading taxes? Is the money “clean?”

A. Riverstone is a registered investment adviser with the S.E.C

Q. 900,000 barrels in the storage tank. What is the evacuation distance?

A. The local fire officials will know.

Q. Why not place this in a less populated area like Barlow point?

A. We considered it, but not suitable.

Q. If a tank car is on fire, how much water would you need?

A. The fire department will determine this.

Q. We are due for a 9.0 earthquake. We are in a liquefaction zone. What would happen?

A. It would depend on the location of the quake.

Q. How will the tank ships effect the spring salmon run on the river?

A. A Coast Guard study waterway suitability assessment will determine that.

Q. Will there be another hearing after Coast Guard and Fire Department report is finished?

A. (Addressed to Commissioners): No answer.

After the question and answer period, comes another ritual familiar to those who participate in such “special meetings,” a tightly regulated two minute comment period in front of silent public officials. Though this effort is rarely effective, people continue to speak; it’s what’s available. Besides, despite the rush to Olympia during legislative session, the public ports are ground zero in this state for the political struggle over fossil fuel extraction, their bomb train transport and overseas export.

Terminal opposition

Spokespersons for ILWU Local 21, President Jason Lundquist, Vice President Michael Wilcox and Labor Relations Committee representative Darin Norton each state their Local’s opposition to the project. They have met with Haven for the past year, but find them misleading with no answers to their questions. They don’t think this project is a good fit for a break bulk port. [Break bulk is cargo that must be loaded individually and not in shipping containers or in bulk such as oil or grain.] The proposed facility has an inherent danger, doesn’t generate enough revenue, will cut the port property in half and turn the Port of Longview into a landlord.

Health professionals like Dr. Kelly O’Hanley, Regna Merritt from Physicians for Social Responsibility and Alona Steinke from Vancouver point out how trains delay emergency vehicles at crossing, spew cancer causing diesel particulates particularly susceptible to school children near the rail lines, pose a catastrophic risk far beyond any capacity to respond and create sacrifice zones for the twenty-five million Americans who live in the blast zone.

Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, an organizer for Columbia River Keepers, states that if all proposed fossil fuel terminals are built it would mean thirty-five more ships a month in the river, all of which, including the VLGC propane tankers, could shut down other river traffic with safety zones as they transit the 66 miles from Longview through the notoriously dangerous Columbia River bar to the Pacific Ocean. Jasmine’s point is reinforced by retired Captain Phil Massey who tells the Commissioners they must not sign any lease before the Coast Guard study is completed.

Diane Dick, a close observer of the Port and President of the Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community, points out that this project is not in the Port’s publicly developed Schedule of Harbor Improvements and therefore should not proceed. She also notes that the Commissioners are contemplating a decision that will effect communities all along the rail line from Spokane south to Pasco and down the Columbia River to Vancouver. Diana Gordon from the rail town of Washougal points out that both her city government and school district have passed resolutions of concern about these dangerous trains.

There are a few folks who speak in favor of the project. A spokesperson for JH Kelly, a union contractor in line to build the facility, wants SEPA and FERC process to vet the project so the community can live safely. A Trustee from Lower Columbia Community College thinks the vetting process will lead to a more educated and better paid work force. The head of the Economic Development Council believes the permitting process will be very thorough and that the Haven Energy Terminal project will mean local jobs.

The port decision

As the meeting winds down, Commissioner Bagaason states the Port will meet here again to vote on the proposed lease with Haven. Community leaders like Diane Dick have not seen the proposed lease and have no idea if the Port intends to make it public before the vote. Don Steinke, a community organizer from Vancouver, points out that if the Port signs such a lease they will, like the Port of Vancouver, be obligated to advocate for the project through the entire permitting process just like the Port of Vancouver advocates for the Tesoro/Savage Bakken oil marine terminal in spite of massive community and political opposition.

Even with their formal silence, it appears the Port Commissioners are preparing to sign the lease. They have negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cowlitz County as a co-lead in the process for a SEPA determination. The MOU identifies their respective point persons for this process, chooses the international engineering firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff, as the third party environmental consultant for the SEPA analysis and enters into a “Staffing Agreement” with Haven covering the costs of SEPA compliance. Nevertheless, the Port is still accepting comments on this proposed project until March 10, 2015 when they say they will vote on the lease and at least one of the Commissioners is up for election in August.

Dan Leahy, a resident of Olympia’s Westside and proud member of the Decatur Raiders.