City Rejects Pipeline Expansion at Zenith Tar Sands Oil Train Terminal In Portland


Portland, OR – On October 21, 2019, the City of Portland rejected a request by Zenith Energy to build three new pipes connecting Zenith’s oil storage facility to a shipping terminal on the Willamette River. Zenith sparked intense community opposition this year by building new equipment to export heavy tar sands crude oil. Zenith claimed the new pipes would carry biodiesel and the toxic chemical Methylene Diphenyl Diisocyanate (MDI), not tar sands oil. A coalition of groups, including Center for Sustainable Economy, wrote to the City in October urging Portland’s Office of Community Technology to deny Zenith’s request.

“The community has been emphatic and organized in opposing Zenith’s dangerous tar sands plan, and this decision shows that the City is listening,” said Melanie Plaut, a retired physician and an activist with 350 PDX who helped to lead a 60-hour vigil at the Zenith terminal in September. “Zenith’s operation is already profoundly at odds with the health of our community, which would be severely imperiled by a release of the toxic tar sands or other toxic chemicals that Zenith plans to handle.”

Canadian tar sands

 “It’s encouraging to see the City taking the obvious actions against this reckless company,” said Ella Shriner, a member of the Portland Youth Climate Council. “The next step is shutting down Zenith’s operations completely. Youth will keep showing up until we are no longer at risk of climate-degrading infrastructure in our city.”

“The City made the right decision,” said Erin Saylor, staff attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper. “The community is rightly alarmed by Zenith’s push to add another toxic substance—MDI—to an already-dangerous oil train operation.”

“Zenith’s new pipes could have freed up existing infrastructure to ship even more tar sands,” said Nicholas Caleb, Staff Attorney at the Center for Sustainable Economy. “Zenith misled the City and its residents about the purpose, impact, and risks of converting a former asphalt plant to a tar sands oil terminal. Also, Zenith’s failure to pay their franchise fees is another example of the disrespect that they have shown the City and Portland’s residents.”

The City’s letter cited unpaid franchise fees and Zenith’s unverifiable promise to not use the pipes for tar sands. The City wrote, “If [Office of Community Technology or OCT] cannot rely on Zenith to make its franchise fee payment on time, and file the required report on time, then OCT also cannot rely on Zenith’s promise in its proposed condition… .” The City’s denial letter also cited the City’s 2016 resolution opposing Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

In late September, over 100 activists participated in a 60-hour vigil monitoring oil train unloading and construction activities at Zenith. Since early 2019, a coalition of organizations has pressed the City to halt permitting and revoke permits for Zenith’s expansion, which would roughly quadruple the number of rail cars that Zenith can unload.

 Read the City’s letter to Zenith here.

For further background on Zenith, please read CSE’s report here. 


Leave a Comment