Victory: Zenith Withdraws Key Permit at Portland Terminal

Zenith Energy terminal, Portland, OR. Photo: Rick Rappaport.

Since spring of 2019, CSE and our allies have been fighting Zenith Energy’s plans to bring crude oil by rail to a terminal in Portland, OR, in flagrant disregard for the City’s groundbreaking 2016 ordinance calling for an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Zenith managed to get this crude-oil-by-rail terminal up and running by taking advantage of a prior permit that had been granted by the City in 2014 to the previous owner, Arc Logistics, to ship bitumen, also known as “tar sands,” much of it sourced from Alberta, Canada. (Zenith claims on its website it no longer stores bitumen on its Portland premises, but it does store dilbit crude, which is bitumen blended with mixtures of flammable and noxious chemicals to make it less viscous, for export to West Coast refineries.)

Since purchasing the terminal,  the number of crude oil by rail trains arriving in Portland rose to 9,167 rail cars in 2019, three times the 2,836 rail cars that came in 2018, according to statistics from the Oregon Department of Transportation.  As the price of tar sands has plummeted, activists have observed that Zenith has switched to importing highly explosive Bakken crude – the same oil that was carried by train and exploded in a rail accident in the Lac-Megantic, Quebec disaster in 2013 which killed 47 people.

On Monday, May 11, 2020, Zenith withdrew its application for a key chemical pipeline permit and emphasized a commitment to “renewable fuels” moving forward. Within the broader context –of the oil economy in free fall, a barrel of tar sands selling for less than a Barrel of Monkeys, Zenith’s credit rating downgraded to B-, and Zenith’s parent company, Warburg Pincus, announcing their plans to sell Zenith — this permit withdrawal signals that the grassroots-driven and City-executed strategy of putting any and all available pressure on Zenith’s crude oil-by-rail operations is proving successful in forcing the company to pursue alternative strategies. 

However, it is common practice for oil companies to request a permit for “renewable” fuels, and once that permit is authorized, to flip the terminal back to transporting crude oil. So we remain vigilant about this “renewable fuel” permit, regardless, and intend to keep the pressure on Portland’s lone crude oil terminal until it is closed for good.

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