Published in The Oregonian, Letters to the Editor, 5/31/2023
Oregonians rely on fuel terminals —with gasoline, diesel and jet fuel — situated on unstable ground along the lower Willamette River banks.
Massive spills over 100 million gallons would not only threaten those nearby but would contaminate downstream communities all the way to the Pacifc Ocean.
Fuel fres could ignite Forest Park and spread through Portland neighborhoods. All communities across the state would lack fuel for basic urgent needs and carrying on a normal life.
The Department of Environmental Quality has begun working with Portland’s 13 bulk fuel terminals to assess their seismic vulnerabilities and implement mitigation. However, even after earthquake mitigation, the potential for spills, along with fre response defciencies, poses extreme threats.
The enormous problem requires federal-level awareness. This would help establish earthquake early warnings, allowing community members and fuel terminals to take protective actions before shaking arrives, such as automatically closing fuel valves. It would help improve fre control measures, including handling fres in Forest Park. And it would increase fuel spill response capabilities to be commensurate with actual risks.
This complex problem requires robust analyses by engineering leaders at the National Institute of Building Sciences. Contact your Oregon congressional representative to request “Portland Fuel Terminals Safety” funds for these three aspects of preparedness and for NIBS to develop related safety plans for Oregon’s aging energy infrastructure.
Yumei Wang, Portland
Wang is senior advisor on Infrastructure Resilience and Risk at Portland State University, and a consultant to NIBS and DEQ.