Annie Seo

IN NOVEMBER, some Washington State residents got a letter and an accompanying brochure from an outfit called Vancouver Energy. The brochure was headlined "We Need Cleaner American Energy," and it talked up a proposed $210 million oil terminal that Tesoro Refining & Marketing Company, LLC and Savage Companies want to build at the Port of Vancouver.

"By utilizing lower-carbon Bakken crude oil in Washington State instead of the current oil used to produce fuels, we can reduce carbon emissions by approximately 1.5 million tons each year," wrote Jared Larrabee, general manager of Vancouver Energy, a company formed by Tesoro and Savage in order to develop the project. "That's equal to taking 250,000 cars off the road."

It's an appealing notion at a time when everyone wants to curb carbon emissions. The only problem? The numbers Vancouver Energy is using don't fly, according to the organizations whose studies the company cites in its pamphlet.

The brochure uses data it says came from the Washington State Department of Ecology, the California Air Resources Board, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to make a case for the terminal, saying it would bring "lower-carbon oil," replacing imported oil. But representatives from each of those entities say Vancouver Energy is misrepresenting their data.

Deborah Gordon, director of the Carnegie's Energy and Climate Program, says the company's claims that the oil coming from the Bakken Formation is less carbon intensive have no basis in fact.

"We did not have emissions for Bakken oil, and therefore, Tesoro could not have extrapolated this information from Carnegie as your brochure leads readers to believe," Gordon wrote in a December 11 letter to Tesoro communications manager, Jennifer Minx. "We encourage you to check with us in the future before citing our research in your official publications."

Gordon, who attended the recent climate change summit in Paris, says Vancouver Energy is not being transparent with where it's getting its data. Gordon requested a fix, but says the company ignored her.

The Carnegie Endowment was the first organization to question the information. Since Gordon sent her letter, both of the other organizations have also said Vancouver Energy got it wrong. Vancouver's Columbian newspaper first reported the discrepancies.

Dave Clegern, a public information officer for the California Air Resources Board, says he's also asked the company for a correction, but Vancouver Energy hasn't responded.

"The numbers they're using are basically context-less data numbers for carbon intensity because they're presenting the measurements as if they're a full picture, and they're not," he says. "Their numbers don't take into account combustion, and we really have no idea why they're citing us. We're not even sure where they're getting their numbers."

Camille St. Onge, the Washington State Department of Ecology's communications manager, has also said the information Vancouver Energy is using is "lacking numbers and appropriate citation."

Despite the damning backlash, it doesn't look like those requests for corrections are going to be heeded. Vancouver Energy is showing no signs of sending a correction to those who received the brochure.

Tina Barbee, a representative for the company, says Vancouver Energy stands behind the information that's being called into question.

"We disagree with assertions... that one sentence citing a study implies the remaining content on the page comes from the study," Barbee wrote in an email. "The important takeaway is that the production and transportation of Bakken crude oil is less carbon intensive than the average crude refined in Washington State today."

Eric de Place, a policy director for Seattle-based sustainability advocacy group the Sightline Institute, says the misrepresentation by Vancouver Energy of the oil terminal's carbon footprint is nothing new.

"They're doing philosophical backbends to create a fairy tale about how coal and oil could somehow be a clean energy solution," he says. "They have to sing a song that resonates with Pacific Northwesterners and that's what they're doing in claiming that this project would slow climate change."

If Washington Governor Jay Inslee approves the oil terminal, it will be the largest oil terminal in the country, capable of handling 360,000 barrels of crude per day that would be shipped via mile-plus-long trains into the port. De Place says Vancouver Energy hasn't been transparent about the project and accused company executives of backroom negotiations.

De Place also says Tesoro has a history of lobbying Washington State politicians to get their projects approved. Between 2012 and 2014, Tesoro contributed about $150,000 to elected officials in that state, he says.

Vancouver City Council has come out as officially opposed to the project, as has Portland City Council. In November, Portland commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution opposing all oil-by-rail projects in and around Portland and Vancouver.