Investigators say Chinook Ventures Facility
by Matthew Preusch
State investigators confirmed today that a private port facility near Longview was the source of a mile-long spill of petroleum coke in the Columbia River earlier this month.
The port, operated by Chinook Ventures, has a long history of environmental problems, as The Oregonian reported last week.
Investigators with the Washington Department of Ecology sampled the black, powdery material seen floating on the Columbia on February 2nd and determined it was petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining used as fuel, from Chinook Ventures.
The Longview-based company stores the material, often called pet coke, on site after it's brought in by rail. The company then loads it onto ships for export using a conveyor belt system that spans a portion of the river.
"The day of the spill, Chinook Ventures was loading a ship with petroleum coke," the agency said. "The company has not acknowledged any role in the spill."
The department estimates that between 25 and 50 cubic yards of pet coke was released into the river. While ecology doesn't think that amount would cause immediate harm to fish or wildlife, the agency said accumulations of pet coke could clog fish gills and otherwise harm the fresh water environment.
"The Columbia River plays such an important role for our local communities, shoreline owners, the economy and our recreational enjoyment, so we all have a responsibility to protect it from further pollution," said Sally Toteff, ecology's regional director for southwest Washington.
The environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, which is suing Chinook Ventures over violations to clean water and air laws, has criticized Washington state regulators for not taking a stricter stance with Chinook Ventures.
The department said its investigation into the spill is continuing.
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