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caption: The Tesoro, now Marathon Petroleum, oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington, in 2014.
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The Tesoro, now Marathon Petroleum, oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington, in 2014.
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Ever Heard Of Xylene? It May Be The Next Big Thing For Anacortes

An oil refinery on Puget Sound wants to ship a raw material for plastic overseas, and some environmental groups say that's a bad idea.

The Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington, is proposing a $400 million expansion.

The upgraded refinery could make cleaner, low-sulfur gasoline and ship up to five tankers a month of the chemical known as xylene to Asia.

Xylene is sometimes used as paint thinner. The sweet-smelling, highly flammable, clear liquid is also used to make plastic and polyester.

"I support the cleaning of sulfur out of gasoline," Tom Glade said. Glade is with the environmental group Evergreen Islands in Anacortes. "The part I don't like necessarily is the increase in the amount of plastic being created in Asia. Plastic is a huge problem in oceans and with ocean wildlife."

"Since we're at the top of the food chain, we could potentially be getting plastic in our system," he said.

Glade, a retired engineer, said his group is opposed to any increase in tanker traffic in Puget Sound.

A Tesoro website said the increase in tanker traffic from what the company calls the Clean Products Upgrade Project would be "small."

There would be no increase in the number of oil trains rolling into the Anacortes refinery, according to Tesoro. The volume and safety of trains hauling oil from North Dakota has been a focus of controversy in the Pacific Northwest.

"This has absolutely zero to do with our rail capacity," Tesoro spokesman Matt Gill said. "If this goes or it doesn't, it will have no impact on our rail facility."

Tesoro's project is much smaller than a stalled, $3.4 billion methanol plant proposal in Tacoma -- reportedly the world's largest -- that would also ship a petrochemical to Asia for use in plastics manufacturing.

Skagit County is holding a public meeting on the Tesoro project on March 31 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Anacortes High School. The county is taking public comments through April 15.