Sixteen environmental groups have sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers with concerns about increasing oil tanker traffic in the Salish Sea. They say a final environmental impact statement for expansion of an oil refinery north of Bellingham is long overdue — and needed now more than ever.
BP added a second dock to its refinery at Cherry Point, near Ferndale, in 2001. Known as the North Wing, it was originally built without formal environmental analysis, though it doubled the facility’s capacity for receiving oil tankers.
Initially, the Corps agreed with BP that the expansion would make berthing more efficient and safer. Environmentalists led by Fred Felleman, who was then with Ocean Advocates, sued.
“Ten years after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete an environmental impact statement, the corps has only produced a draft, three years ago,” said Fred Felleman, who is now with Friends of the Earth and a Seattle Port Commissioner.
"And now we face the Trump Administration’s fondness for the oil industry."
He says the missing document could put some important safeguards in place.
“We’re simply saying, use the dock, but no greater amount than what they were able to use the single terminal for,” he said.
That idea is based on a law from 1977 known as the Magnuson Amendment. It limits crude oil tanker traffic in waters east of Port Angeles, because of the risk of spills in the narrow passages around the San Juan Islands. The law prohibits federal permits that could increase that traffic.
“This restriction is more important than ever, since the Obama administration lifted the export ban on crude oil, the Kinder Morgan Pipeline just got approved, which is connected to the BP refinery and they built a crude by rail terminal,” Felleman said.
He says right now there’s nothing stopping BP from using their docks as an export terminal – but that the final EIS could enforce limits, capping the number of crude oil tanker calls at the BP’s Cherry Point refinery to 125 per year, which is the number they were receiving before the second dock was added.
The Army Corps says their final document will include analysis of the Magnuson Amendment and whether it applies. But completion of the final EIS, which was originally scheduled for spring 2015, has been delayed due to consultations about endangered species and cultural resources at Cherry Point. It’s unclear how long they will take.
The district commander of the Corps has agreed to meet with the environmental groups on January 4 to discuss their concerns. Felleman says at that meeting, they plan to hand over a zip drive containing more than 14,000 letters supporting their request.
In their letter, the groups make a point of expressing sincere appreciation for the Corps recent decisions to protect Native American treaty rights — at Cherry point with the denial of a permit for the Gateway Pacific export terminal and to explore alternate siting of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. But they say if the Corps continues to delay the final EIS for BP’s North Wing dock, they may take the matter back to court.