Shoreline Hearings Board upholds permits for Anacortes Refinery expansion; environmental organizations call decision flawed for failing to consider vessel traffic impacts on Southern Residents
SKAGIT COUNTY, WA — On Friday, September 28, the Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board dismissed arguments made by a coalition of environmental organizations and more than 7,500 residents, upholding a key permit for Marathon Oil’s (formerly Andeavor and previously known as Tesoro) Anacortes Refinery to begin manufacturing and exporting xylenes — petrochemicals used in plastics production — through the Salish Sea.
The organizations that brought the challenge believe the decision is flawed, because the Shoreline Hearings Board never considered the merits of the case — including concerns about Skagit County’s failure to address vessel traffic impacts to the Salish Sea and the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas. The organizations are weighing their legal options and considering their next steps.
Read more in a Crosscut op-ed: Canada is protecting orcas from oil spills. Why aren’t we? (October 2, 2018)
The expansion project would allow the Anacortes Refinery to produce and ship up to 15,000 barrels per day of mixed xylenes for export to predominantly Asian markets. The project would result in the addition of approximately 60 vessel trips per year through the Salish Sea.
Despite significant concerns raised during the public comment period about the project’s vessel traffic impacts on the endangered Southern Resident orcas, the increased risk of a toxic spill, and significant increases in pollution that causes climate change, the Shoreline Hearings Board decided not to consider whether the Environmental Impact Statement had adequately considered all of the project’s impacts. The board also decided not to require a more rigorous Shoreline Conditional Use Permit for the project.
The organizations highlighted concerns that local governments like Skagit County are inadequately prepared to regulate never-before-seen refinery projects like Marathon Oil’s proposal to begin manufacturing and exporting a new petrochemical product — a completely new use of the refinery and pier, and a potentially new business model for refineries operating in the Salish Sea bioregion. Read a timeline of the project here.
Documents uncovered during the appeal process indicate that Marathon relied upon a forestry biologist based in Portland, OR to assess project impacts to the endangered Southern Resident orcas.
Also uncovered during the appeal were documents indicating that the Department of Ecology told Skagit County that Marathon had incorrectly calculated the project’s carbon pollution impacts in the Environmental Impact Statement, allowing Marathon to ignore direct emissions equivalent to adding more than 70,000 cars to the road each year. Paying for this pollution could cost the refinery $5,000,000 year or more — but in dismissing the appeal, the Shoreline Hearings Board failed to require Skagit County to correct the mistake.
The environmental organizations involved in the appeal include Stand.earth, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, and Evergreen Islands. The groups are represented by Crag Law Center and have the options to petition the Shoreline Hearings Board to reconsider the decision, or appeal.
Following the announcement, the groups issued the following statements:
On the future of petrochemical projects in the Salish Sea:
“This case highlights how unprepared local governments like Skagit County are in properly regulating never-before-seen refinery projects like Marathon Oil’s proposal to begin manufacturing and exporting petrochemicals through the Salish Sea. Marathon Oil has admitted publicly that as our state continues to turn toward clean energy, the refinery plans to produce more and more petrochemicals — to be turned into products that have nothing to do with local energy and everything to do with global markets already flooded with disposable plastics.” — Alex Ramel, Field Director, Stand.earth
“This project would cause as much climate pollution as adding 70,000 cars to the road each year. Skagit County misunderstood how to apply the state’s Clean Air Rules, and when notified of the error in public comment by the Department of Ecology and environmental organizations, the county failed to correct the mistake. Today’s decision by the Shoreline Hearings Board perpetuates the failure of government to hold polluters accountable, fails to follow the law of Washington state, and fails to protect our climate and our communities.” — Stephanie Hillman, Northwest Campaign Representative, Sierra Club
On impacts to Southern Resident orcas:
“This fragmented permitting process will result in increased vessel traffic impacts and oil spill risks to the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. We learned during the appeal process that Marathon relied on a forestry biologist for its analysis of impacts — who misrepresented data in determining that the project’s vessel traffic would not harm this endangered species. We now ask Governor Inslee’s recently appointed Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force to recommend that the state require project applications that would include vessel traffic to address vessel traffic impacts to Southern Resident Killer Whales.” — Stephanie Buffum, Executive Director with Friends of the San Juans
“The Salish Sea is irreplaceable. The Environmental Impact Statement for Marathon’s petrochemical project was deeply flawed, failing to account for the acoustic impacts on Southern Resident orcas, and the real risk of an actual worst case spill. It’s important that these types of analysis are done properly. We are extremely disappointed at the Shoreline Hearings Board’s decision to ignore the errors addressed in our appeal.” — Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels Program Director, Friends of the Earth
“The manufacture and export of xylenes poses a new and dangerous threat to the Puget Sound region. This project has not received the appropriate scrutiny from Shorelines Hearings Board in light of the numerous and severe environmental impacts it poses. The Board is responsible for ensuring that development of our shorelines is done in a manner that will ‘promote and enhance the public interest,’ including ‘protecting against adverse effects to the public health, the land and its vegetation and wildlife, and the waters of the state and their aquatic life’ — consistent with the Shorelines Management Act. We are surprised and dismayed by the flawed rationale given for dismissal, demonstrating the Board’s failure to accurately weigh the risks.” — Alyssa Barton, Policy Analyst and Executive Coordinator, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance
On new uses of the refinery and the need for a Conditional Use Permit:
“This project has a high potential to cause irreparable environmental harm to our shared waters by setting into motion a major petrochemical superhighway across the Salish Sea. Government and industry should be held to the highest standards to protect this irreplaceable gift. But today, our government failed to properly regulate plans to transform Marathon’s existing wharf into a petrochemical export terminal, a new use of the refinery that has never before been considered.” — Tom Glade, President of Evergreen Islands
“Exporting petrochemicals is a completely new use of the refinery, not just an expansion of how it currently operates. When a refinery wants to substantially change how it operates, and those changes would impact its existing wharf and shoreline, a more rigorous Conditional Use Permit should be required. This is especially true for a project that is adjacent to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve — both shorelines designated as having statewide significance.” — Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities
Virginia Cleaveland, Stand.earth, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-858-9902
Eddy Ury, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, email@example.com, 206-972-2001
Stephanie Buffum, Friends of the San Juans, 360-472-0404
Chris Winter, Crag Law Center, 503-701-6002