Tesoro Anacortes Xylene Proposal

Tesoro Anacortes Refinery has proposed an expansion project that would increase the risk of a chemical or crude oil spill in the Salish Sea. 

The "Clean Products Upgrade Project" (CPUP) is a proposal to upgrade the refinery to produce and export xylenes, flammable petrochemicals used to make plastic and synthetics. 

The plan to produce 15,000 barrels of xylenes per day for export to Asia would bring an additional five tankers per month through the Salish Sea. Each additional tanker or barge in the Salish Sea compounds the already crowded shipping traffic and increases the risk of spills of crude oil and other refined products. Tuesday, 

What is xylene?

Xylenes are flammable petrochemicals used to make plastic and synthetic materials. They are also used as solvents in the printing, rubber, paint, and leather industries. Xylenes are created from a partially refined crude oil product called reformate that is often produced from light oil, such as Bakken shale oil. In addition to being highly flammable, xylenes are colorless and difficult to detect or clean up if spilled. 

Read more: Xylene 101 from Sightline Institute. 

Environmental impact statement

In March 2017, Skagit County released the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposal. Thousands of comments from concerned citizens were submitted on the draft EIS. In July 2017, Skagit County released the EIS for the project, without correcting critical flaws that were identified in public comments. 

Read all the project permits, reports, and documents at tesoroanacorteseis.com.

Read the response to the final environmental impact statement from environmental organizations RE Sources, Stand, and Friends of the San Juans

Environmental impacts identified in the draft and final EIS:
  • Increased tanker traffic: The project would bring an additional 5 tankers per month (60 per year) through sensitive marine habitat in the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea. These tankers would carry both reformate (a crude oil product used to produce xylene) and xylene. This is in addition to the 34 additional tankers PER MONTH proposed as part of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.

  • Increased spill risk:
    More tanker traffic means a higher risk of toxic spills. Washington state is not adequately prepared to respond to spills in the Salish Sea, which could cause irreparable damage to our sensitive marine habitat and threaten iconic species like our endangered southern resident orcas.

What's missing from the draft and final EIS:

  • Accurate calculations for carbon pollution: The draft and final EIS identifies a huge increase in air and climate pollution from ongoing operations for this project, while claiming unverifiable carbon offsets as mitigation. This pollution must be accurately calculated and mitigated to ensure Washington state can adequately meet its goals to act on climate change.

    Draft EIS summary, page ES 19

  • Assurances the project won’t increase crude oil train traffic:
    The Tesoro Anacortes refinery currently receives 4-5 crude oil trains per week. But the draft and final EIS don’t examine the impact of these explosive trains traveling through our communities, and it doesn’t require assurances that no increase in crude oil trains will be permitted in the future.

Skagit County failed to include language in the final EIS that:

  • Requires the highest standards during the transport, refining and shipping of xylene.
  • Ensures refinery workers follow the highest safety standards and are protected from the risks of toxic xylene spills.
  • Creates an adequate disaster response plan with mitigation measures for water and air during a xylene spill at the refinery or from a tanker in the Salish Sea.
  • Prevents Tesoro from utilizing the upgrades to begin exporting crude oil without additional permits and an independent environmental impact assessment.
  • Prevents Tesoso from increasing crude oil train traffic to the refinery to provide the products needed to create xylene.
  • Fully offsets any increases in refinery pollution by specifically supporting mitigation projects in Northwest Washington.

Threats and impacts

Salish Sea threats

Because xylene is clear and less dense than — so does not dissolve in — water, a xylene spill in the Salish Sea would be difficult to contain. The only known method for tracking the chemical is via air tests. The most common method of handling a xylene spill is to simply let the chemical evaporate from surface water over the course of several days, which is what happened when a tanker carrying xylene spilled 42,000 gallons into the Mississippi River in 2007. During that time, humans and animals exposed to xylene can face serious health threats by inhaling or ingesting the chemical. (Sightline Institute)

Health impacts

When inhaled or ingested, xylene can be moderately toxic to your central nervous system. Because xylene is less dense than — so does not dissolve in — water, human and animals are particularly prone to being impacted by a xylene spill on land or in the Salish Sea. The main health effects of inhaling xylene is depression of the central nervous system, with symptoms including headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Long-term exposure may lead to short-term memory loss, among other effects. (National Institute of Health)

Results of studies in animals indicate that large amounts of xylene can cause changes in the liver and harmful effects on the kidneys, lungs, heart, and nervous system. Short-term exposure to very high concentrations of xylene causes death in animals, as well as irritation and inflammation of the skin. (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)

Tesoro’s safety record

A review by Sightline Institute of Tesoro’s safety record finds a checkered history, including persistent problems at the Golden Eagle Refinery in California (which would supply some of the reformate for xylene production), a deadly fire at the Anacortes Refinery, and a troubling pattern of withholding information from the public and regulators.


Read all the project permits, reports, and documents at tesoroanacorteseis.com.

Quick links

Tesoro Anacortes Clean Product Upgrade (Skagit County Planning and Development Services)
Xylene project divides the community (Skagit Valley Herald, June 2016)
Public comment period for Tesoro’s Anacortes Xylene Facility closes April 15 (Sightline Institute, March 2016)
How Tesoro’s petrochem plans may threaten Anacortes & the Salish Sea (Sightline Institute, August 2015)
What is xylene, and what does it mean for Puget Sound? (Sightline Institute, December 2014)
The dirt on Tesoro (Sightline Institute, July 2014)