Statement: Whatcom County should not allow protections from greater unrefined fossil fuel shipments to expire

We’re already seeing heightened risks from surplus crude oil shipments. Lifting the moratorium now would be like opening the floodgates during a storm surge. | June 1, 2020

Email the Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, June 1, 2020

Contact: Eddy Ury, RE Sources Climate and Energy Policy Manager, EddyU@re-sources.org

As oil surpluses sit in “floating storage” vessels, Whatcom County should not allow protections from greater unrefined fossil fuel shipments to expire

On June 2 at 6 p.m., Whatcom County Council will take comments at a “virtual public hearing” conducted through Zoom video on the Cherry Point moratorium.

Whatcom County, Wash. — On June 2, the Whatcom County Council will vote on whether or not to let the clock run out on a temporary permit moratorium for projects at Cherry Point that would allow an increase of pass-through shipment of unrefined fossil fuels. This moratorium should be extended.

Worldwide pandemic-response measures have reduced fuel consumption significantly. In April, global oil demand dropped to the lowest level in 25 years. Oversupply of crude oil being extracted has left many “floating storage” tanker ships and barges, filled with oil with no confirmed destination. Transshipment terminals at Cherry Point could be used to transfer oil from trains onto ships for floating storage in the Salish Sea. 

“We’re already seeing heightened risks from surplus crude oil shipments. Lifting the moratorium now would be like opening the floodgates during a storm surge,” said Eddy Ury, Climate and Energy Policy Manager at RE Sources. “An oil spill could devastate Whatcom’s fisheries and shorelines.”

Moratorium favors local refineries

Though opposed to the moratorium, British Petroleum (BP) lobbyists have argued that the moratorium actually favors local refineries’ interests. The law firm Arnold & Porter argued in a December 3 letter on BP’s behalf that the moratorium says, “companies are free to construct or expand facilities as long as they use local refineries to process their fuel. The Moratorium thus disfavors companies that wish to transport crude oil through the county for processing elsewhere. And it has the practical effect of steering business toward local refineries, to the detriment of out-of-state competitors.”

The moratorium does not restrict refinery projects or fuel shipment expansions that are connected to refining, processing or consumption at Cherry Point industries, which have received numerous permits for upgrades, maintenance and expansions since the moratorium was enacted in 2016. For example, BP Cherry Point refinery boosted its oil processing capacity by 9,000 barrels per day by building a new coker in 2018, a unit so massive that a temporary terminal was built in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve to unload the parts.

More Background

In August 2016, Whatcom County Council first enacted a temporary moratorium on certain permits for transshipment facilities that would increase pass-through shipments of unrefined fossil fuels at Cherry Point. The Council has revisited the measure and voted to extend it in six-month increments, eight times since. The moratorium will be in effect until June 17 unless renewed again by majority vote of the Council with approval by the County Executive. 

After a years-long process, the Council introduced a set of draft code amendments — lasting protections that will end the need for extensions of the moratorium — for public review by the Whatcom County Planning Commission. The Commission was expected to complete their six-month long review at a work session on March 12, but the meeting was canceled for health precautions and has been postponed indefinitely. The final Planning Commission work session will be followed by another public hearing before the County Council reviews the proposal again, and will hold a final public hearing before voting on adoption of the ordinance. 

On June 2nd at 6 PM, the Council will hold the very first “virtual public hearing that the County has conducted over Zoom video conference, with a telephone option. 

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RE Sources promotes sustainable communities and protect the health of northwestern Washington’s people and ecosystems through application of science, education, advocacy and action. www.re-sources.org

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