Fossil Fuels

Protecting community safety, the Salish Sea and our climate from the risks of fossil fuel expansions.

Northwest Washington is an epicenter of the oil and gas industry. This presents significant and ongoing environmental stressors and risks to the Salish Sea and local communities. The industry is also a major employer in Whatcom and Skagit counties at our region’s four oil refineries and six methane gas power plants. Our area also serves as a transportation hub for oil and gas both extracted in the U.S. and imported from Canada by barges and tankers, pipelines and trains.

In the face of health and safety risks, the danger of catastrophic oil spills from increased vessel traffic and oil trains, ongoing pollution, our dwindling salmon and orca populations, and the worsening climate crisis that’s hammering Washington communities, it is imperative that we prevent unnecessary impacts from the expansion of dangerous fossil fuels projects in our region.

We must also support energy workers’ demand for a just energy transition that supports employment and a healthy local economy. Efforts to phase out our local demand for fossil-derived energy over time must support local workers.

As a leading voice for the environment, RE Sources works to mobilize our communities for change. We advocate for policies to accelerate the energy transition and strengthen protective standards for development. Working in partnership with organizations throughout the Salish Sea region, we inform the public and decision-makers of project risks — from oil spills, to health and safety concerns to impact on fragile ecosystems.

Now is the time to respond to public support in our region for stronger protections for land, air and water. Energy workers also need assurances of workplace safety and job security in the process. Through collaborations and sound policy, we can secure greater protections for people and the local ecosystems from the hazards of shipping oil, gas and coal through our communities and the Salish Sea. Our goal is to ensure an updated approach to our region’s energy economy, pointing away from a high-risk future of expanding fossil fuel projects and towards a planned clean energy transition that is already underway.

In 2010, RE Sources uncovered a plan to build the largest coal export terminal in North America in Whatcom County at Cherry Point, one of seven terminals proposed in the last decade to ship thermal coal from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming overseas to Asia, as coal’s domestic demand plummeted.

We helped build a broad coalition across Washington, Oregon, Montana, and British Columbia to resist seven proposed coal export terminals.

All seven terminals were defeated, including Gateway Pacific at Cherry Point in a landmark federal decision to uphold Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights in May 2016.

Though Montana coal power plants still supply a large portion of Northwest Washington’s electricity, the Washington legislature passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act in 2019, requiring electric utilities to eliminate coal from our power supply by 2025.

Since then, Whatcom County first placed a temporary moratorium on new fossil fuel transshipment infrastructure at Cherry Point in 2016 until the Whatcom County Council could create lasting legal protections for people and the environment from impacts of fossil fuel projects. Then, in 2021 the Whatcom County Council unanimously passed an ordinance to prohibit ALL new coal, oil and fracked gas shipment terminals and expansion at Cherry Point.

Oil shipments by rail and tanker present a number of environmental and safety impacts and risks to our communities. From 1975 to 2015, a federal ban on crude oil export ensured that oil extracted in the U.S. would be refined in the U.S.

But now with the ban lifted, and Canadian interest in expanding tar sands bitumen export through the Salish Sea, oil expansion proposals are increasing the risk of oil spills and derailments, explosions, fires, and polluting air and waterways.

RE Sources is a leading partner in Stand Up to Oil, a regional coalition addressing the threats of new oil terminals while working to improve safety measures for continuing oil shipments.

(Photo: March Point refineries by David Inscho)

Take Action

Be a part of changing the world


We host Activist Meetings for anyone who wants to learn more and get engaged in forwarding a clean energy transition. Contact Simon Vickery to hear about upcoming meetings.

Simon Vickery, Climate and Energy Policy Manager
Office: (360) 733-8307 ext. 215

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Cherry Point land use

On July 27 2021, the Whatcom County Council held a public hearing and unanimously voted to pass the proposed amendments after years of community effort and stakeholder engagement. The amendments will prohibit new refineries, transshipment facilities, coal plants, piers, and wharfs in the Cherry Point industrial zone. Learn more.

Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) has been a part of Lummi Nation’s ancestral land and waters since time immemorial. It is vital habitat for salmon, herring (a vital food for salmon), and other species that Tribal and commercial fisheries need to exist. The Cherry Point industrial zone hosts two oil refineries, an aluminum smelter (curtailed as of mid-2020), and three marine transshipment terminals. The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve is one of eight designated habitat areas in Washington vital to the survival of the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Cherry Point has been a targeted route for increased exports of crude oil, tar sands, and fracked gas for decades. Lummi Nation and our community blocked the would-be largest coal export terminal in North America in 2016. The coal terminal and moratorium have been fierce local political issues with significant electoral spending by both advocates and opponents in elections in 201320152017 and 2019. Now, we have a chance to protect this special place while investing in good-paying jobs that reduce pollution and move us towards a clean energy future.

Local governments are the only lawful decision-makers standing in the way of expansions that bring even more trains and tankers. They are responsible for limiting the risks, hazards, pollution and harm these projects cause. Yet under Whatcom’s statute until 2021, expansions of existing facilities can be permitted with minimal review, without recognition of their impacts. Small, piecemeal upgrades can add up to a big impact without strong local policies like Whatcom is set to pass.

The home stretch for strengthening standards on polluting industries

Many cities across the U.S. have taken action to address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions by limiting fossil fuel expansion and requiring new commercial and residential buildings to be fossil fuel-free. But Whatcom is set be one of the first refinery communities in the U.S. to pass these other sorts of policies. Whatcom County’s action represents a groundbreaking move by a local jurisdiction to restrict the types of projects that can be built on its existing heavy industrial land. Read more.

Oil companies have largely gotten a free pass in Whatcom County for over 60 years, getting major permits for polluting projects approved with inadequate environmental review — putting our communities and waterways at risk of dangerous oil spills and train explosions. After years of public pressure, the County Council is set to pass amendments to existing law that would raise standards for fossil fuel projects in the Cherry Point industrial zone. Whatcom County has embraced its right and duty to protect public safety and the environment by setting reasonable standards for industry at Cherry Point — and it’s critical for the community (you!) to get involved! Receive updates and ways to take action from our e-newsletters.

  • In 2013, Whatcom County determined that the impacts of two oil train terminals were non-significant and permitted them without reviewing the impacts — despite the major risks posed by crude oil trains that have exploded twelve times in the US and Canada since.
  • Current laws are vulnerable to loopholes and gray areas that oil companies could exploit to sue Whatcom County for rejecting permits with unmitigable negative impacts to our communities.
  • One oil spill could cause irrevocable damage to already endangered fisheries that are the foundation of the livelihoods and economy of families who have relied on fishing since time immemorial.
  • Cherry Point is a targeted route for increased tar sands, oil, and gas shipment from Canada.

These code amendments will limit industrial development in several important ways:

  • Prohibit new fossil fuel transshipment facilities, coal plants, and piers.
  • Conditionally permit expansions of existing refineries and terminals.
  • Bolster environmental review standards for new projects at existing industries.

Background on Cherry Point

Read about the history of industries at Cherry Point.

In 2016, Lummi Nation and our community blocked the would-be largest coal export terminal in North America, after the U.S Army Corps of Engineers recognized the terminal would violate Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights. Soon after, Whatcom County Council imposed a temporary moratorium preventing new fossil fuel transshipment infrastructure at Cherry Point, until the county could create legal protections for people and the environment from impacts of fossil fuel projects. After a four-year process and multiple extensions of the temporary moratorium, the council has finally presented a set of draft amendments with those legal protections, and aims to pass a final version of them in early 2020.

Interested in science studying the health of Cherry Point? Check out presentations on our YouTube channel from our annual Cherry Point Science Forum.