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Permit approved for Skagit xylene project

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Skagit County moves forward with a project to ship 15,000 barrels of xylene per day to Asia.

Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford last week approved a key shoreline permit for the Andeavor Anacortes Refinery’s proposed Clean Products Upgrade Project, finding that it would not result in negative impacts from increased tanker traffic to and from the refinery. Skagit County Planning and Development recommended approving the permit.

The refinery at March Point—formerly Tesoro—has been planning the Clean Products Upgrade Project for several years. It would include upgrading existing equipment and building new equipment to reduce sulfur in its fuel products and enable the extraction, storage and shipment of xylene. Xylene is a chemical component of gasoline. It can be used in the manufacturing of a variety of plastics and other synthetic materials.

The decision comes five weeks after a public hearing on the shoreline substantial development permit, during which dozens raised environmental and safety concerns about the proposed project.

Dufford said in his decision that the evidence he received showed no increase in overall vessel traffic in the area, no increase in the likelihood of a spill and no increase in risks associated with a xylene spill compared to a gasoline spill.

Estimates provided to Dufford indicated the expansion would increase Salish Sea tanker traffic by an additional five tankers per month.

“An adequate environmental study should have considered cumulative impacts from the massive increase in vessel traffic through the Salish Sea—not just the Andeavor refinery project, but the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline proposal in British Columbia as well,” Stephanie Buffum, Executive Director of Friends of the San Juans, commented after the decision. “Failing to require a cumulative assessment of tanker traffic and spill risks puts our beloved orcas at serious risk.”

The decision was met with disappointment by a number of local activists and environmental groups with Stand Up to Oil, a growing coalition opposed to new oil terminals and an increase in oil transport through the Northwest. More than 7,500 comments were submitted about the proposal’s inadequate environmental study.

“The state Shoreline Hearings Board recently required a methanol plant proposal in Kalama to redo their environmental study because it lowballed the climate impacts. The environmental study for Andeavor’s proposal contains similar errors,” said Alex Ramel, Extreme Oil Field Director at Stand.earth.

“The true climate impacts of this proposal are the equivalent of adding more than 75,000 cars to the road,” Ramel said. “The flawed environmental study made it impossible for Skagit County to know the significance of what they were being asked to approve. The Hearing Examiner could have corrected this mistake, but didn’t. At a time when Washington state is working to reduce the pollution that causes global warming, this project would take us in the wrong direction.”

“Andeavor has combined unrelated upgrades into one package for environmental review to mask the true impact of their export project,” said Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. “Exporting xylenes and crude oil are new uses of the refinery’s terminal that have not been adequately reviewed or authorized by state agencies. Advocates for the environment are disappointed that the Hearing Examiner made the wrong decision today.”

Comments on the project’s draft environmental impact statement urged Skagit County to address concerns over worker safety standards, petrochemical spills in the Salish Sea, risks to endangered orcas, massive increases in the pollution that causes global warming, and use of the new facility for crude oil export. Commenters also asked the county to separately review the xylene export and clean products upgrade components of the project, while properly accounting for greenhouse gas pollution.

In July 2017, Skagit County Planning and Development Services issued the project’s final environmental impact statement, just two months after the public comment period on the draft EIS. The final EIS did not adequately address concerns in many areas.

The county shoreline permit is one of 18 needed for the project. It is the third to be approved, following state Department of Ecology and Northwest Clean Air Agency permits that were approved in July.

Local groups are reviewing options to appeal the decision.

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