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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Unrefined exports on hold at Cherry Point

Illustration by Evan Matz
Illustration by Evan Matz


The Cherry Point Refinery, the largest in Washington State, has been restricted from exporting unrefined fossil fuels due to a moratorium extension approved by Whatcom County Council on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The ordinance, approved by a 6-1 vote, will stay active for six months and comes on the heels of a previous council-approved moratorium that lasted two months, according to the council’s agenda.

The discussion about Cherry Point’s future began after Gateway Pacific Terminal’s permit for coal was rejected in May. Whatcom County Council received a letter from Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew II in regards to the comprehensive plan and expressed concerns over the environmental welfare, job security and fate of Cherry Point.

Senior Galen Herz, president of Students for Renewable Energy, considers the moratorium a win for Whatcom County.

“This moratorium is in line with protection of Cherry Point. It is a sacred area for the Lummi Nation,” Herz said. “I think their treaty rights and their sovereignty should be respected by everybody else in Whatcom County. I see this moratorium as a big support.”

Since 1971, Cherry Point has been home to the coal and crude oil export industry. BP — the corporation that owns Cherry Point — employs more than 2,200 jobs in Whatcom County alone, according to the Whatcom Business Alliance.

“This moratorium is in line with protection of Cherry Point… I see this moratorium as a big support.”

Galen Herz

People like Herz believe fuels transported from Cherry Point pose a serious threat to the environment and community of Whatcom. Herz said people call crude oil exports “bomb trains” due to their probability to explode near communities.

The Whatcom County agenda noted an increase in the transport of fossil fuels risks including possible derailment, spills, explosions and fallout that can pose serious risks to the community. Said hazards are some of the main reasons why the moratorium initially began, according to Edy Ury, interim manager for Resources of Sustainable Communities. Ury said the moratorium allows for the creation of new rules and policies from the council and happened after companies, such as BP, threatened lawsuits.

“This isn’t a permanent moratorium,” Herz said. “This just buys some time while they evaluate what is the best way to handle these products safely when they’re coming into our community.”

Twenty-four year Whatcom County Councilperson Barbara Brenner, the lone dissenting vote,  holds a different perspective on the matter.   

“I believe this moratorium will end up closing down our local refineries,” Brenner said. “People see the steam coming out of the refineries and they get scared but they don’t see what’s coming in our air and water currents from Asia.”

Propane and butane are among the unrefined fossil fuels that are put on hold, Brenner said.

“I said ‘what about propane and butane?’ because I did my research and I found out that they are byproducts that are a lot cleaner than crude oil. They weren’t telling me everything,” Brenner said.

With the emergency moratorium, Brenner said the “devil was in the details.” The title of the ordinance misled her, and since she hadn’t read the fine print, she voted for the suspension the first time.

Since July, the council has been tackling what to do next with restrictions on transshipment and fossil fuels presence in Whatcom.

“There’s confusion about what this is and what it actually does, and I think most of the people who have spoken against it, the oil company executives and lobbyists aside, actually don’t understand what it actually does,” Ury said.

Previously, Whatcom County Council had received hundreds of individual public
comments discouraging the transport and transfer of unrefined fossil fuel from Cherry Point to protect the health of Whatcom.


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