Friends’ Action Ensures Refinery Project Will Not Impact Southern Resident killer whales

Friends of the San Juans took action against Whatcom County’s permit decision for a Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery project, involving a new pipe bridge and relocating underground pipelines to above-ground. Phillips 66’s application lacked clarity about the purpose of these pipes, including their potential role in crude oil or refined product transfers at the refinery’s dock. 

Friends submitted comments to Whatcom County during the environmental review process, urging safeguards against increased vessel traffic that could harm the endangered Southern Resident killer whales, the Salish Sea ecosystem, and shoreline communities vulnerable to accidents and oil spills. Despite Friends’ concerns, Whatcom County granted a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) to Phillips 66 without including Friends’ proposed conditions. Friends appealed this decision, and the Hearing Examiner encouraged both parties to find a resolution. Friends successfully negotiated terms with Phillips 66, which Whatcom County and the Hearing Examiner approved. 

The resolution adds critical elements to the MDNS: 

  • Limiting the approved development to connecting new above-ground pipes to existing lines, exclusively for propane or butane products. 
  • Clarifying that the project is not connected to the Phillips 66 dock, and any future connection must meet permit requirements. 
  • Adding a condition allowing inspections by the County or Washington Department of Ecology upon project completion. 

These changes ensure that the oil refinery project will not increase vessel traffic and associated impacts and risks. Friends hopes this appeal will encourage transparency in future permit applications and environmental reviews and ensure that potential project impacts are thoroughly addressed. 

In previous litigation (Phillips 66 Company vs. Whatcom County Washington and Friends of the San Juans), the Washington State Court of Appeals confirmed that increased vessel traffic would threaten the Southern Resident killer whales. Phillips 66 acknowledged this danger as well. 

Friends of the San Juans is committed to protecting the Southern Residents, the Salish Sea ecosystem, and shoreline communities and will pursue further appeals when necessary. Many thanks to our members, the Northwest Fund for the Environment, the Harder Foundation, the Lummi Nation, and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community for the financial support to continue this vital work.  

It wasn’t until 1979 that San Juan County got a comprehensive growth plan and that was largely due to the Friends of the San Juan’s being there to advocate for the shoreline and the ecosystem. Since then, there have been constant waves of pressure by developers. Friends have risen each time, fighting to protect this fragile and precious place.

Liza Michaelson

member, San Juan Island