Friends scores a win for orca protection

Friends of the San Juans recently scored a decisive legal victory against fossil-fuel giant Phillips 66, representing an important win for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales. On February 28th, the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Friends in a lawsuit regarding Phillips 66’s expansion of its Ferndale, WA, refinery.

In 2019 Phillips 66 applied for a permit to expand its fossil-fuel storage facilities in Ferndale. But in its permit application, Phillips 66 neglected to include predictions of how many additional vessels would visit the refinery. Since scientific data clearly show that increases in vessel traffic across the Salish Sea result in greater risks to the endangered Southern Residents killer whales, or orcas, such predictions are required in facility-expansion permits. On that basis, Friends, along with multiple community members, objected to the permit. Friends of the San Juans pursued legal actions to ensure that protections for the orcas were upheld by Whatcom County.

The legal action has been ongoing for several years. In the most recent proceeding, an appeal by a team of Phillips 66 attorneys, Friends of the San Juans was represented by Earthjustice attorney Shana Emile. “Earthjustice was thrilled to bring our expertise in environmental law and appellate proceedings to bear in this precedent-setting case,” said Ms. Emile. “When the Court rejected Phillips 66’s appeal, they agreed with each argument made by Friends of the San Juans and Whatcom County. That was great news not only for the endangered orcas, but for everyone in the Pacific Northwest who cares about the health of the Salish Sea.”

Friends of the San Juans prioritizes the impacts of vessel traffic when engaging in the review of refinery permit applications. The organization’s Marine Protection and Policy Director, Lovel Pratt, noted, “This decision is important, in part, because it states that ‘Phillips 66 has conceded that environmental concerns, including harm to killer whales, could arise if vessel traffic increases.’” In addition, Ms. Pratt continued, “This decision reinforces permit agencies’ ability to use monitoring conditions to hold permit applicants accountable. Phillips 66 stated that the new storage tanks would not increase vessel traffic. If the project is permitted, ongoing vessel traffic monitoring will ensure that the project does not increase vessel traffic, and that it does not increase impacts to the Southern Residents and the Salish Sea.”

 “I couldn’t be more pleased with this result,” said Friends Executive Director R. Brent Lyles. “The fossil-fuel industry needs to understand that small environmental organizations like ours will stand up to them; big companies don’t get to ignore the rules and threaten the endangered Southern Resident orcas just because their pockets are deep. The Friends mission is to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea for people and nature. Together with our members and partners, we’ve been fighting for the protection of the orcas, salmon and the entire Salish Sea for over 40 years, and we’ll still be here another 40 years from now.”

For more information about this case and to read the Court’s most recent decision, please visit the following website:

The Friends of the San Juans do such a wonderful job of keeping on top of things like the transit of freighters through the Straits and their impact on whales as well as protecting our environment. Jim and I fell in love with the islands, the wildlife, and fishing. We hope to preserve it, not only for our family but for other families, well into the future.

Glen and Deb Bruels

members, San Juan Island