Phillips 66 Canceled Their Permit Following Legal Action From Friends of the San Juans

More good news resulting from Friends’ legal victory against fossil-fuel giant Phillips 66: The permit that was litigated has been officially withdrawn and the project to construct two new storage tanks has been canceled. Had the permit been issued, the storage tanks would have increased the Phillips 66 refinery’s operational storage capacity by nearly 10%, potentially impacting the Southern Resident killer whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem.

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 shows that increases in vessel traffic result in greater impacts and risks to the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, such predictions are required in facility expansion permits. On that basis, Friends, along with multiple community members, objected to the permit. Subsequently, Friends of the San Juans pursued legal actions to ensure that protections for the Southern Residents were upheld by Whatcom County.

In an email rescinding the permit application, Phillips 66 stated, “the company has decided to cancel the IMO Tank Project. This decision was largely based on the protracted permitting process and resulting restrictions imposed on the project.”

Phillips 66’s decision is the direct result of its unsuccessful appeal of the Hearing Examiner’s decision in Superior Court and to the Court of Appeals. The restrictions imposed on the project included an ongoing vessel traffic monitoring condition that would ensure that the new storage tanks would not increase vessel traffic, as Phillips 66 stated in its permit application. This contested permit condition was included to ensure that the project would not increase adverse vessel traffic impacts on the Southern Resident killer whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem. Phillips 66’s withdrawal of the permit raises the question of whether Phillips 66 was being completely honest in stating (in the permit application and throughout the litigation process) that the two new storage tanks would not increase vessel traffic. 

“The ongoing monitoring of vessel traffic should be a permit condition for all projects that could increase vessel traffic,” said Lovel Pratt, Friends of the San Juans Marine Protection and Policy Director. “This will ensure that the impacts related to increased vessel traffic are addressed.” 

Friends of the San Juans continues to monitor applications for projects that could increase vessel traffic in the Salish Sea, and engages in permit review processes to ensure that increased vessel traffic and associated impacts and risks are addressed.

Background Information:

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