It's too late to revoke permits already granted for construction of crude oil rail terminals at both Whatcom County refineries, a county planning official says in a letter to environmental groups.
Those groups, Protect Whatcom and Friends of the Earth, had asked Whatcom County Planning Manager Tyler Schroeder to consider revoking the permits. Among other things, they argued, new information about the explosive risk from crude oil and the safety of tank cars has emerged since permits were granted.
In his letter to representatives of the two groups, Schroeder said that the crude oil rail facilities at BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 did get a thorough review before permits were granted. That review included consultation with the state departments of Ecology and Transportation, and the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation, Schroeder wrote.
Construction permits for both refineries have already been issued, Schroeder noted, and the BP rail terminal is already built and receiving trainloads of North Dakota crude.
Phillips 66 expects to have its facility operating by the end of 2014.
Schroeder wrote that after taking a second look at the environmental checklist and documents the refineries submitted when they made their permit applications, he was convinced that the county had enough information to determine that the environmental impact of the rail projects was not significant enough to require the extensive environmental impact study that environmentalists were seeking.
Railroad safety issues are best addressed through state and federal regulatory agencies, Schroeder said.
The refineries expect a yearly average of one oil train per day for BP and a train every other day for Phillips 66, and if they exceed those levels, they would be required to submit to additional environmental review from Whatcom County.
The crude oil trains use the BNSF Railway Co. main line through Bellingham and Ferndale to get the oil to the refineries.
In the past six months, three explosive accidents involving trainloads of North Dakota crude have heightened concern about the shipments.