BP Cherry Point oil train facility gets extra track

BP spokesman Scott Dean walks down the stairs of a bridge over BP Cherry Point refinery’s existing rail loop on Thursday Oct. 9, 2014.
BP spokesman Scott Dean walks down the stairs of a bridge over BP Cherry Point refinery’s existing rail loop on Thursday Oct. 9, 2014. The Bellingham Herald

By the end of June, crews at BP Cherry Point refinery are expected to complete an additional rail loop at the crude oil train unloading facility off Grandview Road.

The third loop allows for more room to store empty crude oil tank cars until they can be taken away by BNSF Railway, BP spokesman Scott Dean said in an email.

In fall 2014, when BP told Whatcom County planning about its plans to start work for the third loop, staff questioned whether that was allowed under the current permit.

The county employees, who hadn’t worked on the original permit under the State Environmental Policy Act, wanted BP to show that plans for the third loop had been included in the original documentation. One description written by county staff during the SEPA process said that according to the applicant, the facility would be able to fully contain two unit trains on two separate loops, meaning it shouldn’t interfere with car traffic in the area.

“Upon entering the facility from the Custer spur line, a train will be maneuvered onto the loop track where it will proceed forward until the entire train is off the spur line and it is completely contained within the BP facility,” a 2012 description of the project reads. “The project design also includes a second parallel track to accommodate a second train to allow for the effective management of inbound and outbound trains. This second track is also of sufficient length to contain a complete unit train within the facility. Therefore, existing roadways will not be blocked during transfer operations.”

Though descriptions did not mention a third loop, a diagram of the facility, which BP engineers provided to staff again in November 2014, shows a third track, said Sam Ryan, director of Whatcom County planning and development services. That meant the loop was provided for in the original plans and permit.

“It’s the right amount of linear feet,” Ryan said. “It would have been nice if they had said three loops instead of feet, but it is on the plans. ... I was not involved in (the permitting) initially, so we had to get it clarified for us.”

Ryan said her staff also questioned whether the new loop would change any wetland impacts, which would have required further environmental review, but the plans showed there would be no net difference in that area.

In 2012, the county ruled the project wouldn’t have significant environmental impacts but required some steps to compensate for affected areas. The initial two loops were finished late in 2013, and the refinery got its first shipment of North Dakota Bakken crude on Dec. 26 that year.

The new loop will not increase the refinery’s permitted capacity to get an average of one crude oil “unit” train per day (on an annual basis), loaded with around 100 tank cars.

Work on the project started in April, and has used about 60 to 70 contractors during peak times, Dean wrote in an email.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.