U.S. Army Corps of Engineers limits BP handling of crude oil

BP Cherry Point oil refinery has been limited to handle no more than 191 million barrels of crude oil a year and cannot use the north wing dock to handle crude oil unless authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“BP is pleased the Army Corps of Engineers has reached a Record of Decision regarding BP’s application for a Section 10 permit for the North Wing of the Cherry Point refinery pier. A decision on this matter provides regulatory certainty and allows us to consider projects that will serve our state’s future energy needs as we transition to a lower carbon economy. We look forward to continuing safe operations at the dock as we comply with requirements of the permit,” media relations manager for BP, Christina Audisho, told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

Environmental organizations are unhappy with the decision announced by the corps, Monday, Jan. 23.

“The 191 million barrel limit is no limit at all, despite what the corps says,” Marice Keever, Oceans Vessels program director for Friends of the Earth environmental organization, told The Herald in an email.

Keever doesn’t see this as a limit because BP Cherry Point can only process 91.3 million barrels a year, or 250,000 barrels a day, according to its website. The limit is more than double the amount it can process in a year.

Environmental organizations Friends of San Juan and Evergreen Islands are working with Friends of the Earth to release a statement Monday, Jan. 30.

“We are dismayed it has taken the corps 22 years to come to this unsupported determination since it authorized BP to double the number of berths at its tanker terminal, and we are currently reviewing our legal options,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement to The Herald, Friday, Jan. 27.

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The oil tanker Overseas Chicago is framed by a pier under construction in 2000 at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Monday, Jan. 23, limited the handling of crude oil at BP Cherry Point Marine Terminal to 191 million barrels a year and prevents BP from using the terminal unless authorized by the corps. Pete Kendall The Bellingham Herald

The docking terminal at Cherry Point was built in 1971 with the rest of the refinery and was expanded to have a north wing dock in 2001, following an expansion permit issued by the corps in 1996. Ocean Advocates, an environmental organization, sued in 2000 claiming the corps did not complete an environmental impact statement and was in violation of the Magnuson Amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Magnuson Amendment is a relatively short addition that says the federal government can’t issue or renew any permit modifying a terminal or dock in Puget Sound waters that may increase the amount of crude oil capable of being handled at any facility other than oil to be refined for consumption in Washington state.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ocean Advocates and in 2005 directed the corps to complete the environmental impact statement and reevaluate if the permit for the north dock was in violation of the Magnuson Agreement.

Sixteen years later the statement was still not completed, although a draft was released in 2014. The corps was sued again, this time by environmental groups Friends of San Juan, Evergreen Islands and Friends of the Earth. Keever said the legal wordage used in the case was “unreasonable delay.”

This lawsuit was settled in April, 2022 with the corps agreeing to a deadline for the statement.

The corps finished the statement in August 2022, and presented three possible actions. The final action, decided Monday, modified the original permit for the north wing dock. This modification complies with the Magnuson Amendment’s restrictions, according to the corps.

“In our analysis, USACE (the corps) concluded that the North Wing permit, as issued in 1996, violated the Magnuson Amendment because the permit did not specify limits to ensure compliance with the amendment,” Andrew S. Muñoz, corps public affairs, said in an email to The Herald.

Jack Belcher joined The Bellingham Herald in September 2022 as the climate change reporter. He graduated Central Washington University with a degree in digital journalism in 2020 and worked as a staff writer for the Ellensburg Daily Record for three years.

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