Whatcom County Council bans new crude oil exports from Cherry Point

By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal

The Whatcom County Council passed an emergency moratorium on new projects that would expand the export of unrefined fossil fuels from Cherry Point. The moratorium lasts for 60 days.

It prevents the approval of any new permit or application that would expand or add new facilities at Cherry Point that would be used to export unrefined fossil fuels that aren’t processed there.

The emergency ordinance comes while the county Planning Commission is reviewing a comprehensive plan amendment that would permanently block new facilities that would allow for more export of crude oil and other unrefined fossil fuels.

The amendment to the comprehensive plan was proposed in July, and County Council sent the ordinance to the planning commission. The commission has until January to study the issue, study the language and make a recommendation on whether or not the new policy should be adopted.

The emergency ordinance the council passed on Aug. 9 will prevent a rush to get new permits approved before any final rules would go into effect.

The ordinance sites that refineries at Cherry Point have recently made upgrades that expand their ability to accept crude oil, and recent and proposed pipelines have increased the refineries’ capacity to move crude oil.

In December, the U.S. Congress lifted a 40-year ban on crude oil exports.

The ordinance also cites a number of recent rail disasters in which trains carrying oil or oil products derailed and exploded.

“Recently adopted state and federal policies intended to reduce the risks associated with oil by rail have proven insufficient to protect communities along the rail corridor,” the ordinance said.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, Councilmember Rud Browne emphasized that the ordinance isn’t intended to impact the refineries’ business of exporting refined fossil fuel products.

“I want to make it very clear, to particularly the workers in Cherry Point, that this is not intended to affect the existing refining operations,” he said.

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