Are we to trust BP and Phillips 66 to comply with crude oil train permit stipulations based solely on their companies’ say-so? That seems to be what Whatcom County Planning and Development Services thinks.
The SEPA MDNS permit for the BP rail logistics project (crude by rail facility) states:
“The rail logistics project will add up to one unit train per day, on an annual basis, to existing rail traffic, on the BNSF Custer Spur,” and, “Unit train frequency is limited to add one train unit per day, on an annual basis to existing rail traffic on the BNSF Custer Spur line. Any additional train traffic by BP will require additional SEPA environmental review.”
–May 12, 2014– I sent an email to Whatcom County Executive Office Project Manager Tyler Schroeder, asking the 4 questions listed below about the BP crude by rail facility:
1) Can you tell me what is the mechanism being used to ensure that there is not more than one crude oil train daily calling on BP as conditioned in the MDNS?
2) Who is responsible for counting/obtaining that daily crude oil train number?
3) How does that information regarding the daily crude oil train count get reported to your Whatcom County Planning Dept. which issued the permit for the BP crude oil rail logistics project?
4) How can I obtain the crude oil train count information?
–June 18, 2014– After receiving no response to my May 12, 2014 email, I followed up, sending a June 18, 2014 email to Tyler Schroeder asking for answers to my 4 questions.
–June 25, 2014– Tyler Schroeder responded with an email and said that he was “working with BP to establish a protocol on how the County will be informed on the amount of trains on an annual basis are arriving at the refinery. I have discussed this with BP and anticipate that a process will be determined in the upcoming months. I will keep your questions in mind when working on this.” He added that he would update me in July . Tyler never did that.
–October 18, 2015– I sent an email to Tyler Schroeder, following up on my May/June 2014 email communications with him when I had asked the 4 questions (referred to above) about the BP crude by rail facility oil train numbers.
–October 20, 2015– Tyler Schroeder sent me an email in which he said:
“I did have discussions with BP on requesting the train frequency information in the past and it is my understanding that they can provide than information on an annual basis. PDS could request documentation from the project proponents that ensures compliance with the stated conditions. This is likely done in a situation where the department is aware of or has an indication that the train frequency is above what has been reviewed through the SEPA process. At this time, the department is not aware of any reason to confirm the train frequency.”
–November 9, 2015– I sent an email to Tyler Schroeder, Jack Louws, and the Whatcom County Council, which said:
“After reading your October 20, 2015 response email, I am officially requesting that our Whatcom County PDS request documentation from BP Refinery regarding their crude oil train frequency in order to ensure compliance with the permit issued by Whatcom County for the BP crude-by-rail facility.
“I have reason to believe that BP is not in compliance with the crude oil train logistics facility permit issued by Whatcom County. I live near the BP crude-by-rail facility, and I hear more than the permit-stipulated one crude oil unit train daily limit. While I do not actually see these trains at the times I hear them, my the fact that I hear them leads me to believe that BP is not in compliance with the permit issued by Whatcom County.
“Please send me information regarding what mechanism is in place by Whatcom County to track those crude oil train numbers, and the exact numbers of those crude oil trains in comparison to the permit. And, please send me information on what cross-checking mechanism is in place so that our County does not rely solely on the information from BP.”
–November 19, 2015– After having received no response, I sent an email to Tyler Schroeder, Sam Ryan (PDS), Jack Louws, and the Whatcom County Council following up and said:
“I sent all of you the November 9, 2015 email forwarded below and received no response from any of you. I consider my request in my email extremely important and would like and expect a response.
“I would actually like to add in the factor of the number of crude oil trains calling on Phillips 66 as well, even though I had not mentioned that in my previous communication/s.
“I ask that my County Council representatives and County Executive assist in helping me obtain the information I am looking for which, quite frankly, I believe should already have been available to the public, and that I have been seeking since May 2014.”
–December 9, 2015– Whatcom County Planning and Development Services Director Sam Ryan sent me an email which said:
“Both mitigated SEPA determinations contained conditions that limited the frequency of unit train traffic on the BNSF Custer Spur. Specifically, BP is limited to one additional unit train, per day on an annual basis, and Ferndale Phillips 66 is limited to one additional unit train every other day, on average and on an annual basis. Both permit decisions did not require the applicants to provide PDS with annual monitoring reports. Both refineries have a responsibility to comply with the terms of the SEPA decisions and associated development permits.”
So, let me get this right—Whatcom County issued permits for both BP and Phillips 66 which stipulated that “BP is limited to one additional unit train, per day on an annual basis, and Ferndale Phillips 66 is limited to one additional unit train every other day, on average and on an annual basis,” but the County NEVER set up an objective accounting method to ensure that the stipulated number of crude oil trains comply with that stipulation.
We are just supposed to believe whatever crude oil train numbers BP and Phillips 66 tell us if they are ever asked for those numbers by our County. And, to my knowledge, up until now, our County has not even ever asked for an accounting of those numbers from BP and Phillips 66.
Why did our County permit these two crude by rail facilities without setting up any objective mechanism for monitoring the number of crude oil trains calling on BP and Phillips 66? I consider that negligent. So, the companies which profit from the crude oil transported by rail are the only entities which are counting these oil trains, and we are supposed to believe what they tell us?
If you are upset by this news, please contact Whatcom County Planning and Development Services, and anyone else you think appropriate, and let them know what you think about this situation.