Council Member Weimer’s Cherry Point Comprehensive Plan amendments: important for health of environment and for safety of refinery workers / Letter to Whatcom County Planning Commission, Dena Jensen


October 24, 2016  Dena Jensen

Dear Whatcom County Planning Commission:

I have been reading through the comments posted on the Cherry Point Amendments page of the Whatcom County website.  In light of the comments made by Cherry Point refinery employees and contractors who emphasized their efforts to maintain safety as a priority in their workplace, I wanted to offer some additional information to consider that is not strongly represented yet in the comments to date. Therefore I am attaching my comment from the Public Hearing at the 9/27/2016 Whatcom County Council meeting (below my signature line) and, preceding that, some links to information and facts about Cherry Point Refineries.

We are in the midst of a climate crisis currently, and it is one of the dominant reasons for stronger regulations from our government agencies regarding fossil fuel extraction, transport, and processing.

You will note in the KUOW article at this link, and in the screen shot of the table below, that BP Cherry Point refinery was listed as the #2 top emitter of CO2e in 2014.


I also remind you that despite worker’s best collective efforts, horrible accidents happen when huge operations are manipulating highly toxic substances and refineries such as BP have not been successful in preventing such accidents from happening.

Because of the cautionary nature of this huge disaster, here is a link to the extensively referenced Wikipedia article on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, , and the first paragraph of that article:

“The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (also referred to as the BP oil spill, the BP oil disaster, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the Macondo blowout) began on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on July 15, 2010.[6][7] Eleven people went missing and were never found[6][8][9][10] and it is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, an estimated 8% to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000 m3).[3] After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was declared sealed on September 19, 2010.[11] Reports in early 2012 indicated the well site was still leaking.[12]

I am also including a link to the Good Jobs First, Violation Tracker report on BP. .  You will note that under the Individual Penalty Records section, that BP Cherry Point workers, for all of their diligence, have not been able to keep their location violation-free, as BP Cherry Point received an environmental violation from the EPA in 2014 and a fine of $74,500.00

Phillips66, ConocoPhillips Ferndale Refinery also received a $23,000.00 fine for environmental violation in 2014 according to the Good Jobs First, Violation Tracker report on Phillips 66, listed under Individual Penalty Records,

This link, , provides detail about citations for violating workplace safety and health rules resulting in penalties amounting to $81,500.00 that BP received in 2012 from the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.

“L&I cited the company for a willful violation for not ensuring that inspection and testing procedures for process piping followed recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices for all deadleg piping circuits. The proposed penalty for the willful violation is $65,000.

“A willful violation is the most significant civil classification that can be issued. It is used when L&I alleges that the violation was committed with intentional disregard or plain indifference or substitution of judgment with respect to worker safety and health regulations.”

Phillips 66 has received health and safety penalties as well, as reported on the Washington Workers Advisor website in February of this year, .

“Two of the violations, each with a penalty of $108,000, involve the refinery’s firefighting and fire suppression systems. Phillips did not inspect or follow recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices in respect to the firefighting water tank or the buried firefighting water distribution piping. Inspection and maintenance of these systems is required by state regulation and the National Fire Protection Association. The company also failed to address the potential loss of firefighting water, which puts employees and emergency responders at risk of serious injuries, disability or death if the system were to fail during a fire or explosion.”

And lastly, before I include my comment from the 9/27/2016 Whatcom County Council meeting in which I mention them, I will provide links to information regarding the two fires that have occurred at the BP Cherry Point refinery in the last 4 years.

2016 fire, ADVFN financial market website

2012 explosion, Crosscut

2012 explosion, EPA

2012 fire, USA Today


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay

Below is my comment made at the public hearing during Whatcom County Council’s September 27, 2016 meeting:

Dena Jensen, Birch Bay

I want to acknowledge that this land is the traditional territory of the Lummi and Nooksack Peoples.  May we nurture our relationship with our Coast Salish neighbors, and the shared responsibilities to their homelands where we all reside today.”

This moratorium and council member Weimer’s Cherry Point Comprehensive Plan amendments are important, not only for the health of our environment, but in looking toward the safety of our refinery workers that do spend their work weeks in the heart of the crude by rail blast zone. They work extremely hard to attempt to maintain safety at their facilities for themselves and the community at large. But I believe an undue burden is placed on them to do this and there is just no way they can be entirely successful at it all the time.

At the BP Cherry Point facility there was a fire earlier this year, which the person from BP’s environmental hotline said involved their hydrogen unit, and I could see and hear from my home the hydrogen, that the hotline person said burns really hot and explained was being burned off in short bursts in an effort to keep a hazardous situation controlled. There was also a fire that was more dramatic in appearance at the BP Cherry Point facility in 2012 (which was before crude by rail trains were arriving at the refinery). Accidents happen, and the workers at the refineries will be the first in peril if a fire or explosion happens close enough to the highly volatile materials that are present at the refinery.

We need to recognize that disaster involving loss of lives and serious injury is not just an intangible what-if that only happens far away from us.  We know that Whatcom County suffered such a disaster in 1999, when the gasoline pipeline operated by Olympic Pipeline Company exploded in Bellingham, injuring eight and tragically killing three young people. Horrible accidents happen.

One of the union leaders that was here at a public hearing in January made a statement that has stuck with me. He said –

“In the old construction industry, when they built the project, death was part of the planning process:  ‘We’re going to kill seven people on this project.  We can deal with that.'”

This is a reminder that corporations are usually unsuccessful in resisting pressures to put profits first. But, with the help of laborers, their advocates and unions, government agencies and regulations, we have made definite progress away from that grim reality.  Still, we know we can do much better to protect worker, community, and environmental well being.  And it’s time to take some important steps, right now, to do that.

This letter was sent to these addresses:

And was copied to these addresses:

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s