ANACORTES — While some speakers at a public hearing Monday for a proposed project at the Tesoro Anacortes Refinery railed against the project’s potential environmental impacts, others hailed the economic benefits it could bring to the area.
Some who spoke said the project doesn’t have to pit jobs against environment.
“What might not be clear to everybody is these are not two incompatible things,” refinery employee and scientist Steve Elliser said.
The proposal, called the clean products upgrade project, would reduce sulfur in its refined products such as gasoline and decrease emissions during the transfer of petroleum-based products onto vessels at the refinery’s dock.
It would also enable the refinery to extract the chemical compound xylene during the refining process, store it on site and ship it overseas to be used in manufacturing plastic and polyester materials.
Skagit County Planning and Development Services is reviewing the project through an environmental impact statement, or EIS, which is required under state law for any project that may have significant environmental impacts.
The county released a draft EIS on March 23 and is accepting public input on the document through May 8.
The county is putting public comments online as they are received at tesoroanacorteseis.com. There were 164 uploaded comments as of 8 p.m. Monday.
Dozens more were received at Monday’s hearing at Anacortes High School.
Several area industry representatives, including refinery employees and contractors who work with the refinery, said they believe Tesoro has considered the best interests of the community — including workers, residents and the environment — while designing the project.
“This project is a $4 million investment in our community that will result in 20 full-time jobs,” Anacortes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stephanie Hamilton said. “The Tesoro refinery has been a cornerstone of our local economy since it was built in 1955.”
Others remained unconvinced about the project, pointing to the refinery’s ongoing emissions violations with the Northwest Clean Air Agency and the deadly explosion at the refinery in 2010.
“The pollution coming from that refinery and the ships there is in every breath we breathe,” said Anacortes resident Libby Mills, who heard the 2010 explosion from her home.
Many Skagit and San Juan county residents said they don’t think the potential benefits of the project outweigh the risks.
“It puts us all at risk to add 20 jobs and add to Tesoro’s corporate bottom line,” Anacortes resident Annabelle House Fox said. “(It’s) not worth the health and well-being of our community.”
Speakers raised concerns about the potential for vessel spills, the uncertainties about the effects of xylene on wildlife and human health, the impacts of vessel noise on the endangered and declining resident orca population, and the potential increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
“I think we all agree that global warming, climate change, is something we’re having a terrible time with across the board. ... It’s something I call death by 1,000 cuts,” Bud Ullman of Guemes Island said. “This (project) will be another cut among the thousands of cuts that are preventing us from addressing climate change.”
Several representatives from area environment groups said they do not think the draft EIS adequately addresses potential environmental impacts, including climate change and the handling, storage and shipping of hazardous chemicals such as xylene.