MOUNT VERNON — A legal battle over a project at Marathon Anacortes Refinery has come to a close after a settlement agreement was reached under which the refinery will scrap its plans to produce xylenes for shipment overseas.
The agreement was signed Monday by the Skagit County Board of Commissioners after it had been signed by representatives of the refinery and of various environmental groups that filed a series of appeals against the three-part project.
The refinery, formerly Tesoro, had plans to reduce the sulfur content of its fuel products, reduce emissions from vessels at its dock and produce xylenes.
Refinery General Manager James Tangaro, who signed the agreement Dec. 18, said he’s disappointed that a large part of the $400 million Clean Products Upgrade Project first proposed in 2014 won’t come to fruition.
“We were looking forward to doing the project and spending the rest of the $400 million budgeted for it in this community, and we won’t get to,” he said.
That also means the refinery won’t add the 20 full-time jobs it expected to add to handle the xylenes.
Xylenes are a chemical compound that can be extracted during the oil refining process and be used in the manufacture of plastics.
The environmental groups agreed in the recent settlement not to contest the other two parts of the project.
For them, the possible production of 15,000 barrels of xylenes per day was a primary concern because it would mean additional vessel trips, increased risk of chemical spills and increased threats to the endangered Southern Resident orca population.
“This agreement is a win for the Salish Sea, local air quality and public health,” Eddy Ury of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities said in a news release.
RE Sources was involved in the appeals with Stand.Earth, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Evergreen Islands.
Over the past two years, the environmental groups appealed the project to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners, state Shorelines Hearings Board and Thurston County Superior Court.
They won their most recent appeal, which would have allowed for the case to be reheard by the state Shorelines Hearings Board.
“Instead of continuing to litigate this matter, Tesoro and the petitioners have identified a modification to the project that would resolve the existing dispute between the parties; this involves the abandonment of the project components that would allow the refinery to produce mixed xylenes,” Julie Nicoll of the Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said during a presentation to the commissioners Monday.
Tom Glade, president of the Anacortes nonprofit Evergreen Islands, said he’s excited about the outcome, which allows the refinery to complete the emissions-reducing parts of the project while preventing increased emissions from sending up to 60 vessels of xylenes to Asia each year.
Keeping ships off the water could also help the orcas, which are impacted by noise from boat traffic, he said.
In 2018, the refinery completed the part of the project that allowed it to reduce the amount of sulfur in its fuel products, and will proceed with the part that will involve construction of a marine vapor emission control (MVEC) system at its docks.
“The settlement is good because it gives us the opportunity to pursue our emission control device, the MVEC, which is a voluntary project,” Tangaro said.
The refinery has a permit from the county for constructing the MVEC and is seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.