The Green Apple renewable diesel facility would have been located just adjacent to the Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery, shown here. (Courtesy photo/Phillips 66)

Proposed Green Apple facility canceled last week; Ericksen working with entities to find a new way forward

WHATCOM — Phillips 66 and partner Renewable Energy Group (REG) canceled their plans to build a renewable diesel facility at Cherry Point last week, and their reasons for doing so have become clearer in the days since that announcement.

Tim Johnson, Phillips 66 public and government affairs director, said permitting uncertainties were to blame for the project’s cancellation, and that these uncertainties lead to a competitive disadvantage in Washington State.

In a release put out by the Washington State Department of Ecology on Jan. 16, Tom Buroker, regional director for the Northwest Region, disclosed that Ecology and Whatcom County had determined that the Green Apple Renewable Fuels facility proposed by Phillips 66 “may have likely adverse impacts on the environment” and so initial scoping to do an environmental impact statement (EIS) would begin.

  Three public meetings for comment were set for Feb. 4-6 in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

It was that decision, Johnson said, that killed Green Apple. The process would have added two years to the front of the project.

“That basically put the project in a position where it probably wasn’t going to be completed until 2024,” Johnson said. “Because of that delay, basically, it would competitively disadvantage this project. That is really the driver for why those delays and the extended timeline made the project far less viable.”

Johnson said Phillips 66 has competitors with similar projects planned in the Gulf Coast area. These projects, he said, started permitting about the same time as Green Apple in terms of engineering.

“Both of those projects have already received permits and are starting construction,” Johnson said. “They are way ahead of this particular project.”

A press release put out by new Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu states that Whatcom County’s process for these kinds of projects has not changed over the past decade. Johnson said he has been with Phillips 66 for longer than that and has not seen this kind of process required.

“I can tell you that in the 15 years that I’ve been at the refinery, we have not had a project that we had to go through an environmental impact statement on,” he said.

Johnson said Phillips 66 did not expect this kind of lengthy review process because the company typically tries to include the needed information in its permitting packages up front.

“We worked very hard to put together a permitting package that provided the information that you would expect to get out of an environmental impact statement,” Johnson said. “We did a lot of work up front to provide that information. We were hoping to basically front load that with all the information they would need so we wouldn’t have to go through the environmental impact statement.”

State Sen. Doug Ericksen cited the project as an $800 million to $1 billion project that was abandoned after regulators with state Ecology chose to require an environmental impact statement and a lengthy process.

“We are working very hard to restart the Green Apple project. We are working with the governor’s office and reaching out to other interested parties to establish a pathway forward. We will leave no stone unturned,” Ericksen said in a Jan. 23 press release. “This project is of vital importance to Whatcom County and the working families of Northwest Washington. Not only is this a billion-dollar investment in our area’s economic future, it is an investment in new fuel technologies that will benefit our environment. This is too important for us to let it go, and over the last couple of days we have seen great concern in Olympia. We’re not giving up. We’re going to fight to make this work.”

In his statement, Sidhu said he was surprised at the sudden announcement.

“This is the kind of project that is much needed in our county and our nation to transition to renewable fuels. I believe this project had several tangible benefits to our community and the whole region like an economic boost and high-wage jobs, a transition pathway to renewable fuels and substantial capital investment in our county,” Sidhu said.

Sidhu and deputy county executive Tyler Schroeder have reached out to Phillips 66 and REG to see what can be done to help resolve whatever uncertainties exist with the project.

Since the announcement, Whatcom County has stopped the project’s environmental review and canceled the public meetings and comment period connected with the project.

Other entities, including the Army Corps of Engineers, tribal governments and other organizations could have had roles in the process, too.

If it had moved forward, the project would have been built within the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area containing the Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery. The renewable fuels manufacturing facility would have processed fats, oils and grease into up to 250 million gallons of renewable fuel per year.