The Collateral Damage of BP

by March 27, 2017
 

For some, the beloved San Juan Islands beckon as paradise. For Warren Buffett, British Petroleum and Kinder Morgan, they are collateral damage in the pursuit of oil portfolio profits.

BP Cherry Point refinery and its adjunct Whatcom Business Alliance are presently promoting a “preserve cherry point jobs” campaign to mislead Whatcom county voters into thinking that stopping fossil fuel export will harm local jobs and taxes that support schools. The truth is that the property taxes paid by BP and Phillips 66 remain the same with or without export, as do the refining jobs to meet domestic demand for gasoline and aviation fuel.

One thing we learned watching the movie Deepwater Horizon is that British Petroleum puts greed ahead of concerns for human life and the environment. That greed led to BP paying $4.5 billion in fines and penalties in the largest criminal resolution in US history.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest accidental release of oil into marine waters in history, resulted in severe environmental, health and economic consequences,[1] and serious legal and public relations repercussions for BP. 1.8 million gallons of Corexit oil dispersant was used in the cleanup response, becoming the largest application of such chemicals in US history.[2] The company pleaded guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter, two misdemeanours, and one felony count of lying to Congress.

In mid-February, National Audubon Society’s director of bird conservation for the Gulf Coast spoke at the Whatcom Museum about the risks facing vulnerable communities of the Salish Sea. Those vulnerable communities include Coast Salish Nations, the San Juan Islands National Monument, and endangered species such as Chinook salmon and Orca whales.

In 2012, BP Cherry Point was fined $81,500 by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries for willfully violating workplace safety and health rules. As Fred Felleman reported, “the Gulf gusher was not an isolated event in BP’s accident-riddled record.”

Felleman also reports that BP led the effort to lift the crude oil export ban, and “is investing in the highly polluting Alberta tar sands that are connected by pipeline to its Cherry Point refinery and marine terminal.” The terminal, says Felleman, “is surrounded by the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve that was created in 1999 to recover the state’s once-largest herring spawning stock.”

As Felleman notes, “In 2000 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitted BP to build a new tanker dock at Cherry Point without conducting an environmental impact statement.” In 2005, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals mandated that the Corps prepare a full EIS and re-evaluate whether the permit is in compliance with federal law–the Magnuson Amendment–“to reduce the risk of an oil spill caused by increasing the number of tankers transiting the narrow waterways through the San Juan Islands.”

Between June 2007 and February 2010, BP had 829 refinery violations compared with 33 for the rest of the industry. In 2011, federal prosecutors sought to revoke BP’s criminal probation that had been on and off since 2001, stating BP is a “recidivist offender and repeated violator of environmental laws and regulations.” In 2016, BP settled out of court with Whatcom County, agreeing to pay property taxes it tried to get out of through sleight-of-hand.

While the tourism industry of the San Juan Islands is huge, we mustn’t forget the Dungeness crab commercial fishery at Cherry Point and Georgia Strait that supports families in Anacortes, Blaine, and on the Lummi Indian Reservation.

The city of Blaine, Washington has approved a settlement agreement with Lummi Nation to transfer ownership of a piece of land on Semiahmoo spit, where artifacts and human remains were disturbed in the late 1990s during expansion of a wastewater treatment plant. It has since been replaced and relocated away from the former Lummi village.

Contrast that with the behavior of BP Cherry Point neighbor Gateway Pacific terminal—a proposed coal export facility--which knowingly and covertly desecrated the registered archeological site of Xwe’chi’eXen, a former Lummi Indian village and burial ground.

My piece de resistance — Netwar at Cherry Point — turns one on April 1st. This case study about the dark side of white power on the Salish Sea focuses on fossil fuel export versus indigenous peoples, or perhaps better stated — Wall Street versus human rights.

Now that Tar Sands bitumen and Bakken Shale crude oil exporters have replaced coal exporters as the industrial opponents of Lummi Nation treaty rights, the funding available for building anti-Indian resentment has increased exponentially. Only the power of moral sanction—catalyzed by community-based research, education and organizing--can stop them.