Appealing Crude-by-Rail Decision in Skagit County

The conservation groups are filing the appeal because of significant risks and impacts to people, water, and wildlife. An ongoing chain of oil train explosions has revealed the extreme volatility of the Bakken crude and the dangers of transporting the oil by rail.

Case Overview

Earthjustice is representing state and local conservation groups in an appeal of Skagit County’s decision to allow a proposed Shell Puget Sound Refinery crude-by-rail facility to move forward without requiring a full and transparent environmental review.

Shell has proposed a facility that would receive one unit train of crude oil per day, with each unit train consisting of four locomotives and approximately 102 crude oil tank cars. Nearby refineries have built similar facilities; however, those refineries began their projects before an ongoing chain of oil train explosions revealed the extreme volatility of the Bakken crude. The July 6, 2013 oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, one of the first disasters in the chain, killed 47 people and destroyed roughly half of the Lac-Megantic’s downtown.

In Skagit County, the oil trains pass right through the downtowns of Burlington, Conway, and Mount Vernon. The oil trains also cross the old Burlington/Mount Vernon bridge spanning the Skagit River immediately above the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant and the old swing bridge spanning the Swinomish Channel directly adjacent to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Extensive crude-by-rail oil transport systems have increased dramatically in recent years. In 2008, only 9,500 tank cars transported crude nationally, as compared to over 400,000 tank cars in 2013, an increase of over 4000%.

The conservation groups, including RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, FRIENDS of the San Juans, ForestEthics, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, and Evergreen Islands, are filing the appeal because of significant risks and impacts to people, water, and wildlife, and are demanding a full environmental review. They are also demanding that Shell be prevented from using any rail facility as a way to ship crude over marine waters.

A scene on the Skagit River in Burlington, WA.
A scene on the Skagit River in Burlington, WA. The oil trains pass through the downtowns of Burlington, Conway, and Mount Vernon, crossing the old Burlington/Mount Vernon bridge spanning the river. (Photo courtesy of Brent M. / Flickr)

Case Updates

Skagit River in Burlington, WA.
October 7, 2016 Press Release

Amidst Broad Community Opposition, Shell Anacortes Drops Plans for New Crude Oil-by-Rail

Delay, growing local and regional opposition, and uncertain economics contributed to Shell’s decision.

Skagit River in Burlington, WA.
May 21, 2015 Press Release

Shell Loses Appeal of Oil Train Project in Skagit County

Skagit County Superior Court agrees that environmental and public health risks of dangerous oil rail project should be assessed

February 23, 2015 Document

Decision: Hearing Examiner Blocks Shell Oil Train Project

Skagit County must first fully analyze environmental and public health harms