In another sign that crude-by-rail is a losing proposition, Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes today announced that it is dropping its plans to construct a crude-by-rail facility. Originally proposed in 2014, community opposition and legal challenges forced Shell and Skagit County to undertake a full environmental and public health review under the State Environmental Policy Act. That delay, growing local and regional opposition, and uncertain economics contributed to Shell’s decision.
“This is an extraordinary victory for the people of Skagit County and Washington State,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney at Earthjustice who represented conservation groups in their legal challenge. “Having a full and transparent public process exposed everyone—including apparently Shell itself—to the risks and harms of this project.”
“Communities from Skagit County to Spokane can breathe a little easier knowing they won’t be subjected to more dangerous oil train derailments, oil spills into our waterways, pollution, and blocked traffic. There is overwhelming opposition to these types of projects, and today we celebrate the power of people,” said Rebecca Ponzio, Oil Campaign Director at Washington Environmental Council. “This is a win for our communities, our waterways, and our climate.”
“RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and our partners in the Stand Up to Oil coalition have been working toward this victory for the past two years,” said Crina Hoyer, Executive Director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. “When we fought for a full environmental and public health review, we did so because oil by rail threatens the health and safety of communities all along the rail lines. We are proud of the strong citizen voices and grassroots efforts that are defeating dangerous fossil fuel projects up and down the West Coast.”
Skagit County initially proposed permits for the Shell crude-by-rail facility with a bare minimum of public outreach and review of the environmental risks and harms from the project. RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Stand (formerly ForestEthics), Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, and Evergreen Islands appealed that decision, represented by Earthjustice. In February 2015, the Skagit County Hearing Examiner halted the project until a full and transparent environmental review could be prepared. The Hearing Examiner found that Shell’s proposed project, which would receive hundreds of tank cars of crude oil every week, posed a significant risk of harm to people, water, and wildlife:
The crude oil being brought in large quantities to a small area in the northwest Washington State is highly flammable and explosive. Catastrophes have occurred elsewhere. No one doubts that such a thing could occur here …. Unquestionably, the potential magnitude and duration of environmental and human harm from oil train operations in Northwest Washington could be very great.
The Hearing Examiner also highlighted the importance of the unique ecosystem near the refinery on Padilla Bay—which supports an “astonishing diversity” of aquatic life—and the failure to analyze the risks of an oil spill there. He also observed the importance of the Skagit River for salmon production and the need to review potential spill impacts on salmon habitat.
“Today’s announcement by Shell confirms a sea change in sentiment over the acceptability of allowing explosive oil trains through our communities,” said Matt Krogh of Stand. “A few years ago, oil trains were the industry’s back-door approach to getting crude oil to the market. Today, communities and decision makers along the West Coast are slamming that door shut.”
Railroad shipments of volatile crude oil into America's cities have dramatically increased, with explosive results. See a map and timeline of some of the crude oil train accidents since 2013, and the communities who are fighting back: