Environmentalists protest Shell's plan to bring more oil trains to Washington

MT. VERNON, Wash. -- Washington state and Skagit County officials are beginning an environmental review of a proposed oil-by-rail project at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery.

Royal Dutch Shell wants to build a rail spur from existing railroad tracks to handle about 60,000 barrels of crude oil a day, or a maximum of six trains a week. Trains would bring crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to replace some of the supply Shell currently gets from Alaska's North Slope.

Once again, environmentalists in Western Washington are saying “Shell No,” protesting the oil company’s plans to build a railway to their Anacortes refinery.

Many worry about the possibility of a derailment or explosion, like the one that killed 47 people in Canada two years ago.

“What our emergency response people have said is if there is a spill, they'll evacuate everyone within half a mile and let it burn,” says Dr. Frank James, who lives in Bellingham. “That doesn't seem like the appropriate level of risk to put the average person at.”

James is glad that the public is getting a chance to weigh in on Shell’s proposal. Four other refineries in Washington are already transporting oil by train. He says that’s because not enough people raised concerns when they started.

“People gotta show up. If they don't show up, people with power and money and connections are going to do whatever they like.”

Stephanie Buffum, with Friends of the San Juans, agrees. She says an oil spill wouldn’t just affect our environment, it would also impact our economy.

“I don't think enough people in Washington are paying attention to this at all,” she says. “We’re so accustomed to trains, we're so accustomed to large ships. We're all not paying enough attention.”

Like many protesters, she says we need to be talking about moving away from fossil fuels completely.

“I’m dressed in petroleum products, I got here with petroleum products. I'm not saying we need to find the solution yesterday. But I am saying we need to come up with better, innovative designs.”

James says stopping oil trains is the first step. He lives close to train tracks, so this issue is personal for him.

“The main reason I’m here is because I’m a father, and I think it's a real risk to my family.”

Skagit County and the State Department of Ecology will be hosting two more public meetings, to get input on the Shell project. There will be one on October 14 at Anacortes Middle School, and one on October 19 at the Lynnwood Convention Center. Both will be from 4-8 pm. More information can be found here.

County officials concluded in 2013 that there weren't significant impacts from the project. But groups appealed and a county hearing examiner in February ruled a full review was needed.

Shell appealed that examiner's decision but a Skagit County Superior Court judge dismissed Shell's lawsuit in May.