Shell's oil-by-rail project at their March Point refinery will need a full environmental impact statement, according an order by a Skagit County Hearing Examiner.
The Hearing Examiner Monday halted Shell Oil Refinery’s planned crude-by-rail expansion until it undertakes a full, transparent environmental review. The decision blocks the project until such a comprehensive review can be completed.
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 decision finds that:
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.
“With last weekend’s oil train explosions in Ontario and West Virginia fresh in our minds, this is a common sense victory for communities along the rail line,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the conservation groups. “Before allowing more oil trains, Skagit County must make sure they pose no threat to our communities, our waters, and our way of life.”
In a prepared statement, Shell Refinery General Manager Tom Rizzo said, "This project is critical for the refinery, and we strongly believe that the County’s environmental analysis was thorough and based on sound science and evidence."
"For over two years, we have been going through an exhaustive planning and regulatory process in an effort to procure each of the various permits required for this facility. We respect the Hearing Examiner’s decision and are determined to stay the course in this process," Rizzo added.
“The Hearing Examiner correctly found that the enormity of the environmental impacts associated with Shell’s Bakken oil trains warrants a full environmental and safety review,” said Tom Glade, president of local watchdog group Evergreen Islands, one of the appellants. “We applaud the Hearing Examiner for listening to the evidence and to the community.”
The Hearing Examiner also highlighted the importance of the unique ecosystem near the refinery on Padilla Bay—which support an “astonishing diversity” of aquatic life--and the County’s 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.