Sometimes I feel like our collective battles against Big Oil and Big Coal are like Frodo and Sam’s seemingly endless challenges on their way to Mount Doom.
Earlier this week, we won another of those battles. I am grateful to everyone who was directly involved, and to all of you who have spoken up time and again, against Big Oil and Coal. In Mount Vernon, Washington, a Skagit County Hearing Examiner this week 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 environmental and public health risks review can be completed.
The examiner found that Shell’s proposed project, which would bring hundreds more tank cars of crude oil through Washington every week, poses 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."
These trains would pass right though some of our Skagit County towns, over the Skagit river and the Swinomish Channel as well as close by the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Shell’s scary project is only the latest scheme to increase transportation of Bakken crude oil through Washington State, none of which have received any meaningful environmental review. The Skagit decision highlights the failure of the state to grapple with the cumulative impacts of all of these projects.
You are the reason these crude-by-rail and coal export proposals have been brought to light in Washington and Oregon, when you challenged, protested, called, wrote letters, attended rallies and talked to your neighbors about them. Because of your advocacy, public officials are not just rubber-stamping these projects behind the scenes, but instead examining them in the light of day—and in this case, halting a bad proposal.
We know where we are in this fight—we can see Mordor from here. The developers of the Alberta tar sands, the Bakken oil fields and the Powder River Basin are focused on the Northwest as the cheapest route to reach markets for their crude oil and coal. In the last few years, fossil fuels industries have proposed two large oil pipelines, five new natural gas pipelines, seven coal export terminals, and nearly a dozen oil-by-rail facilities in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. And now, the Port of Seattle has agreed to be home to Artic drilling machinery. If all is permitted, some communities in Washington would see up to 60 trains carrying crude oil and coal, and an unprecedented 4,000 tankers on our waters. But we will persevere!
In addition to all of you and your tremendous work in standing up for truth and light, we are also very grateful for our peers that filed the Shell appeal: RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, ForestEthics, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, and Evergreen Islands, represented by Kristen Boyles and Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice.
We can, we must, and we will stop Big Oil and Big Coal from making the northwest a fossil fuel highway!