Groups appeal county on proposed rail terminal at Shell refinery

A line of oil tank cars heads to the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes. A group of environmentalists has appealed Skagit County's decision to issue a determination of nonsignificance for Shell Puget Sound Refinery's application to build a rail offloading facility at its refinery near Tesoro's facility on March Point in Anacortes.

MOUNT VERNON — Several groups banded together to file an appeal with Skagit County Thursday over the proposal to build an oil-by-rail terminal at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes.

The appeal is aimed at the second determination of nonsignificance the county issued last month for Shell’s application for a shoreline variance permit. The county first issued a similar determination in April, but reviewed the proposal after it was overwhelmed by public comments on the issue.

“Before we allow more oil trains, we better make sure they pose no threat to our communities,” Tom Glade of Evergreen Islands, an Anacortes-based group that signed on with the appeal, said in a press release. “Shell’s plans must undergo a thorough and public analysis to ensure our safety.”

Six groups — RE Sources for Sustainable Connections, FRIENDS of the San Juans, ForestEthics, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth and Evergreen Islands — joined with Earthjustice to file the appeal. Earthjustice is an environmental law group headquartered in San Francisco.

The proposed terminal would be able to receive an average of one 102-car unit train daily (with a maximum of six per week), resulting in roughly 1,200 weekly tank cars entering and leaving the terminal.

A hearing on the shoreline variance permit application is yet to be scheduled, said Dale Pernula, director of Skagit County Planning and Development Services. He said the appeal would likely be considered at the same time, but exactly what that process would look like is still unclear.

“I think we need to go through it with our attorneys and determine which points we need to address and how,” Pernula said. “It’s just too early to talk beyond that now.”

The groups appealing the county’s decision said that oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota — an area that has increased oil production 10-fold since 2005, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration — is more volatile than other oils.

Tests by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board found that Bakken crude is more dangerous than other crudes, but a study by the North Dakota Petroleum Council had conflicting results.

Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery completed a crude-by-rail terminal in 2o12 that allows it to receive up to 50,000 barrels per day, and both the Phillips 66 and BP refineries in Ferndale have terminals to receive crude-by-rail shipments.

Reporter Daniel DeMay: 360-416-2148, ddemay@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Daniel_SVH, Facebook.com/byDanielDeMay

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