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Shell Calls Off Oil Train Plans For Puget Sound Refinery In Anacortes

AP Photo
Elaine Thompson
In this 2014 file photo, a northbound oil train sits idled on tracks, stopped by protesters in Everett. A hearing examiner in Skagit County said an oil-by-rail project at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery near Anacortes should get full environmental review.

The Shell Oil Company has pulled the plug on its plan to add an oil train facility to its Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes. The company says global economic conditions no longer support the cost for the new equipment to unload and process Bakken crude from the Midwest. They had argued they needed oil trains to remain competitive with other refineries in the area that all take in oil by rail. 

Shell’s plan would have added up to 6 new mile-long tanker trains per week to local tracks. Those so-called “unit trains” could have brought as many as 102 tanker cars each to Anacortes per week.

Environmentalists are celebrating the decision as a big win.

Kristin Boyles is an attorney with Earthjustice which brought suit to force the company to complete an environmental impact statement before building the facility.

“I think that when you have a public process and you get the public involved and knowing what’s happening and having a voice in these decisions which will impact their lives, that then it lets all the players take second looks at those things and understand truly what’s involved. And you get these kind of decisions,” Boyles said.

She was skeptical of the idea that the decision was made purely because of economics.

“I cannot believe that the growing community opposition and the delays caused by that opposition and the need to look at all the harms and risks involved didn’t also play into that decision, which can be an economic decision because all those things do pencil out in the bottom line,” she said.

Community groups have been testifying and protesting against Shell’s plans to add the oil trains for nearly two years now. Their protests culminated in the arrest of more than 50 people in May who blocked rail tracks as part of a weekend of direct action and teach-ins.

The company said in a press release that it remains “confident that the project could be built and operated in a way that protects our employees, our community and the environment.” It says it will remain viable with crude coming in by barge and pipeline and is among the largest employers in Skagit County, with more than 700 employees and contractors.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to