MOUNT VERNON, Wash. - A proposal from Royal Dutch Shell to run more oil trains through Skagit County provoked strong opposition at a public hearing Tuesday night.
A group of more than 160 people crowded into the hearing, hosted by the state Department of Ecology in Mount Vernon.
"These are the kind of oil trains that explode," said Barry Wenger, a former environmental engineer with the Department of Ecology.
Wenger was among dozens who spoke against the proposal, urging the state to conduct a thorough environmental impact study of adding more oil trains to local rail lines.
"The stress on the infrastructure, on our bridges, on River Road switching areas is tremendous," Wenger said.
"In fact, these oil trains can derail while traveling only 5 miles an hour."
In February 2014, an oil train loaded with North Dakota Bakken crude derailed while traveling less than 10 mph. No oil was spilled in that derailment.
Every day, four 120-car oil trains are permitted to deliver crude oil through Seattle and Mount Vernon to refineries in Anacortes.
Protesters are particularly concerned with the type of oil being shipped. Bakken crude oil has known to be especially volatile, based on several explosions and fires from 10 derailments since 2013.
Royal Dutch Shell's proposal would add 600 tank cars carrying more than 3 million gallons of oil daily to connect with a proposed new rail spur at the refinery.
Tuesday night's public hearing, which is the first of three being held by state officials, was an opportunity for citizens to tell the EIS team what they want them to study.
A study could take nearly one year and would be paid for by Royal Dutch Shell.
People who live along the rail corridor told officials about their concerns of a potential derailment and the risk of fires, explosions, and environmental damage.
"We cannot risk the health of our rivers, streams, estuaries or oceans, which are the very lifeblood of our communities," said Skagit County farmer Nan Monk.
"The real risk here is the potential failure of our rails on aging bridges," Monk said.
Supporters of the proposal say it would add jobs to build the rail lines and refine the added oil.
No one spoke on behalf of the oil companies Tuesday night.
The Mount Vernon meeting is the first of three public forums on the topic. The next two will be in Anacortes and Lynnwood.