Oil Trains Blocked in Pacific Northwest

Five people, one of them sitting 18-feet high on a tripod, have blocked coal and oil traffic at the BNSF Rail Yard in Everett for about six hours this morning and afternoon. The group is demanding an immediate halt to all fossil fuel shipments through the Northwest, and a halt on new fossil fuel export projects in Washington. Around 12:30 pm, Everett Police began using power saws to remove people locked to the tripod’s legs. Around 1:20 pm the police officers, stumped by the tripod’s design, packed their tools and took a break.

“People in the Pacific Northwest are forming a thin green line that will keep oil, coal and gas in the ground,” said Abby Brockway. “Just one of these proposed terminals would process enough carbon to push us past the global warming tipping point – we won’t let that happen.” Abby, the platform’s occupier, is a Seattle small business owner and mother.

The tripod was erected in front of a mile-long oil train. With the expansion of oil product shipments from the Bakken Oilfield and Alberta Tar Sands to U.S. refineries and terminals, plus strip-mined Powder River Basin coal shipments to China, the Everett yard has become a staging ground fossil fuel trains. Everett residents aren’t pleased.

“Exploding oil trains running through my town are just a reminder of how out-of-control the fossil fuel industry really is,” said Jackie Minchew, a retired teacher from Everett. Last year, an oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, murdering 47 people. Minchew was sitting on a camping chair and locked to one of the tripod’s legs.

Locals seeing the blockade have walked up and expressed their thanks. “There is a lot of glowing solidarity from the community,” said Delaney Piper, a Rising Tide organizer.

“CUT OIL TRAINS NOT CONDUCTORS #greens4rails” declared the tripod’s banner, a comment on BNSF’s recent controversial move to reduce train crews from two workers to only one worker per train.

“BNSF is endangering workers, communities and our environment. They should keep the conductors and lose the oil trains,” said Brockway.

The action was also in solidarity with Vancouver, Washington, longshoreworkers who have unanimously opposed a Tesoro oil terminal at their port on the Columbia River. Cager Clabaugh, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4 President, previously stated: “Longshoremen would be the guys tying up and letting the ships go, but our local said, ‘no, the risk isn’t worth the reward.’ We don’t believe in jobs at any cost.”

The oil train surge is even creating a crisis for farm and passenger rail traffic. Midwest farmers are facing hundreds of millions of dollars of losses as a record crop of wheat and soybeans can’t get to market. “If we can’t get this stuff out soon, a lot of it is simply going to go on the ground and rot,” farmer Bill Hejl of Casselton, North Dakota, recently told the New York Times. Eastern Washington grain farmers have had their crops displaced as well.

Washington fruit growers lost part of the domestic fresh produce market this year. Kirk Mayer, a Washington distribution manager, told Crosscut that BNSF’s increased delivery time makes it “next to impossible for a perishable crop, such as tree fruit, to use rail service.” Distributors made up part of the loss by hiring long-haul trucks.

The oil traffic is also delaying Amtrak and commuter train service across the country. Everett residents and Seattle Rising Tide rally against fossil fuel trains.

“Railroads can be part of the solution, transporting crops and people, or part of the problem, with coal and oil. We should make that decision, not the fossil fuel companies,” said Patrick Mazza, a longtime climate activist also locked to the tracks. Mazza says he is taking this action for his daughter, who will turn 18 tomorrow.

“My last act as a father before my daughter reaches full adulthood tomorrow is to put my body on the line today,” said Mazza. “It is up to us of the parental generation to do our absolute best to leave the least climate-disrupted world we can, to put our bodies on the line to give our kids a fighting chance to deal with what we have left them.”

More than twenty new or expanded coal, oil, and gas export terminals are proposed in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Expansions at the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export facility in Vancouver, Canada, would increase the number of coal trains moving through Washington. On both sides of the border these proposals have been met with fierce resistance. Local communities have challenged both the safety of transporting coal, oil, and volatile gas through their communities, and the role of fossil fuel exports in driving catastrophic global warming. Proposed coal terminals in Longview and Bellingham, and oil terminals in Vancouver and Grays Harbor, would lead to more carbon emissions than produced in all of Washington State.

“We could pass every climate initiative proposed by Governor Inslee, but if we let these terminals be built our future is on the chopping block,” said Liz Spoerri, a Seattle middle school teacher also locked on the tracks.

While coal and oil terminals have been controversial for years, Northwest climate activists have especially busy this summer. In Montana, residents sat on the tracks to block a coal train last April, and again on August 16. In early July, a woman locked herself to a 55-gallon barrel filled with concrete, blocking oil trains at a Portland facility. In a similar action on July 28, three people blocked oil trains at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes by locking themselves to concrete filled barrels. Most recently, three Seattle residents, including state legislative candidate Jess Spear, were arrested blocking oil and coal trains near the Seattle Waterfront.

“People in the Northwest are not going to allow this region to become a fossil fuel superhighway,” said Mike LaPoint, an Everett small business owner locked on the tracks. “This is just a sample of the resistance that will happen if any large fossil fuel project is permitted. Politicians play a blame game and talk about safety, but new terminals keep getting rubber stamped and built. If elected officials won’t stop the fossil fuel takeover, we’ll have to do it for them.”

Update, 3 pm: It appears Abby was extracted in the last hour, after about eight hours on the tripod. Folks are asking for bail money donations here.