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Seattle Activists Mount Tripod: Stop Exploding Oil Trains

By Rising Tide Cascadia - Rising Tide North America, September 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

UPDATE 3:32pm PDT: Abby has been extracted after an epic 8 hour blockade. Donate to get all five awesome climate defenders out of jail!

Five residents of Seattle and Everett, WA, working with Rising Tide Seattle, have stopped work at a Burlington Northern Santa-Fe Rail Yard in Everett by erecting a tripod-structure on the outbound railroad tracks, directly in front of a mile-long oil train. Follow Rising Tide Seattle for live updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Seattle resident Abby Brockway – a small business owner, and mother – is suspended from the structure 18 feet above the tracks while four other residents are locked to the legs the tripod. The group is demanding an immediate halt to all shipments of fossil fuels through the Northwest and calling on Governor Inslee to reject permits for all new fossil fuel projects in Washington, including proposed coal and oil terminals.

Donate to support Abby and the other involved in the action!

“People in the Pacific Northwest are forming a thin green line that will keep oil, coal and gas in the ground,” said 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.”

Today’s protest has shut down work at BNSF’s Delta Rail Yard in Everett. With the increase of fossil fuel transport in recent years the yard has become a crucial staging ground for coal trains headed to Canadian export terminals and oil trains bound for Washington refineries. An oil-train carrying explosive bakken crude oil sat stalled while the protest continued.

“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 an Everett resident and retired educator locked to one of the tripod’s poles.

In a controversial move, Burlington Northern Santa-Fe recently announced a tentative deal with Union leaders to reduce train crews from an engineer and conductor to a single engineer. The oil train that de-railed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was crewed by a single engineer. BNSF claims that oil-trains will continue to have two person crews, but critics point out that nothing in the proposed contract binds the company to that statement. Under the proposed deal Coal Trains would be operated by a single crew-member.

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

The surge in oil-train traffic is already impacting other commodities like passenger rail and agricultural shipments. Farmers from the Midwest to Washington State have faced what they call “unprecedented” delays in moving Wheat and other products to West Coast ports. Amtrak service through fossil-fuel train corridors has also suffered significant disruption and officials have expressed concern that the problem will only get worse as more terminals come online.

“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.”

Development of extreme energy projects like the Alberta Tar Sands, Bakken Shale Oil and coal from the Powder River Basin, has fueled an explosion in proposed fossil fuel infrastructure in the Northwest. More than twenty new or expanded coal, oil and gas terminals are proposed between British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. In both states and British Columbia these proposals have been met with fierce local resistance. Local communities have challenged both the safety of transporting coal, oil and volatile gas through their communities and the role of fossil fuel export in fueling catastrophic climate disruption. Proposed coal terminals in Longview and Bellingham or oil terminals in Vancouver and Gray’s Harbor, would lead to more carbon emissions than produced in the state of Washington each year.

“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 proposed coal and oil terminals have been controversial for years, climate activists in the Northwest have significantly intensified their tactics this summer. In Montana, residents sat on the tracks to block a coal train last April, and again on August 16th. 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 28th 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.”

Despite controversy the number of fossil fuel trains on Washington’s rails continues to rise. While larger coal and oil terminals are undergoing lengthy environmental reviews, projects at Washington’s refineries have brought approximately two oil-trains per day to communities like Seattle and Everett. While the Department of Ecology conducts a study on the safety of oil-by-rail construction continues on a new terminal at the Phillips 66 refinery in Ferndale, and local officials are attempting to fast-track an oil-train terminal at Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery, without environmental review. Each of these projects could add up to six oil-trains per week to the rails. Expansions at the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export facility in Vancouver, Canada would increase the number of coal trains moving through Washington. Activists are demanding an immediate moratorium on all new fossil fuel terminals.

“Politicians play a blame game and talk about safety, but new terminals keep getting rubber stamped and built,” said LaPoint, “If elected officials won’t stop the fossil fuel takeover, we’ll have to do it for them.”

Statements from those in the blockade whom have been arrested for trespass, are as follows:

  • Abby Brockway  (suspended at top of tripod) – small business owner and mother:
  • “People in the Pacific Northwest are forming a thin green line that will keep oil, coal and gas in the ground,” said 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.”

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

Brockway is speaking of a tentative deal BNSF has worked with the union to reduce staff from an engineer and a conductor to a single engineer for both oil and coal trains. Note the oil train that exploded last year in Lac Megantic, Quebec leveling blocks of the downtown area was operated by a single engineer.

  • Jackie Minchew (locked to a tripod pole) - retired educator

“Exploding oil-trains running through my town are just a reminder of how out of control the fossil fuel industry really is.”

  • Patrick Mazza (locked to a tripod pole) – long time climate activist with daughter turning 18 the next day

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.”

“My last act as a father before my daughter reaches full adulthood tomorrow is to put my body on the line today,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.”

  • Liz Spoerri (locked to a tripod pole) – a Seattle middle school teacher

“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.”

  • Mike LaPoint (locked to a tripod pole) – small business owner in Everett

“People in the Northwest are not going to allow this region to become a fossil fuel superhighway. 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.”

This isn’t the first time for Rising Tide Seattle. On July 28 they blocked the railroad tracks of the nearby Tesoro refinery in Anacortes where the oil train was destined.

This is the second blockade committed following a July 24, 2014 derailment of two tank cars and one box car on an oil train through the BNSF rail yard, under the Magnolia Bridge. They were extremely lucky in that incident as neither tank car was leaking their load of crude oil.

The train was traveling about 5 mph when the derailment occurred. If the train have been traveling even a few mph faster more cars would have bucked the tracks in chain reaction to the derailment and likely cause an explosion similar to Lac-Magentic.

BNSF moves anywhere from 8-13 train through Seattle every week containing a million or more gallons of crude oil. “Even though they travel through our city, we as a city, do not have control over how the railways are used, and we must rely on the safety standards that are set at the federal level,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement Thursday. “This is an important public safety issue facing Seattle and I will continue to advocate for less oil and coal coming through our city.” A day earlier, Seattle city council members announced they sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation asking that crude oil shipments through Seattle neighborhoods be stopped. City Councilman Mike O’Brien and all eight of his council colleagues signed a letter calling for the U.S. secretary of transportation to issue an emergency order prohibiting the shipment of Bakken crude oil in legacy DOT-111 tank train cars. — Q13 Fox News

That same date, July 24, EcoWatch published an article titled “Crude Awakening From Fossil Fuel Transport“, bringing awareness up on so called “Bomb Trains” which have long strings of DOT-111 classified cars clumped together.