Activists, unionists protest oil-by-rail

A group of activists blockaded train tracks at a Seattle oil facility on July 28, to protest continuous derailments and crashes of trains carrying oil. The most recent such incident occurred in that very city on July 24, when several cars full of crude oil tipped over, though for once, nothing spilled. Three of the protesters who refused to leave were arrested, but their demand – that there be an immediate end to oil shipment via train through Northwest communities – did not go unnoticed.

The protest was very much about the risks posed to workers and people in general. For example, the Lac-Megantic oil train tragedy that killed 47 people was still fresh in the minds of many. In fact, the one-year anniversary of that incident was observed a few days prior, on July 18, by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). In Washington’s Port of Vancouver, union members used a crane to raise a banner that bore the slogan “Unfair Grain, Unsafe Oil, Community Under Attack.” Members of ILWU Local 4 have been locked out of the port at which their union has worked since 1937, due to a labor dispute. Meanwhile, the port is working with oil company Tesoro to build a dangerous new oil-by-rail loading terminal. “Longshoremen would be the guys” loading that oil, said Clager Clabaugh, president of Local 4, who disapproved. “We don’t believe in jobs at any cost.”

Those union workers were likely reminded of the cost in the July 24 incident in Seattle, six days after their protest, when two full tanker cars and one box car tipped over on their sides – likely avoiding breaking open and spewing oil only because the train was traveling at a slow speed of 5 miles per hour. “Thursday’s derailment was the last straw,” said resident Jan Woodruff, one of the July 28 protesters, as reported by Eco-Watch. “If federal and state regulators won’t stand up to the fossil fuel companies endangering our communities, then we, the people of these communities, will do so,” Woodruff said.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray voiced his concerns over Big Oil in a statement, remarking, “Even though [the trains] travel through our city, we do not have control over how the railways are used, and we must rely on the safety standards set at the federal level.” He continued, “This is an important safety issue facing Seattle and I will continue to advocate for less oil and coal coming through our city.”

City Council member Mike O’Brien said in a press release, “Dozens of people have died in crude-by-rail accidents when tank cars have been punctured and spilled flammable crude. The catastrophic explosions can be triggered by a single spark and yet these trains travel on tracks underneath downtown [Seattle]. … We cannot afford to sit idly by with public safety at risk.”

Adam Gaya, one of the blockading protesters, told Eco-Watch, “It’s no surprise that an industry willing to sacrifice the entire planet to climate change doesn’t see a few vaporized towns and cities as significant.” He also voiced his displeasure with Tesoro’s upcoming new terminal in the Port of Vancouver, noting, “With recent disasters and the accelerating climate crisis, we shouldn’t even be considering new oil infrastructure.”

Eco-Watch quoted Annette Klapstein, a retired lawyer and another of the protesters, saying Tesoro should not be able to get away with such a venture. “If any other group of people exposed us to these risks, they’d be locked up,” she said. Referring to the blockade, she added, “This kind of resistance may seem extreme, but these are extreme times. And the resistance to this craziness won’t end with us.”

Photo: Activists protest Big Oil by blockading train tracks in Seattle.



Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have also appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the 2010 BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Illinois and frequently visits Europe. He likes cats, wine, books, and nature. In his spare time, he operates a music reaction channel on YouTube, creates artwork, and is writing a fantasy novel.