ThinkProgress

The Fight Over Oil Trains In The Pacific Northwest Is Heating Up

CREDIT: BRENT FOSTER VIA AP, FILE

Twenty-one activists were arrested on Saturday while protesting the practice of shipping crude oil by rail in Vancouver, Washington. The group was booked and charged with criminal trespass in the second degree by BNSF police, after spending more than three hours blocking rail cars near the BNSF Railway and Amtrak Station. Around 100 other protesters also participated in the event Saturday, but did not block the train tracks and were not arrested.

The protest, organized by the Fossil Fuel Resistance Network, comes just weeks after a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed outside of the small town of Mosier, Oregon, some 70 miles east of Vancouver. In the wake of the spill, local Oregon officials — from the mayor of Portland to the Multnomah County Chair — have called for a permanent moratorium on oil trains throughout the state.

Following the release preliminary findings related to the Mosier derailment, the Oregon Department of Transporation has also asked the federal government to place an indefinite moratorium on oil trains, until rail companies are better able to detect potential failures in the system. Investigators believe that the Mosier derailment — which sparked a fire and sent 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into the Columbia River — was caused by a number of broken screws along the tracks, which Union Pacific failed to detect despite performing an inspection just weeks before the incident.

Before Saturday’s arrests took place, Jim Appleton, Mosier’s fire chief, addressed the crowd of protesters, reiterating his opposition to the practice of shipping crude oil by rail, which he has called “insane.”

“Our community would like to see the Mosier derailment, and the process of putting our community back together, as both the straw that broke the camel’s back and a model for our transition to renewable global energy,” Appleton said. “Mosier proves that those trains are too dangerous. Let’s make our policies reflect that new realization and ban those trains.”

BNSF spokesperson Gus Melons told Fox 12 Oregon that the protest delayed five trains bound for the Port of Vancouver, each carrying grain products. The Port of Vancouver has recently become a major place of contention for fossil fuel companies and environmentalists, as the Port considers whether to approve or deny the Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project which, if completed, would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the United States. Opponents argue that completing the project would mean a five-fold increase in the kind of oil train traffic involved in the Mosier derailment.

“The trains that are going through now are a tiny microcosm of what is proposed,” Dan Serres, conservation director of Columbia RiverKeeper, told ThinkProgress just days after the derailment. “If the oil terminal proposals went through, you would have many times the number of trains that go through. At this rate of derailment, we can expect to see these things happening at a fairly regular interval.”

‘They Did Everything They Could Have Done’: The Tragedy Of The Oregon Oil DerailmentOn Friday, June 3, a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed on a tiny strip of land running between the…thinkprogress.orgThough calls for an oil train moratorium have come from the Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon officials, the final decision on the Tesoro Savage project will be handed down by Washington officials, including Governor Jay Inslee, and the Port of Vancouver. Thus far, neither Inslee nor the Port of Vancouver have publicly supported a moratorium on oil trains.

Beyond endangering local communities by encouraging the shipment of volatile crude oil by train, huge fossil fuel infrastructure projects like the Vancouver terminal — or the proposed coal export terminal in Longview, Washington — threaten to exacerbate climate change by locking the United States into more long-term fossil fuel extraction. Climate scientists estimate that in order for the world to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, a majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to remain untapped.