[News] Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry

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Fri Nov 24 10:51:11 EST 2017


  Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking

by Zoltan Grossman <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/frastu/> - 
November 24, 2017


For the second time in the past year, Washington activists blocked a 
train carrying oil fracking supplies from leaving the Port of Olympia on 
the Salish Sea. The blockade camp prevented a possible shipment 
of ceramic proppants from being shipped to the Bakken oil shale basin in 
North Dakota, and possibly other fracking operations. The proppants are 
used to prop open bedrock cracks during the process of fracking (or 
hydraulic fracturing) for Bakken oil.

The “Olympia Stand <https://www.facebook.com/groups/186889111769185/>” 
assembly and other port resistance activists demanded that the Port of 
Olympia cease all fossil fuel-related and military shipments. The 
activists’ press release <https://www.facebook.com/olyassembly/> 
demanded that “The Port of Olympia cease all fossil fuel and military 
infrastructure shipments,” and accept “Horizontal and democratic control 
of the Port of Olympia by the community” and accept “A “just transition” 
for port and rail workers to good, green jobs, and for the economy of 
Thurston County to a cooperative, sustainable and just economy.” It also 
demanded “Consultation on all port issues and projects that could impact 
the tribal treaty lands, traditional lands, and ceded lands of local 
Medicine Creek Treaty Tribes. Also, consultation with local urban Indian 
peoples who are often disproportionately negatively impacted by 
governmental and industry actions.”

*Previous blockades*

The blockade was set up on November 17, exactly one year after police 
broke up a similar blockade. The Port of Olympia has been the focus of 
previous blockades related to oil wars at home and abroad. Intense 
protests <http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/port.html> opposed 
military shipments of Stryker armored vehicles to Iraq from nearby Joint 
Base Lewis-McChord (then Fort Lewis) in 2006-07, resulting in multiple 
arrests and injuries. A decade ago this week, in November 2007, Olympia 
police cracked down on a women’s antiwar port action blocking trucks at 
the port gates.

Starting in 2012, the Texas-based Rainbow Ceramics company began to 
import proppants 
<http://www.theolympian.com/opinion/article25323229.html> from China to 
the Port of Olympia, where the 1.5-ton sacks of “fracking sands 
<https://olympiapfr.wordpress.com/>” were loaded onto trains to the 
Bakken oil shale basin of North Dakota. Local community organizers held 
a series of protests 
at the port gates, which picked up support 
<http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article109968372.html> in Fall 
2016 after Standing Rock water protectors challenged the Dakota Access 
Pipeline carrying the same Bakken oil.

On November 10, 2016, just after the Trump election, Olympia Stand 
activists mounted a week-long blockade 
<http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article114460818.html> of a train 
carrying fracking proppants from the Port of Olympia. They used banners 
such as “Water is Life” and “Oil = Death” to dramatize their solidarity 
with the Standing Rock and Quinault water protectors, and began to learn 
from an Indigenous Caucus about respectful protocol to follow when 
working with Native communities.

As hundreds of people joined the train blockade, negotiations were 
opened with the City of Olympia. But Port Executive Director Ed Galligan 
had been told that Rainbow Ceramics officials were concerned that if 
they did not get a shipment to two companies doing business in North 
Dakota and Wyoming, they “run the risk of losing their business 

In the early morning hours of November 17, 2016, a combined force of 
Washington State Patrol, Olympia Police Department, and Thurston County 
Sheriff’s Department raided the encampment 
<http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article115608473.html>, making 12 
arrests. The forceful eviction left serious bruises on some activists, 
even if Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts and City Manager Steve Hall 
later claimed there were no injuries. Chief Roberts later criticized the 
Port <http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article116606903.html> for 
causing the civil conflict by accepting the proppant shipments.

*The Recent Blockade*

Olympia’s Stand’s 2017 blockade took place one year after the police 
raid, one day after a Keystone oil pipeline spill in South Dakota, and 
the same week as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate 
Change exhibited a lack of meaningful progress in Bonn. The water 
protectors’ press release noted that in the year between the two 
blockades has been “the hottest year to ever be recorded on earth, saw 
the brutal, militarized repression of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and 
their resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as one of the 
most destructive storm seasons in living memory, with thousands of lives 
lost to climate change-amplified hurricanes, typhoons and floods, from 
Houston, to Bangladesh to Puerto Rico”

According to the press release, “Olympia Stand and other participants 
believe climate change can be stopped by engaging in non-violent direct 
action and civil disobedience against fossil fuel infrastructure, from 
train blockades and Port shutdowns to occupations of pipeline 
construction sites. Policymakers can continue to take no action on this 
issue, and doom future generations to an uninhabitable planet, or they 
can follow the lead of people around the world fighting for a Just 
Transition away from fossil fuels and extractive economies. Meanwhile, 
we will continue to fight, whether they like it or not.”

The blockade also took place a day after incumbent Port commissioner 
Bill McGregor, who has supported the fracking proppant shipments, 
narrowly won re-election to the three-member Port Commission, as 
incumbent commissioner and fracking opponent E.J. Zita handily won 
re-election. Since the Progressive era, Washington port commissioners 
have been elected to office, and recent port elections have become a key 
forum for climate justice activism in the state, as the oppose the 
complicity of their ports in fossil fuel extraction.

At a Port meeting <http://portofolympia.tctv.net/> on March 24, 2014, 
McGregor said that he was “still not convinced” that climate change may 
result in serious sea-level rise. He claimed to have read that “all 
we’ve done to try to eliminate CO2 emissions, and that type of stuff, 
are taken care of in four days when a volcano erupts.” When an audience 
member challenged him to provide a citation on a claim that is “not 
true,” McGregor replied “I only tell you what I read, and I’m not going 
to get in a discussion.”

The fact is that sea-level rise will affect our ports in this century. 
As early as 2008, a report 
from the EPA and American Association of Port Authorities asserted that 
“Common sense suggests that ports are at particular risk from climate 
change due to their geographical locations.” If McGregor claims that 
climate change is caused by volcanoes, rather than burning fossil fuels, 
it perhaps explains why he has no problem shipping supplies for oil 
fracking, and risking sea-level rise that could one day inundate the 
port itself.

*The Achilles Heel of the Fossil Fuel Industry*

The Port of Olympia train blockade is only one part of larger and 
powerful regional climate justice movement, using the strategic location 
of the Pacific Northwest as a “chokepoint 
for the fossil fuel industry. The three most active fossil fuel basins 
are in the interior of the continent—in the Alberta tar sands, Bakken 
oil shale basin, and Powder River coal basin. The fossil fuel industry 
needs new Pacific Northwest port terminals both to export its oil, coal, 
and natural gas, and to import extraction equipment and supplies.

Shipping has become the vulnerable Achilles heel 
<http://olywip.org/the-achilles-heel-of-the-fossil-fuels-monster/> of 
the fossil fuel industry in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle-based 
Sightline Institute terms the region a “Thin Green Line” 
<http://www.sightline.org/research/thin-green-line/>of climate-conscious 
citizens who stand between the fossil fuel companies and the global 
market. In the past decade, the industry has proposed 14 new oil or coal 
terminals in Washington and Oregon, and all have been defeated or are 
near defeat by water protector alliances.

Using their treaty rights (upheld by the 1974 Boldt court decision), 
Northwest tribal nations have protected their fishery from oil and coal 
spills, and led the way for the grassroots alliances. Since last year, 
the Lummi Nation 
and its allies defeated the Cherry Point proposed coal terminal (leading 
to the cancellation of a coal mine at the other end of the coal train 
route in Montana), and the Quinault Nation 
<http://www.quinaultindiannation.com/crudeoil.htm> and allies defeated 
three oil terminals that would have brought in in explosive Bakken oil 
trains to the Washington coast.

In Washington state, just in the past week, a proposed coal terminal in 
Longview and proposed Bakken oil terminal in Vancouver appear to be on 
their last legs. The Puyallup Tribe 
is currently leading the opposition to a proposed Liquified Natural Gas 
(LNG) terminal in Tacoma. These tribally led alliances not only have 
included environmentalists, but some of the white fishing communities 
and local governments 
that once opposed treaty rights and environmental regulations.

Over the weekend, the blockade encampment has become a scene of 
meetings, assemblies, cooking, singing, and drumming. Even if the 
Olympia train blockaders are again removed by police in coming hours or 
days, they are part of a larger regional movement taking responsibility 
to act in the face of the climate crisis 
<https://sites.evergreen.edu/indigenousclimate>, and using their strong 
geographical position to literally stand in the way of the fossil fuel 

/For updates, see Olympia Stand’s facebook page 
<https://www.facebook.com/groups/186889111769185/> or contact 
olyportresistance at gmail.com <mailto:olyportresistance at gmail.com>/

Zoltán Grossman <http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz> is a 
Professor of Geography and Native Studies at The Evergreen State College 
in Olympia, Washington. He is author of /Unlikely Alliances: Native 
Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands/ 
<https://sites.evergreen.edu/unlikelyalliances> (University of 
Washington Press, 2017), and co-editor of /Asserting Native Resilience: 
Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis/ 
(Oregon State University Press, 2012).

/*Zoltan Grossman* is a professor of Geography and Native Studies at The 
Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, who has been a warm body 
in peace, justice, and environmental movements for the past 35 years. 
His website is http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz and email is 
grossmaz at evergreen.edu <mailto:grossmaz at evergreen.edu>/

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