Category Archives: Oil trains

Portland Police Arrest Protesters Blocking Oil Train Tracks With a Garden

The arrests came on Earth Day

By Allison Place, Willamette Week, April 22 at 5:19 PM
Portland police arrest an environmental protester at Zenith Energy on 4/22/19. (Allison Place)

Portland Police officers arrested 11 protesters this afternoon who were sitting on railroad tracks to protest Zenith Energy’s rapidly expanding import of Alberta tar sands oil.

Two dozen officers arrived around 3:30 pm today—Earth Day—to remove protesters from the train tracks at Zenith’s facility in Industrial Northwest Portland.

Before that, protestors spent much of the day sitting on the railroad tracks, chatting and munching on Ritz crackers. Yesterday, they had dumped a load of topsoil and planted a garden over the tracks.

“This is our second day. We came here to launch Extinction Rebellion, which is part of an international movement,” said protestor Ken Ward, who became famous in 2016 for turning off a valve to shut off the crude-oil pipeline that runs from the Alberta tar sands to Washington State for refining.

“[Zenith] is a poster child for government being unable to take effective steps on climate,” Ward added. “We have a company trying to triple the [amount] of Canadian tar sands oil sent through Portland when Portland doesn’t want to be expanding it’s fossil fuel infrastructure—and yet nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.”

City Council voted in 2015 to block further expansion of fossil fuels in Portland. Zenith’s oil shipments have grown rapidly since then, calling into question what the city will do about the energy plant.

Ward has been arrested 3 times previously for his activism, and he was among those arrested today.

Leah Francis, an organizer with Extinction Rebellion PDX, said she’d only slept two hours over the last two days while protesting Zenith.

“We need to move on to tactics that actually demand something of power,” said Francis. “If you’re an environmentalist in Mexico, you can end up with your head cut off in a ditch. Getting arrested in Multnomah County where we’ll be released without bail with a minor misdemeanor charge seems like a non-issue to me.”

Protestors sang “Let it Be” by John Lennon while awaiting arrest.

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    Portland activists block rail line at Zenith oil terminal

    Extinction Rebellion plants ‘Victory over fossil fuels Garden’ at crude oil exporter on Sunday.

    Repost from the Portland Tribune, by Zane Sparling, April 21, 2019

    PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Activists planted a 'Victory over fossil fuels Garden' along a BNSF rail line leading to the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Northwest Portland on Sunday, April 21.
    PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING – Activists planted a ‘Victory over fossil fuels Garden’ along a BNSF rail line leading to the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Northwest Portland on Sunday, April 21.

    Operations at Oregon’s only crude oil export terminal went off the rails on Earth Day weekend — after activists blocked all train traffic leading to the Northwest Portland facility.

    Extinction Rebellion protesters dumped topsoil and planted a “Victory over fossil fuels Garden” on and adjacent to the train tracks as early as 6 a.m. on Sunday, April 21. By mid-day, a tiny house, large globe and a crowd of at least 100 had sprouted outside the Zenith Energy terminal, 5501 N.W. Front Ave.

    A BNSF oil train was turned back from the rail spur around 9 a.m. Activists say they plan to occupy the site indefinitely.

    PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING – Prominent activists and East Multnomah County resident Ken Ward speaks to a crowd during an occupation of a Zenith Energy terminal rail line on Sunday, April 21 in Portland.

    “We are here to demand from our political leadership, at the city and county level, that they take effective action to end Zenith terminals,” said Corbett resident Ken Ward, whose well-known exploits include a 2016 arrest for activating the Trans Mountain pipeline emergency shutoff valve.

    “What we have to do to preserve liveable conditions on the planet, and what seems to be politically feasible now — there’s a gap there, and we have to close it,” Ward continued.

    Long used as an asphalt and oil storage center, operations ballooned after Zenith purchased the terminal from Arc Logistics in December, 2017. Permits approved in 2014 allow Zenith to unload as many as 44 train cars at a time — though the swarm of tanker cars activists say they usually see were less visible on Easter Sunday.

    Demonstration organizer Mia Reback led the crowd on a sidewalk tour of the area, highlighting the construction of new unloading platforms, an additional rail spur and a cinder block fence topped with barbed wire.

    She said the 18 full-time workers on site use Naphtha diluent to flow the thick tar sands off the rail cars and into massive storage tanks. From there, the crude oil is pumped across the street to a Chevron dock and onto sea-going vessels destined for U.S. and foreign refineries.

    PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A demonstrator peaks over the newly-constructed cinder block fence surrounding unloading platforms at a Zenith Energy terminal on Front Street in Northwest Portland.
    PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING – A demonstrator peaks over the newly-constructed cinder block fence surrounding unloading platforms at a Zenith Energy terminal on Front Street in Northwest Portland.

    “Zenith is doubling down on the fossil fuel industry at a time when we know we have to get off fossil fuels to stop catastrophic climate change.” Reback said.

    The 11 terminal companies located on Front Avenue store natural gas, asphalt and about 90 percent of the fuel sold at gas stations in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Zenith, however, has unique status as an exporter, and activists say the fire suppression equipment installed by the company isn’t adequate.

    “All of these tanks along here are built on fill,” said David Scharf, a Scappoose resident. “If we get the big earthquake… the assumption is pretty much all of these tanks could burst.”

    “It’s just an accident waiting to happen,” added Jane Heldmann of Portland.

    In March, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told the Tribune that he does not support the infrastructure expansion due to its location in an earthquake liquefaction zone. In a lettersent on Sunday, the occupiers called on the full City Council to rezone the land as open space.

    Representatives with the Portland Police Bureau and Zenith Energy did not immediately return requests for comment.

    PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Zenith Energy's facility in Northwest Portland on Front Avenue is shown here.
    PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING – Zenith Energy’s facility in Northwest Portland on Front Avenue is shown here.
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      The federal government’s repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America

      Repost from DeSmog

      Federal Government Foot-Dragging Helps Oil Industry Delay Oil-by-Rail Rules

      By Justin Mikulka, April 5, 2019 – 13:18

      In an attempt to reduce the risk of fiery oil train accidents, the state of Washington is working to pass a bill that would limit the vapor pressure of oil on trains to below 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a measure of the volatility of flammable liquids and correlates to their likelihood of igniting. Higher vapor pressure means an oil is more volatile and more likely to ignite and burn when a train derails.

      If the federal government won’t act to protect public safety and adopt a safer nationwide standard, we will adopt our own,” state Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) said of the bill he sponsored. “There is just too much to lose — for people and our environment.”

      Billig’s comments point to the federal government’s repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America.

      The Obama administration specifically left this issue out of the Department of Transportation’s 2015 regulations on moving oil by rail. In May 2017, half a dozen state attorneys general petitioned the federal government to regulate vapor pressure, which resulted in a proposed rule at the end of the Obama administration.

      This oil train vapor pressure rule has gone nowhere in the Trump administration.

      As DeSmog reported in 2016, the American Petroleum Institute has said that even having these discussions about regulating oil vapor pressure is “dangerous.”

      Exploding oil train fireball in Casselton, North Dakota
      The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, North Dakota. Credit: U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration

      Unsurprisingly, the state of North Dakota, where much of the highly volatile crude oil moved by rail in America is produced, opposes Washington state’s rule and is preparing to sue the state over it.

      However, in a surprising moment of honesty, North Dakota’s top oil regulator didn’t bother pretending this opposition was about safety and instead revealed the real motivation: money.

      Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said that taking the steps to stabilize the crude oil (remove its volatile natural gas liquids) and achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9 psi would “devalue the crude oil immensely.”

      The crude coming out of oil fields like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale is rich in natural gas liquids such as propane and butane, which make the oil more dangerous to transport but also more valuable. A value the industry and its allies in government aren’t willing to relinquish.

      However, this isn’t really news. I wrote about a similar message from a North Dakota oil producer in 2014 when he too was opposing regulations to reduce the vapor pressure of Bakken oil before rail transport.

      The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel,” said Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus.

      North Dakota Using Federal Government Delays to Avoid Regulation

      Once trains carrying volatile oil from the Bakken Shale started blowing up on a regular basis in 2013, it became clear that the oil itself was part of the problem. Its high amounts of natural gas liquids make the oil more volatile and therefore more likely to catch fire and explode.

      After the deadly oil train accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people, there was confusion about the associated explosions and intense fires that burned for days. As the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, an oil executive said, “Crude oil doesn’t explode like that.”

      Which is true. But crude oil mixed with lots of propane and butane, such as the Bakken’s crude oil, does explode like that. And trains carrying oil from the Bakken continued to explode like that after derailing again and again.


      Rainy Day Train Message/Oil Train Protesters. Credit: Joe BruskyCC BYNC 2.0

      The Obama administration argued that it couldn’t regulate oil vapor pressure because the issue was disputed scientifically and required more study. More than three years ago, I wrote that this was simply a delay tactic and that claiming the oil industry didn’t understand the fundamental science of crude oil was absurd:

      “The oil industry and the government regulators in charge of regulating the industry don’t understand the basic science of oil. This is the core of the argument used to justify why they continue to run dangerous trains filled with Bakken oil through communities across North America. Do you believe them?

      Despite the audacity of this position, it is being used to delay any new regulations and to support the idea that the mystery of why Bakken crude oil explodes must be studied for years before it would be possible to make any regulatory decisions.”

      Meanwhile, as I’ve also been writing for years, if you ask an oil expert like Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Houston, you learn that couldn’t be further from the truth.

      The notion that this requires significant research and development is a bunch of BS,” Krishnamoorti wrote in an email response to Al Jazeera. “The science behind this has been revealed over 80 years ago, and developing a simple spreadsheet to calculate risk based on composition and vapor pressure is trivial. This can be done today.” [emphasis added]

      The Departments of Energy and Transportation announced the start of a study that was supposed to resolve this issue — four years ago — in April of 2015. At the time, regulators referred to it as a two-year study.

      In late 2016, at the Energy by Rail Conference in Arlington, Virginia, Suzanne Lemieux of the American Petroleum Institute gave a presentation on crude oil volatility and stabilization. While arguing once again that there wasn’t clear evidence that stabilizing oil reduces its volatility and risk, Lemieux noted that the federal study on the issue had been delayed. She said now it was expected to conclude sometime in 2018.

      The explanation for the delay was that the researchers at Sandia National Laboratories were still collecting samples of the oil in late 2016 — almost a year and a half after the “two-year” study was announced.

      And now, four years later, according to The Bismarck Tribune, North Dakota oil regulator Lynn Helms “encouraged [Washington] legislators to wait for the results of a Sandia National Laboratories study that was commissioned by the U.S.Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Energy.”

      Four years later. The federal government is unable to complete a two-year study in four years on a question which oil experts already know the answer to.

      A very effective delay tactic that means no one can “devalue” the oil implicated in multiple explosions and 47 deaths.

      Main image: Screen shot of McClatchy article combined with Justin Mikulka’s oil train photo and text. Credit: Justin Mikulka 

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