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Bainbridge Island Review Guest Opinion: Why I blockaded an oil train

Repost from the Bainbridge Island Review

GUEST OPINION: Why I blockaded an oil train


On Monday, July 28, I joined Jan Woodruff of Anacortes and Adam Gaya of Seattle in locking ourselves to barrels full of concrete on the rail spur into the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes in order to keep an oil train from leaving the refinery.

Why would a 62-year-old retired lawyer and long-time resident of Bainbridge Island take such a drastic action?

The short answer is: I could not do otherwise.

This kind of resistance may seem extreme, but these are extreme times — these oil trains present an imminent threat to the lives and safety of tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors, and our politicians have done a woefully inadequate job of addressing this.

The puncture-prone DOT-111 tanker cars were deemed “inadequate” by federal authorities more than 20 years ago. Yet every week, more than a dozen of these trains travel through downtown Seattle to refineries including Tesoro.

These trains are carrying Bakken shale crude, which the DOT has warned is unusually volatile and can catch fire at temperatures as low as 75 degrees F!

There have been very frequent derailments, including one in Seattle last week (headed for the Tesoro refinery), which occurred despite a train speed of only 5 miles per hour. Had it been going much faster, the results would likely have been catastrophic.

There have been five explosions and massive fires associated with derailments within the past year, the worst being at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a derailment caused a massive explosion, leveling several city blocks and vaporizing 47 people. If this happens in Seattle near the sports stadiums during a Seahawks or Mariners game, tens of thousands of people will die a horrific death.

Tesoro had a terrible safety record even before the huge increase in oil-by-rail.

After its tragic 2010 fire, which killed seven workers, it was found to have committed 39 “willful” and five “serious” violations of safety regulations.

Tesoro is planning to build the massive Tesoro Savage Vancouver Oil Terminal, a project so fraught with potential problems that the Vancouver City Council has asked Governor Inslee to reject it.

The United States Supreme Court, in its questionable wisdom, has declared corporations to be “persons” with human rights. If Tesoro and the other oil companies trying to turn our beautiful state of Washington into the Bakken shale oil dealer to the world are “persons” it is terribly clear to me what sort of “persons” they are: psychopaths — lacking all conscience or empathy. If any other group of people exposed us to such risks, they’d be locked up as the criminals they are. Instead, we get cheap bromides about “safe fracking,” while wells across the country are poisoned and billions of gallons of water in drought-stricken California are ruined: all for cheap dirty energy, in an era when the ravages of climate change are becoming increasingly visible.

The fires in Washington last week were one small sample of ominous things to come. In under a week of the official fire season, more area was burned than in any full year of the past decade. If we do not take drastic measures to address climate change immediately, our children and grandchildren will have to live through the collapse of our civilization within decades. I cannot live with that on my conscience.

And what has our political leadership offered to address these issues? Feeble and half-hearted actions such as the federal plan to “phase out” the most unsafe oil-by-rail cars over the next four years.

In four years we are certain to have more disasters and more deaths — such a plan is criminally negligent and absolutely unacceptable.

We need a total ban on all shipment of Bakken crude by rail NOW, and a complete halt to the development of any new oil terminals in the Pacific Northwest.

The oil companies have no sense of responsibility to anything but their bottom lines. Companies that make decisions like this have no place doing business on our increasingly fragile planet, and we the people of the state of Washington have to draw the line.

Annette Klapstein is a Bainbridge Island resident and a retired attorney who worked for the Puyallup Indian Tribe for 21 years, primarily on fisheries issues.