SEATTLE (AP) — Dozens of climate activists have blocked railroad tracks leading to two oil refineries in northwest Washington state to oppose the flow of oil from trains to those facilities.
About 150 people spent the night in tents pitched on the railroad tracks near Anacortes, about 70 miles north of Seattle. Many of them were feeling jubilant Saturday morning as they prepared for a second day of demonstrations targeting the nearby Shell and Tesoro oil refineries.
Dozens more are expected to join the protesters who have formed a barricade on the tracks, said Ahmed Gaya, a spokesman with the Break Free Pacific Northwest who also spent the night on the tracks.
“The plan is to hold this space,” he said. “People in the Northwest and around the world are prepared to build these movements (of mass disobedience) and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
The protests are part of a series of global actions calling on people to “break free” from dependence on oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Similar demonstrations are taking place in Los Angeles and Albany, New York, on Saturday and in Washington D.C. on Sunday.
In upstate New York, climate activists gathered at a crude oil shipment hub on the Hudson River to denounce fossil fuels and promote renewable energy sources. About 40 activists from numerous groups paddled on the river near the port on Friday with anti-oil signs and banners. A group sat on train tracks in downtown Albany on Saturday to protest the oil trains. Albany police reported no immediate arrests. Albany is a key hub for crude-by-rail shipments from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region.
In Washington state, there have been no arrests as of Saturday morning, according to BNSF Railway and Skagit County officials.
“We’re currently not running traffic on the line,” BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said. “Our operations are flexible on this line. We had anticipated this and therefore adjusted scheduling with customers.”
The railroad tracks, which connects BNSF’s mainline to Anacortes, serves the two refineries as well as other customers.
“At this point, we’re standing back, letting them protest and developing a plan and will take action as necessary,” Melonas said Saturday morning.
Skagit County spokeswoman Bronlea Mishler said authorities are monitoring and that there were no plans as of Saturday morning to move the activists. “At this point, we’re playing it by ear,” she said.
The three-day event began Friday and includes “kayaktivists” demonstrating on water, community workshops and an indigenous ceremony. A march is planned Saturday afternoon in front of the oil refineries.
Protesters began pitching tents, erecting colorful flags and signs and setting up the railroad blockade Friday evening. Some did yoga or mediated, others chanted and sang.
Organizers say they want to transition to renewable energy in a way that doesn’t leave workers or communities behind, and they’re willing to risk arrest to engage in civil disobedience.
In Washington state, organizers are targeting two refineries that are among the top sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
Officials with both Shell and Tesoro said in earlier statements that they respect the right of people to demonstrate peacefully, and that safety is their highest priority.
Many of the nearly 40 groups involved in organizing the event were also involved in large on-water kayak protests against Shell’s Arctic oil drilling rig when it parked at a Seattle port last year.
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