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.
"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.
"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 letter sent 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.
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