Keep your fracking sand out of our port

Brian Huseby reports on an anti-fracking encampment at the Port of Olympia.

Protests against fracking have continued at the Port of Olympia (Olympia Confronting Climate Crisis)Protests against fracking have continued at the Port of Olympia (Olympia Confronting Climate Crisis)

SUPPORTERS OF Olympia Stand, a climate justice coalition in Olympia, Washington, has constructed an encampment blocking the railroad tracks to the Port of Olympia--under a banner reading "No Fracking Sand in Our Port."

The purpose of the blockade is to prevent fracking sands, known as ceramic proppants, from being shipped from the port to the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and other places.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of extracting oil and natural gas from source rock, primarily shale. This is done by pumping a mixture of fracking sands, and large amounts of water and chemicals into the veins of the source rock to open them and extract the oil and natural gas.

Each time a well is fracked, between 2 million and 8 million gallons of fresh water is used. Fracking fluid goes through the aquifers, contaminating drinking water with chemicals, many of which are cancerous. Fracking can lead to local drinking water becoming undrinkable and even flammable. Recent research has found further evidence that fracking is causing earthquakes.

As one activist at the blockade said in an interview: "We are here because we reject the port's complicity with the fossil fuel industry. For example, they have a bad contract with Rainbow Ceramics [the Houston-based company that produces the proppants] that allows the proppants to be stored at the port for free."

At about the same time last year and at the same place, a similar blockade was built to stop the trains then shipping fracking sands to North Dakota. The same activist added, "We are here to celebrate the anniversary of last year's blockade and also the 10-year anniversary of the attempt to prevent the port from sending military equipment to [Joint Base Lewis McCord]."

In 2007, members and supporters of Port Military Resistance engaged in a protest that included street battles with police over transporting military equipment between the port and Joint Base Lewis McCord. The equipment consisted mostly of motor vehicles that were returning from Iraq for maintenance and repair and were then scheduled to be returned to Iraq.

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OLYMPIA PORT Resistance, a participant in the current encampment and blockade, has issued two demands: First, that the Port of Olympia cease all fossil fuel and military infrastructure shipments; and second, that control of the port should be horizontal and democratic.

The second demand relates to concerns about the port that many area residents share. The port is governed by a commission consisting of three members. Only one of the members, E.J. Zita, has opposed allowing the port to accept anti-ecological and military cargos.

Two of the three seats, including Zita's, were open to voters in the November election. While Zita won re-election, a second progressive candidate was defeated by a business-backed candidate. So the composition of the commission remains the same--only one progressive member against two business-as-usual members.

A second activist at the blockade spoke about the favoritism the commission has shown toward business interests. For example, the port invested $3 million into automatic log loaders specifically to benefit Weyerhauser Corp., a huge forest products conglomerate based in nearby Tacoma. This resulted in lost hours for longshore workers at the port.

"I believe that protest is important," said the activist, "but we want to physically disrupt the process that we object to. The blockades have already delayed three shipments. We believe that Haliburton Corp. has threatened the port with ceasing business altogether over delayed shipments."

The future of the blockade is unclear. As this article was being written, it had lasted for four days. Both the Olympia Police Department and Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks, have stated that they have no plans to break the encampment up.

However, last year after the blockade had stood for about a week, a railroad lawyer offered to meet with representatives of the encampment the following day, assuring them that no efforts would be made to disrupt the encampment beforehand.

Instead, both local police and railroad police raided the encampment at 4 a.m. on the day that the meeting was to take place. Twelve demonstrators were arrested and others were injured in the process.

Whatever happens this time around, activists have one message for attempts to ship fracking materials: "No frackin' way!"