They blocked the tracks in Everett Tuesday. Protesters, highly trained, erected an 18-foot teepee over the rails while compatriots cheered from a nearby overpass, the Everett Herald reported.
A woman in a yellow parka and green hardhat, identified on Facebook as Abby Brockway, a “high flying climate activist” from Seattle, sat at the tippy top of the teepee, holding a pair of illegible signs and trailing a banner that said “Cut Oil Trains Not Conductors.” She raised a mandatory clenched fist. Others sat in folding chairs on a crossing or lay prone with their head on one rail and feet on the other, damsel in distress style. A BNSF oil train waited patiently nearby.
Police arrested five protesters. Brockway was photographed riding down from her teepee in an Everett Fire Department lift, grinning broadly as she was handcuffed. A photo on the protest group Rising Tide Seattle’s Facebook page has a quote overprint, I presume from the once high-flying Brockway, saying “People in the Pacific Northwest are forming a thin green line that will keep oil, coal and gas in the ground.”
Well, no, they are not. Not even close. With all due respect to the tradition of nonviolent protest and photogenic civil disobedience, to expect that blocking a train for three hours will keep oil and gas in the ground is a fantasy worthy of King Canute.
Oil is leaving the ground at an astonishing and rapidly accelerating pace. Natural gas, even more so. Coal may be primitive, dirty and passé, but concentrated energy nonetheless, and people want to burn it.
Consider this data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration short-term outlook: Total U.S. crude production averaged 8.5 million barrels per day in July. It is expected to average 8.5 million barrels per day for all of 2014 and rise to 9.3 million barrels average in 2015, which would be the highest since 1972. U.S. petroleum imports have fallen from 60 percent of consumption in 2005 to 33 percent in 2013 and will hit 22 percent in 2015. That would be the lowest level since 1970. Energy independence is nigh.
There’s more. Experts expect U.S. crude production will rise to 14 million barrels per day in the foreseeable future. That’s substantially more than Saudi Arabia or Russia, which pump about 10 million barrels per day. Texas alone recently surpassed 3 million barrels per day, making it the world’s eighth largest producer, if it was a country to itself. The United States is the world’s largest natural gas producer. One day soon it may be the world’s largest crude oil producer.
Our trading partners, Europe, Mexico and South Korea in particular, are urging the United States and Congress to end the 1970s ban on crude oil exports and sell to them. Preparations are being made to export increasing amounts of liquefied natural gas, especially to Russia-dependent Europe. Canadian pipeline company Pembina just announced it will build a $500 million terminal at the Port of Portland to export propane to the Far East. The Canadian propane will be arrive in Oregon by rail.
The removal of fossil fuel from the ground continues despite protests. The use of fossil fuel for transportation and manufacturing, thus fueling the strengthening U.S. economy, shows no sign of diminishing any time soon. This contributes to atmospheric greenhouse gases and climate change, of course, but it cannot be stopped by teepee, and if it could be stopped it would be economically cataclysmic.
I do believe transporting oil by rail is problematical, for safety reasons alone, and worthy of protest. It is a secondary issue. If you wish to keep oil in the ground, the honest strategy would be to lobby Congress and the Legislature for an energy tax and a fuel excise tax. High prices reduce consumption. You will be opposed by many, but it will be more effective than teepees. Less fun, perhaps, but more effective.
Tracy Warner is a Wenatchee World column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.