Bringing the Battle to the Water
Portland, OR – Extinction Rebellion PDX celebrates and appreciates the activists who took their protest against Zenith Energy to the Willamette River this morning, risking arrest and seasickness. Extinction Rebellion PDX (XR PDX) welcomes all actions that expose the City of Portland’s dirty dealings with “oil tycoons and profit-makers” (as described by one of the activists), and that educate the public about Zenith’s disinformation and dangers.
“This is not for fun,” said Lynn Spitaleri Handlin, a local businesswoman, in a prepared statement. “I get really seasick on water.”
Today, three activists bravely dropped anchor at the bulk fuel storage and distribution terminal docks on the Willamette River, effectively preventing a ship from exporting crude oil from Zenith Energy. The four locals took to the water to deliver the message to city officials that Zenith will still be a danger to Portlanders and the environment, even if Zenith switches to renewable fuels. The activists, on a boat named the Greta T, were supported in their peaceful, non-violent, civil disobedience by dozens of kayaktavists hoisting a banner proclaiming, “Stop Zenith.”
“So-called renewable fuels can be as bad as fossil fuels in terms of climate, and they definitely spill, burn and blow up just like fossil fuels, continuing to put communities at serious risk of death and destruction.” said Spitaleri Handlin, who is also an XR member, in a pre-written statement.
Lorene Scheer, a long-time labor organizer and also an XR PDX member, pointed out in her statement that this is Labor Day weekend and that Zenith (in fact, the whole Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub in Northwest Portland) endangers the workers who live and work in the area.
“[Tomorrow] we celebrate working people and our ability to protect each other as best we can from air pollution, outdated oil tank explosions, and train derailments in Portland. It’s what we do for each other to make our lives better, and our planet livable for all,” said Scheer.
Spitaleri Handlin went on to express her frustration about Zenith’s plans: “I have written letters to editors, participated in vigils, did a healing ritual, protested at Stoel Rives, the law firm that enables Zenith, but the City continues to allow this menace in our communities. I am at my wits end, I am beyond frustrated, sad, and angry. The time to act is now, so here I am.”
Spitaleri Handlin is not alone in her frustration. Thousands of Portlanders have been trying to shut down Zenith for years. They are joined by 46 neighborhood associations, Multnomah County, 20 state legislators, 17 environmental and community organizations. At first, City officials seemed to be listening. They denied the Land Use Compatibility Statement that Zenith needed to continue operating. But then they did an about face, made a back-room deal with Zenith, and betrayed Portlanders. A major part of the deal is that Zenith will transition to renewable fuels. Of course, Zenith has made — and broken — many other promises. (And none of this, unfortunately, even touches on the City’s willful disregard of its own Climate Emergency Declaration.)
Currently, Zenith brings in crude oil on mile-long trains that traverse Northern Portland, loads the oil onto ships docked on the river, and then exports fossil fuels down the river and out to the Pacific Ocean. Over the past two years, the volume of oil that has moved through Portland has soared, rising from negligible levels a few years ago to approximately 337 million gallons in 2021 and 374 million gallons in 2022. The Oregon and Washington chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility recently analyzed 125 peer-reviewed medical journal articles and counted over 300 medical professionals who describe crude oil-by-rail buildout in the Northwest as “an unacceptable threat to human health and safety.”
Zenith Energy is one of ten companies at the Critical Energy Infrastructure (CEI) Hub, a 6-mile stretch of fuel-filled tanks located between Forest Park and the Willamette River. Many storage tanks at the hub are 100 years old, and none are younger than 30 years old, and could collapse in an earthquake. A seismic risk study from 2021 by the Multnomah County Office of Sustainability and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management found that in the event of an earthquake, the resulting environmental disaster would be on par with the 2010 BP/Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan. As noted above, even if Zenith transitioned to renewable fuels, those fuels are still bad for the environment and terribly dangerous in an earthquake.
In addition to today’s actions, protesters rallied by multiple environmental justice organizations will be at Portland City Hall at 9 am on Wednesday morning to urge the City Council to represent the people, not dirty business interests, and once again deny the LUCS to Zenith. XR PDX encourages Portlanders from all walks of life to confront the City Council about ignoring public safety and breaching public trust. As people rise up, using a diversity of tactics, even risking arrest, the City will be forced to listen.