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'Break Free of Fossil Fuels' Activists Arrested

Protesters march in front of Shell and Tesoro refineries. Photo: Catherina Savattere.
Protesters march in front of Shell and Tesoro refineries. Photo: Catherina Savattere.

About 50 Lane County residents made the trek north the weekend of May 13-15 to join thousands more activists in 350.org’s Break Free Pacific Northwest weekend of action against the Shell and Tesoro refineries and the climate change-causing fossil fuel industry. Another 50 or so of the 2,000 protesters were arrested.

As part of a chain of actions taking place worldwide May 2016, the activists took to kayaks on the sea as “kayaktavists” to block oil deliveries by ship, they slept in tents on the railroad tracks to prevent deliveries by train, marched with multitudes outside the refineries to show solidarity and worked behind the scenes to keep all the actions running smoothly. Saturday, May 14, was the Indigenous People’s Day of Action, called “It’s in Our Hands,” including coastal tribal communities feeling the brunt of climate change impacts.

“It’s all about pushing the envelope here. We work through the channels that are trying to make things better, and it doesn’t work,” Eugenean Betzi Hitz explained. “The time is so short for turning this around that we must do this. Everybody out here feels that way, or they wouldn’t be out here — thousands of people.”

Hitz is part of 350.org’s Eugene branch and drove up with fellow volunteer Aloha Heart to work as a jail support team. When 52 of the train track campers were arrested around 5 am Sunday, May 15, after occupying the tracks and blocking oil all weekend, Hitz and Heart acted as outside liaisons for the arrestees. 

The tracks are vital to both Shell and Tesoro. The refineries receive crude oil by train from North Dakota and the central United States. Oil trains bringing oil from North Dakota are so lucrative that Shell is pushing for more train infrastructure to be built to allow more oil to be processed each day.

Crude oil brought in by trains to these specific refineries, combined with what is received from pipes and ships, brings processing up to 3.8 million gallons per day for Tesoro and 5.7 million gallons per day for Shell. Some of these millions of gallons of processed oil are then put on trains that travel down through Oregon and California for distribution. 

 “It really doesn’t matter if you’re from Lane County, if you’re from the UK, if you’re from South Africa — it’s all relevant and important to us because it’s a big picture thing,” said Kiran Ooman, Eugene native and plaintiff in the Our Children’s Trust case, as he stood next to his tent on the railroad tracks. “We all need to be moving away from fossil fuels. We need to focus and come together because we’re strongest when we’re a group.”

“We live in an environment that’s not in the heat zone so to speak — we’re not in the middle of the drought, the famine; we’re not having our island flooded. It’s real easy to just sit back and go buy some stuff,” Hitz noted as she looked out at the green hills of Anacortes and thought of her Willamette Valley home. “This state is amazing. It makes this kind of action more impactful when you’re in an environment that’s so amazing. I think a lot about what we’re losing if people just don’t wake up.”