- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) — Dozens of protesters have blocked railroad tracks leading to two oil refineries in northwest Washington state to oppose the flow of oil from trains to those facilities.

About 150 people spent the night in tents pitched on the railroad tracks near Anacortes, about 70 miles north of Seattle. Many of them were feeling jubilant Saturday morning as they prepared for a second day of demonstrations targeting the nearby Shell and Tesoro oil refineries.

Dozens more are expected to join the protesters who have formed a barricade on the tracks throughout the day, said Ahmed Gaya, a spokesman with the Break Free Pacific Northwest who also spent the night on the tracks.

“The plan is to hold this space,” he said. “People in the Northwest and around the world are prepared to build these movements (of mass disobedience) and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

There have been no arrests as of Saturday morning, according to BNSF Railway and Skagit County officials.

“We’re currently not running traffic on the line,” BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said. “Our operations are flexible on this line. We had anticipated this and therefore adjusted scheduling with customers.”

The railroad tracks, which connects BNSF’s mainline to Anacortes, serves the two refineries as well as other customers.

“At this point, we’re standing back, letting them protest and developing a plan and will take action as necessary,” Melonas said Saturday morning.

Skagit County spokeswoman Bronlea Mishler said authorities are monitoring and that there were no plans as of Saturday morning to move the activists. “At this point, we’re playing it by ear,” she said.

The three-day event began Friday and includes “kayaktivists” demonstrating on water, an indigenous ceremony and a march in front of the oil refineries. A march is planned Saturday afternoon in front of the oil refineries.

Protesters began pitching tents, erecting colorful flags and signs and setting up the railroad blockade Friday evening. Some did yoga or mediated, others chanted and sang.

The protests are part of a series of global actions calling on people to “break free” from dependence on oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Similar events are scheduled in Los Angeles and Albany, New York, on Saturday and in Washington D.C. on Sunday.

Organizers say they want to transition to renewable energy in a way that doesn’t leave workers or communities behind, and they’re willing to risk arrest to engage in peaceful civil disobedience.

In Washington state, organizers are targeting two refineries that are among the top sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

An environmental review is currently underway for a proposed oil-by-rail project at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery. Shell wants to build an unloading facility and a rail spur from existing tracks to handle about 60,000 barrels of crude oil a day delivered by train.

Officials with both Shell and Tesoro said in statements that they respect the right of people to demonstrate peacefully, and that safety is their highest priority.

Many of the nearly 40 groups involved in organizing the event were also involved in large on-water kayak protests against Shell’s Arctic oil drilling rig when it parked at a Seattle port last year.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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