Breaking: 3 Activists Block Zenith Oil Tanker in Portland, OR

The Mosquito Fleet Team via
Portland Residents Take Matters into Their Own Hands

Sept. 3, 2023

After Learning of Portland City Council's Backdoor Deal with Zenith, Portland Residents Take Matters into Their Own Hands

Portland, Ore. - On the morning of Sunday, September 3rd, three people in a small motor boat drove into one of the bulk fuel storage and distribution terminal docks on the Willamette River and dropped anchor, effectively preventing a ship from exporting crude oil from Zenith Energy. The four people in the motor boat were supported by over a dozen kayaktavists nearby on the Willamette River, some holding a banner that said 'Stop Zenith'.

Today's protest is part of a continuing community effort to prevent Zenith Energy from expanding their oil-by-rail operations in a city that has set ambitious climate goals. Yet after the last City Council election in 2022, Portlanders find themselves in a City with representation that is not ashamed to negotiate with oil companies and priotize business interests over public health, public safety, and the local environment.

Harlan Shober, one of the activists in the motor boat blocking the vessel said. "I feel it is my responsibility to put my body on the line. Along with hundreds of other Portlanders, I have called, emailed and written City Council, and attended City Council meetings, urging them to listen to the people and protect our local environment, public health and safety, and climate future. But two City Commissioners clearly don't care about the wellbeing of Portland residents, or keeping our air, water and soil healthy. If they're going to negotiate shady backdoor deals with polluting oil companies, then we'll be here blocking the ships that carry that oil."

Recent public records prove Commissioner Dan Ryan, Commissioner Carmen Rubio and and other city officials actively facilitated Zenith Energy's most recent land use compatibility statement (LUCS) application, while the City and the company were in active litigation. City Council lied about its Zenith permit approval process to media and community advocates, and consciously attempted to hide the evidence of these political negotiations by labeling communications so that they would be difficult to obtain via public records requests. Text messages and emails between the offices of Commissioner Rubio and Commissioner Ryan confirm that these two councilors negotiated with Zenith officials in a secret meeting on July 29, 2022 to ensure the dirty energy company could continue its dangerous operations that directly impact 250,000 Portland residents who live in the Blast Zone, and Portland at large. "Conducting secretive political negotiations at the physical site of an industrial polluter when the City was engaged in active litigation with that same company, and outside of settlement negotiations, looks really bad." said activist Lorene Scheer, who was in the boat blocking the Zenith tanker with Shober. "If the City is going to engage in backdoor deals instead of engaging with their constituents and stakeholders, I see no other option but to physically stop Zenith's operations. And that is what we are doing today."

Zenith brings in crude oil on mile-long trains, 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 other reliable medical sources, finding over 300 medical professionals who describe crude oil-by-rail buildout in the Northwest as “an unacceptable threat to human health and safety.”

In granting Zenith a land use permit, the City not only moved forward without any Tribal engagement or consultation, but also ignored the demands of 46 neighborhood associations, Multnomah County, 20 state legislators, 17 environmental and community organizations, and thousands of Portland residents who have spent years calling for an end to Zenith’s oil-by-rail operations. "We're already feeling the affects of climate change in Oregon, that's no secret," said Lynn Handlin, also in the boat with Shober and Scheer. "It is not the time to be making deals with companies responsible for the climate crisis. Zenith is untrustworthy and has a track record of permit violations. And falling for the oil industry talking points on so-called 'renewable fuels' is good for one thing - the City's image. If they actually gave a damn about frontline communities, the public health and safety of their constituents, and ensuring healthy and clean air, water and soil for future generations, they would not increase the risk of liquid fuel storage and transportation at the Critical Energy Infrastructure (CEI) Hub."

Zenith Energy is one of ten companies at the CEI Hub is a 6-mile stretch of fuel-filled tanks located between Forest Park and the Willamette River. Many storage tanks are 100 years old, and none have been built in the last 30 years, contributing to the serious risks posed by an earthquake. A seismic risk study from 2021 by The Multnomah County Office of Sustainability and the City of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management’s said, 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. "The behavior and actions by Portland City Council is not only irresponsible, it's criminal," said Eloise Navarro, an organizer with local climate justice group Mosquito Fleet, who showed up to the protest with a group of kayaktavists. "As a young person in this City, I have a right to a clean and healthy environment, as do all residents of Portland. City Commissioners are signing us up for years of more intense heatwaves, wildfires, and other climate disasters."


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