A Port of the Problem

How the Olympia Port Connects to NoDAPL Protest

By Pauline Allen

This September the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere permanently surpassed 400ppm (parts per million). The safe level of CO2 is 350ppm (like the climate justice organization named 350.org, if you’ve never heard of it I recommend you check it out). The first reading assignment in my program Botany: Plants, Fungi, and People was Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, a daunting, well researched book about climate change and capitalism that leaves one feeling a combination of depressed, more depressed, hopeful, and motivated.

Then I learned that the Port of Olympia plays a role in what activists are calling the “Bakken Oil Fracking Monster” which is an iconic frightening-looking octopus that symbolizes the assemblage of interactions that enable the fracking process, Bakken being the name of the oil formation under North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Port of Olympia receives shipments of proppants, also called ceramic fracking sands, from China and then loads them on trains to be transported to fracking sites. These proppants are used during the fracking process to prop open the fractures in the ground long enough for the crude oil to be extracted. All of this is connected, the worsening climate crisis, my studies at Evergreen, the Port of Olympia. Also connected is NoDAPL, the ongoing protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. NoDAPL relates to Klein’s This Changes Everything, because in the positive portion of the book she talks about “Blockadia”—a place that occurs globally “wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill” and people are creating a resistance. Standing Rock is one of these sites of Blockadia where indigenous peoples and environmentalists are flocking to protest the pipeline that as plans stand now would cross sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux and travel under the Missouri river causing concern if it were to break. The Standing Rock protest is a combination of many struggles: for Native Sovereignty, for clean safe water (“Water is Life”), for an end to fracking, and for climate justice. It is also about how seemingly far away and unassuming places, like the Port of Olympia, are enabling these problems.

After learning about the port’s involvement, I attended a “No Oil Fracking Sands at our Port” rally on Oct. 22 at the Port Plaza. After days of grayness and rain, the sun shining down on the 100-plus participants felt like a sign that positive change could be achieved. There were a number of people who spoke, sang, and performed poetry. There was a lot of energy in the crowd and it seemed like many people felt emotional over the severity of the struggles at Standing Rock and empowered to do something locally.

The completion of the DAPL pipeline would signify that the U.S. is willing to extract oil and gas as much as possible with disregard to the consequences including health of its citizens and increasing the climate catastrophe. The investment of large scale infrastructure like the DAPL would increase fracking and discourage transitioning to renewables in the United States. As E. J. Zita, an Evergreen professor and one of Olympia’s port commissioners, said in her speech at the Not in our Port Rally, “Oil and natural gas are not the bridge to renewables, but the bridge to oblivion.”

One way to stop the Bakken Oil Fracking Monster is to cut off its limbs so that it can no longer function. This is how the Port of Olympia is connected to Standing Rock. There are currently multiple groups working to oppose the transport of proppants through the Port. Many people are looking to learn from the port’s history as this new resistance grows. During the Iraq War the Port of Olympia was used to ship military cargo. Protests followed; violence between police and protesters led to arrests and thousands of dollars were lost by the port. The port stopped shipping military cargo. People are now asking how to avoid such violence and how to amass the power of the people to once again stop a shipment.

Another limb of Bakken Oil Fracking Monster that can be severed is the funding sources. According to a report by the non-profit Food and Water Watch, 38 banks have directly financed the DAPL. Included in this list are Wells Fargo, Citibank, US Bank, and Bank of America. This means that if you have an account in one of these banks, your money is being used to finance DAPL. I recommend that you transfer your money to a Credit Union; most credit unions support their local economies and provide more transparency with their actions.

All of these actions can add up towards the “momentum theory of change” which is this beautiful idea that multiple energies and involvements can come from different angles and actions and cumulatively produce change. So if some people move their money to local banks and divest from fossil fuels, some go to Standing Rock, some email the president, some revision the port of Olympia, some educate others, and so on, then collectively we can create the future that we want to live in.