Resistance to Fossil Fuel Exploitation Grows

July 7th, 2016

WedIndigenous protest fossil fuelsnesday marked the three-year anniversary of the worst Canadian rail accident since 1864. It was an oil train explosion. A 74-car oil train carrying 30,000 gallons of crude oil rolled into the quiet town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, ran off the rails and blew up, killing 47 people.

On May 31st I posted a piece in Huffington Post about how it was a matter of time before we had an oil train disaster on our iconic rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Three days later it happened in a spectacular fireball in Mosier Oregon on the Columbia River. Local officials have said the town dodged a bullet in that the explosion missed downtown and most of the spilled oil missed the river.

Studies report a 5000-percent increase in oil by rail in North America since 2008. With this rapid increase in traffic has come an enormous uptick in derailments, spills and explosions.   Recent studies show approximately 25 million Americans live within the blast zone of oil train routes.

Despite the push for expansion by oil companies and the challenges for local and state governments to force regulations on the wildly powerful railway industry, resistance to oil trains is growing fast.

This week dozens of protest are taking place in cities across North America as demonstrators take aim at stopping crude oil trains. Many of these actions can be seen at the tag #StopOilTrains. In honor of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy on Wednesday, environmental and climate activists delivered a letter addressed to President Barack Obama demanding companies stop transporting crude oil by train, signed by 144 emergency responders, officials, and public interest groups.

One of the most promising elements of the resistance movement is that of Indigenous Peoples exercising their sovereign nations status and treaty rights to stop fossil fuel extraction and transport projects. All across North America and South America, Indigenous Tribes are pushing back against big oil rampaging across tribal lands.

  • The Lummi Nation were the lynchpin in stopping a massive coal export facility in Vancouver Washington.
  • In 2015, the Lax Kw’alaam First Nation in British Columbia turned down a Malaysian energy company’s offer of nearly $260,000 for each tribal member as compensation for building a natural gas export terminal on ancestral lands. The Lax Kw’alaam said no to the $1 billion+ offer by unanimous community vote due primarily to the risk to local salmon habitat.
  • The Yakama, Warm Springs, Nez Perce Tribes and Umatilla Tribes were critical in blocking a coal export facility in eastern Oregon.
  • The 57 nations that make up the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians have stated their official opposition to all proposals for the transport and export of fossil fuels export in the Northwest.
  • Tribal rights in Brazil have stopped fracking projects.
  • The Indigenous Environment Network is working hard on these projects and issues.

I believe the expansion of the use of Indigenous Peoples’ treaty rights to stop fossil fuel projects could be one of the most important developments in the history of the movement to address global change and evolve beyond fossil fuels. I will covering it much more in the months to come.

Cylvia Hayes

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