Port to protesters: No scheduled plans to ship fracking sand by rail

An anti-fracking group blocks the railroad tracks from the Port of Olympia in downtown Olympia on Saturday.
An anti-fracking group blocks the railroad tracks from the Port of Olympia in downtown Olympia on Saturday. Staff file, 2017

The Port of Olympia currently is unaffected by a group of protesters who have occupied a section of railroad tracks in downtown Olympia because the port has no scheduled plans to ship fracking sand to North Dakota, a spokeswoman for the port said Tuesday.

The Port of Olympia commission met Tuesday for a special meeting on the port’s 2018 budget. The commission made no mention of the protest.

“It’s not affecting us,” spokeswoman Jennie Foglia-Jones said during Tuesday’s meeting, but she added the port supports whatever action is taken by local law enforcement.

“No movement is scheduled,” she said about the cargo.

Meanwhile, city of Olympia officials don’t want to get the Olympia Police Department involved. City Manager Steve Hall says he hopes the port and railroad officials will resolve the issue.

“This feels like a repeat of last year, and nobody wants to go through what happened last year,” Hall said.

“Their beef is really with the port, not with the city.”

A year after the first anti-fracking protest, a group of protesters reappeared Friday to camp on a section of tracks at Jefferson Street and Seventh Avenue Southeast that serves the port. The protesters have taken aim at fracking sand because of its role in oil exploration and the potential consequences for the environment.

The tracks are owned by Union Pacific, but freight is hauled by the Olympia & Belmore railroad. A spokesman for Belmore could not be reached Tuesday.

The port has been handling ceramic proppants since 2012. That product is imported from China, then shipped by rail to the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Proppants, which look a bit like sand, are used to “prop up” the soil so that drilling equipment can access the oil.

Business was brisk for the port during the boom in oil prices, but business slowed as prices fell. Foglia-Jones said the last fracking sand ship to call on the port was in September 2016.

The product arrives in what is called a “super sack.” Those sacks are still visible on the marine terminal, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a shipment to North Dakota is imminent, Foglia-Jones said. Some proppants also have been delivered to the port by truck from the Port of Tacoma. The most recent delivery was earlier this year, she said.

Some protesters told The Olympian Saturday that they thought fracking sand was going to be shipped out Friday, but that did not happen, Foglia-Jones said. However, they may have thought that was happening because a train engine did push an empty railroad car onto the port’s marine terminal the same day, she said.