Movement to Resist Tar Sands “Megaloads” Unites Tribal Members, Environmentalists via Yes! Magazine & Reader Supported News

Umatilla, a town of 7,000 sprawled out on the plains overlooking the Columbia River, once hosted a U.S. Army chemical weapons depot, but the last of that stockpile was destroyed in 2011. Now, it’s the starting point for the megaloads, three massive evaporators bound for the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Swaths of boreal forest in Canada have been clearcut for extraction of this dense form of petroleum, which gets its colloquial name from its smell and appearance.

The evaporators, which are designed to treat wastewater from tar sands mining, look like grey tubes large enough to swallow a trailer home. Each one is 96 feet long and weighs over 300,000 pounds. Each megaload’s transport convoy – made up of semi trucks, trailers, and their cargo – is 380 feet long, 19 feet high and 23 feet wide, and weighs in at almost a million pounds. They will take up two lanes of highway as they move through more than 300 miles of rural eastern Oregon, through what Linda Sampson, an Umatilla tribal member who opposes the megaloads, calls “big country.”
According to General Electric’s website, the evaporators are water purification devices that treat industrial wastewater for operational reuse or storage in tailings ponds. But for Cocks, nothing can clean up the tar sands. “Even if they are a piece of cleaning equipment, I don’t want to see the tar sands greened. I want to see the tar sands stopped.”
Quirke believes that the environmental movement’s success hinges on respecting and supporting the rights of indigenous people. When those rights are honored, he says, “some of the most important pieces to addressing climate chaos begin to fall into place.” But, he adds, a strong campaign of direct action is also an essential part of community resistance to the climate-altering activities of the fossil fuel industry.
Emmalyn Garrett, an Oregon resident involved with Cascadia Earth First!, was among the bystanders arrested that night. She grew up in rural Coos County, Ore., and doesn’t want to see her state play host to some of the major fossil-fuel infrastructure projects planned for the Pacific Northwest.

She’s also worried about climate change. In that light, she says, “use of roads to transport fossil fuel equipment is a universal concern.”

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