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Indigenous Resistance Grows Strong in Keystone XL Battle

By Crysbel Tejada and Betsy Catlin - Waging Nonviolence, May 8, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On cloudy days, heavy smoke fills the air of Ponca City, Okla., with grey smog that camouflages itself into the sky. The ConocoPhillips oil refinery that makes its home there uses overcast days as a disguise to release more toxins into the air. These toxins are brimming with benzene — a chemical that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, can cause leukemia, anemia and even decrease the size of women’s ovaries. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2008 the ConocoPhillips refinery released over 2,000 pounds of this chemical into the air in Ponca City.

“Of the maybe 800 of us that live locally, we have averaged over the last five to seven years maybe one funeral a week,” explained Casey Camp-Horinek, a Ponca woman and longtime activist. “Where we used to have dances every week, now most people are in mourning.”

The refinery is located only 1,000 yards behind Standing Bear Park, which is named after the Ponca chief who, in 1877, led his people on their Trail of Tears, from the Ponca homelands in northern Nebraska to present day Oklahoma. But the park is more than a memorial to the distant past. In 1992, the oil giant’s tank farm spilled and contaminated ground water in a nearby predominantly Ponca neighborhood. As a result, ConocoPhillips agreed to purchase the contaminated land and tear down the 200 homes that were on it. In its place, the company built Standing Bear Park — a bitter testament to the Ponca people’s history of forced relocation and genocide.

“We live in a situation that could only be described as environmental genocide,” said Camp-Horinek. Beyond the refineries, she explained, “We also have had the misfortune of living on top of a spider web of pipelines as a result of ConocoPhillips being here.”

Some of these pipelines are transporting Canadian tar sands bitumen, which carries chemicals such as natural gas, hydrogen sulfide, benzene and toluene. This highly toxic diluted substance runs through large pipelines such as Enbridge’s Pegasus line, which recently burst in Mayflower, Ark., and would also flow through TransCanada’s contested Keystone XL pipeline if completed.

“It will not only come through the original territory of the Ponca people [but] it will follow the Trail of Tears of the Ponca people from the 1800s,” said Camp-Horinek. “As a Ponca woman these things are not far removed from us. My own grandfather, my mother’s father, was on this Trail of Tears of the Ponca.”

(Working Paper #1) Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement

By Sean Sweeney and Lara Skinner - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 2014

This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or “fracking,” and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities, and the environment. It begins with a summary of the shale gas industry’s global expansion, and then looks at the opposition to fracking that has emerged in a number of key countries. A preliminary profile of the anti-fracking movement highlights the goals and characteristics of this movement as well as the issues that lie at the heart of the resistance.

The paper concludes by attempting to bring together the available information on unions’ perspectives and positions on this increasingly important issue. It also raises for discussion the prospect of unions giving support to a global moratorium on fracking based either on the precautionary principle (the health and environmental effects are not fully understood or have still to be adequately addressed) or on the more definitive assessment that fracking can never be sufficiently safe in terms of its impact on health and the environment and should therefore be stopped altogether.

Read the report (PDF).

The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy

By Kristen Sheeran, Noah Enelow, Jeremy Brecher, and Brendan Smith - Economics for Equity and the Environment and Labor Network for Sustainably, November 5, 2013

The Keystone XL pipeline has been touted as a means to address America's jobs crisis. But how does its job creation compare to other possible projects?

This study compares the jobs that would be created by the KXL pipeline to the jobs that could be created by water, sewer, and gas infrastructure projects in the five states the pipeline crosses.

It finds that meeting unmet water and gas infrastructure needs in the five relevant states along the KXL pipeline route will create:

  • More than 300,000 total jobs across all sectors;
  • Five times more jobs, and better jobs, than KXL;
  • 156% of the number of direct jobs created by Keystone XL per unit of investment.
  • President Barack Obama and others have criticized the KXL pipeline for its meager promise of 50 to 100 longer‐ term jobs. In contrast, water infrastructure operation and maintenance in the five relevant states alone will create 137 times as many direct long‐term jobs, and over 95 times more total long‐term jobs, than Keystone XL.

Proponents of KXL maintain it will be built by private investment without public subsidy. But the oil refineries that will use KXL oil, along with the rest of the oil industry, receive large government subsidies. All of the infrastructure work described in this study can be financed just by closing three Federal tax loopholes for fossil fuel companies. Indeed, taking just one tax subsidy now received by the refineries that would use KXL oil and using it instead for water infrastructure would create as many jobs as the KXL pipeline.

Download the complete report (PDF) here.

The Impact of Tar Sands Pipeline Spills on Employment and the Economy

By Lara Skinner and Sean Sweeney - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, March 2012

In debates over proposed tar sands pipelines such as the TransCanada corporation’s Keystone XL, little attention has been given to the potentially negative impacts of pipeline spills on employment and the economy. The proposed route for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline cuts through America’s agricultural heartland, where farming, ranching, and tourism are major employers and economic engines. Ground or surface water contamination from a tar sands oil spill in this region could inflict significant economic damage, causing workers to lose jobs, businesses to close, and residents to relocate. Such a spill could also negatively impact the health of residents and their communities.

A Closer Look at Keystone XL’s Threat to Existing Jobs and Economic Sectors:

» The negative impacts on employment and the economy of tar sands pipelines like the Keystone XL have largely been ignored. To date, a comprehensive risk assessment for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline oil spill has not been conducted. Such an assessment would provide an independent review of the risk of spills and their economic consequences. Since the first Keystone pipeline began operation in June 2010, at least 35 spills have occurred in the U.S. and Canada. In its first year, the spill frequency for Keystone’s U.S. segment was 100 times higher than TransCanada forecast.

» The Keystone XL pipeline would cut through America’s breadbasket. Agricultural land and rangeland comprise 79 percent of the land that would be affected by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It would cross more than 1,700 bodies of water, including the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and the Ogallala and Carrizo-Wilcox aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer alone supplies 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the U.S. It also supplies two million people with drinking water.

» Farming, ranching, and tourism are major sources of employment along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed route. Water contamination resulting from a Keystone XL spill, or the cumulative effect of spills over the lifetime of the pipeline, would have significant economic costs and could result in job loss in these sectors. Approximately 571,000 workers are directly employed in the agricultural sector in the six states along the Keystone XL corridor. Total agricultural output for these states is about $76 billion annually.

» Many of the land areas and bodies of water that Keystone XL will cross provide recreational opportunities vital to the tourism industry. Keystone XL would traverse 90.5 miles of recreation and special interest areas, including federal public lands, state
parks and forests, and national historic trails. About 780,000 workers are employed in the tourism sector in the states along the Keystone XL pipeline. Tourism spending in these states totaled more than $67 billion in 2009.

» Recent experience has demonstrated that tar sands spills pose additional dangers to the public and present special challenges in terms of clean up. There is strong evidence that tar sands pipeline spills occur more frequently than spills from pipelines carrying conventional crude oil because of the diluted bitumen’s toxic, corrosive, and heavy composition. Tar sands oil spills have the potential to be more damaging than conventional crude oil spills because they are more difficult and more costly to clean up, and because they have the potential to pose more serious health risks. Therefore both the frequency and particular nature of the spills have negative economic implications.

» The Kalamazoo River tar sands spill affected the health of hundreds of residents, displaced residents, hurt businesses, and caused a loss of jobs. The largest tar sands oil spill in the U.S. occurred on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010. This spill is the most expensive tar sands pipeline oil spill in U.S. history, with overall costs estimated at $725 million.

» The public debate around Keystone XL has focused almost exclusively on job creation from the project, yet existing jobs and economic sectors could suffer significantly from one or more spills from Keystone XL. According to the U.S. State Department, the six states along the pipeline route are expected to gain a total of 20 permanent pipeline operation jobs. Meanwhile, the agricultural and tourism sectors are already a major employer in these states. Potential job losses to these sectors resulting from one or more spills from Keystone XL could be considerable.

» Renewable energy provides a safer route to creating new jobs and a sustainable environment. The U.S. is leading the world in renewable energy investments, and employment in this sector has expanded in recent years. For every $1 million invested in renewable and clean energy, 16.7 jobs are created. By contrast, $1 million invested in fossil fuels generates 5.3 jobs.

Read the report (PDF).

Pipe dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL a report by Cornell University Global Labor Institute

By Ian Goodman and Brigid Rowan - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, September 2011

The purpose of this briefing paper is to examine claims made by TransCanada Corporation and the American Petroleum Institute that, if constructed, TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline will generate enough employment to kick-start important sections of the US economy through the creation of tens of thousands—perhaps even hundreds of thousands—of good, well-paying jobs for American workers.

This briefing paper raises a number of questions regarding the jobs claims promoted by the industry, questions that are serious enough to generate a high level of skepticism regarding the value of KXL as an important source of American jobs. With national unemployment levels presently (September 2011) around 9%, and the real unemployment figures considerably higher, jobs are desperately needed both to sustain families and to help the broader economy. However, it is our assessment—based on the publicly available data—that the construction of KXL will create far fewer jobs in the US than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates.

The results presented below should also cast doubt on the recent claim made by American Petroleum Institute that the oil industry could create more than a million jobs over the next decade—if the US government would open public lands, beaches, oceans, to unlimited oil drilling. If the industry’s jobs estimates made in the context of KXL are any indication, then this broader claim should be scrutinized very carefully indeed.

Read the report (PDF).

Tar Sands: Rejecting False Conflict Between Trade Unions and Environment

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 23, 2011

Sometimes a decision forces you to think deeply about what you believe in and how you act on those beliefs. It was like that when the climate protection leader Bill McKibben asked me to sign a letter calling for civil disobedience to block the building of a pipeline designed to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Opposing the pipeline might strain ties with unions that I’ve worked with and been part of for my whole adult life. And yet the pipeline might be a tipping point that could hurtle us into ever more desperate acceleration of climate change.  Amid these conflicting pulls, what should I do? Having lived at the confluence of trade unionism and environmentalism, what’s the right course of action – what has my life’s work meant?

I was born into a union family. My dad worked in the steel mills in Lorain, Ohio and was a founder of the Steelworkers Union. My mom had been an organizer in the Clothing Workers Union in Cincinnati. I grew up near Cleveland and I walked the picket line with my dad during the 1959 steel strike.

My own trade union life began the day I walked through the factory doors at Capital Products Aluminum Corporation in Mechanicsburg, PA. I was 17 years old, and I joined the United Steelworkers of America. That summer I engaged in my first strike. The following year Hurricane Agnes pounded the mid-Atlantic states; Central Pennsylvania was devastated, and the mill was flooded out. So I joined the Laborer’s Union and went to work on construction.

That’s where I first learned something about working on pipelines. I worked building the Texas-Eastern pipeline as it wound its way through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania. Small teams of operating engineers, pipefitters, and laborers traveled across the state doing work we enjoyed and that we understood to be useful and important. (We didn’t know then what we know now.) It was a great job and I was a member of a great union, Laborer’s Local 158. We formed friendships and shared a solidarity that touched us all deeply.

On another job building a railroad bridge across the Susquehanna river, a buddy of mine got fired by a hubris-filled college kid. (The kid’s dad owned the construction company so the kid had been made chief foreman over all laborers.) We struck and shut the job down. The operating engineers, carpenters and ironworkers supported us. Without that support we would have lost, but we won and my brother laborer was hired back.

These jobs helped me pay my way through college. They also taught me a lot about solidarity and trade unionism, and helped launch me on a life-long pursuit of workers rights and jobs with justice, first as a local leader and eventually as an official with the AFL-CIO.

I grew up along the banks of Lake Erie and I learned at a tender age about the possibility of human threats to the environment. I was there when they posted the signs telling us to stop swimming in the lake and stop eating the fish. I’d already eaten hundreds of Lake Erie Yellow Perch and swallowed more of that lake water than I care to think about.

I also learned early about the potential conflict between protecting labor and protecting the environment. In the 1970s I worked on the concrete crew during the construction of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and my local union put out a bumper sticker that read “Hungry and Out of Work? Eat an Environmentalist.”

Since then I’ve devoted much of my life trying to bridge the gap between labor and environmental movements. I’ve argued that both share a common interest in combining economic and social sustainability with environmental sustainability. I’ve argued that “jobs vs. the environment” is a false choice.

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