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Drilling Towards Disaster: Why US Oil and Gas Expansion is Incompatible With Climate Limits

By Kelly Trout and Lorne Stockman - Oil Change International, et. al., January 2019

World governments, including the United States, committed in 2015 in the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and, at a maximum, to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C). This report is part of The Sky’s Limit series by Oil Change International examining why governments must stop the expansion of fossil fuel production and manage its decline – in tandem with addressing fossil fuel consumption – to fulfill this commitment.

The global Sky’s Limit report, released in 2016, found that the world’s existing oil and gas fields and coal mines contain more than enough carbon to push the world beyond the Paris Agreement’s temperature limits. This finding indicates that exploring for and developing new fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with the Paris goals. In fact, some already-operating fields and mines will need to be phased out ahead of schedule.

Since the global Sky’s Limit report in 2016, new scientific evidence has added urgency to this call for a managed decline of fossil fuel production. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that reaching 2°C of warming would significantly increase the odds of severe, potentially irreversible impacts to human and natural systems, compared to limiting warming to 1.5°C. The difference could be the wipeout or resilience of whole communities and ecosystems. The report underscores that a 1.5°C path is possible but will require “rapid and far- reaching” transitions and “deep emissions reductions in all sectors” so that carbon pollution nears zero by 2050.

Unfortunately, existing climate measures aren’t cutting it – literally. Current national policy pledges under the Paris Agreement would put the world on course for 2.4 to 3.8°C of warming, a catastrophic outcome.

This glaring gap in ambition has been driven in part by a systemic policy omission. Over the past three decades, climate policies have primarily focused on addressing emissions where they exit the smokestack or tailpipe. Meanwhile, they have largely left the source of those emissions – the oil, gas, and coal extracted by fossil fuel companies – to the vagaries of the market.

Basic economics tells us that the consumption of any product is shaped by both supply and demand. It follows that reducing supply and demand together, or ‘cutting with both arms of the scissors,’ais the most efficient and effective way to reduce a harmful output. Putting limits on fossil fuel extraction – or ‘keeping it in the ground’ – is a core yet underutilized lever for accelerating climate action.

Curbing the supply of fossil fuels does not mean turning off the taps overnight. Rather, it means stopping new projects that would lock in new pollution for the coming decades. It means managing an orderly and equitable wind-down of existing fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction projects within climate limits. It makes it possible to plan for a just transition for workers and communities.

If the world is to succeed in meeting the Paris goals, this type of comprehensive and clear-eyed approach is urgently needed everywhere, and particularly in the United States – one of the world’s top producers and users of fossil fuels.

Read the report (PDF).

Labor Leaders Support the Dakota Access Pipeline—But This Native Union Member Doesn’t

Article and Image by Brooke Anderson - Yes! Magazine, October 18, 2016

This article is part of a collaboration between YES! Magazine and Climate Workers that seeks to connect the experiences of workers with the urgency of the climate crisis.

As clashes over the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline continue in North Dakota, a related battle is brewing in the halls of organized labor. In a statement issued September 15, the nation’s largest federation of trade unions threw in its support for the controversial oil pipeline.

The president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) denounced the actions of the Standing Rock protectors, stating that “trying to make climate policy by attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved.”

Thousands of people, including members of over 200 tribes, have been camped at the construction site for months to stop the pipeline, which would move 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day across four states, threatening the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

As the controversy heated up, four unions representing pipeline workers denounced the water protectors, claiming they were illegal protesters who were committing dangerous actions while Illegally occupying private land. The AFL-CIO, which represents 55 unions and 12.5 million members, quickly followed suit.

Many union members were furious. Unions representing nurses, bus drivers, communications workers, and electrical workers issued statements in solidarity with the tribe and opposing the pipeline.

However, some critical voices have been missing from the conversation: those of indigenous union members themselves. One of those members is Melissa Stoner, a Native American Studies librarian at the Ethnic Studies Library at the University of California Berkeley and a member of American Federation of Teachers 1474, AFL-CIO.

I recently sat down with Stoner. She shared her experiences growing up on the Navajo Reservation, advocating for domestic violence survivors, falling in love with libraries, and wrestling with the contradictions of a labor movement divided on climate at a critical moment.

Unions Congratulate the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Denial of Authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

Statement from 1199 SEIU; Amalgamated Transit Union; Brotherhood of Maintenance and Way Employees Division, Pennsylvania Federation–Teamsters; National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Nurses United; New York State Nurses Association; United Electrical Workers - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, December 9, 2016

We are unions representing members in health care, domestic work, public transit, railroads, manufacturing and other sectors.

We congratulate leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and thousands of supporters for the news that the federal government will deny authorization for the Dakota Access Pipeline to go through tribal lands posing a threat to water sources and sacred sites.

The Obama Administration’s decision respects the sacred grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux and takes into consideration the potential of a hazardous pipeline leak that would harm the community’s life and livelihood.

This is a historic victory, and an organizing victory that every union member can identify with, against one of the most powerful economic and political forces in the world: the fossil fuel industry and its many allies inside and outside government. These forces have used private police that have not hesitated in using violence to intimidate those participating in peaceful protest.

Mindful of our own history in facing private police and vigilantes in the fight to establish workers’ rights, trade unionists have stood shoulder to shoulder with the First Nation water protectors, environmental and community supporters, and many allies who have mobilized and rallied for months against huge odds.

Our unions will continue to join with opponents of the Dakota Pipeline along other routes and fight to halt similar projects that transport dirty crude oil that jeopardize public health and contribute to the climate crisis.

We also stand in solidarity with the construction workers who build our country’s infrastructure, and also with the workers in coal, oil and gas, many of whom have lost their jobs due to the collapse in global prices. In accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement, we call for a “just transition” for workers whose jobs and livelihoods may be threatened by the move away from fossil fuels.

But there is much work to be done in modernizing and repairing bridges, roads, tunnels, public transit systems, etc., many of which have become dilapidated and dangerous to workers and the public.  But jobs based on expanding (and exporting) fossil fuels will simply lead to more environmental destruction, worsening health, climate instability and social upheaval at home and abroad.  Business as usual is not an option.

Together we can demand the development of sustainable energy production and resource initiatives that unequivocally provide good, safe union jobs while salvaging the health and well-being of the earth’s population.

Our future depends on our willingness to engage and organize among progressive forces and social movements in order to effectively meet the challenges ahead.

Eyewitness Dakota: Standing with a Native Led Movement Against Extreme Energy

By Irene Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 14, 2016

I just returned from Standing Rock, North Dakota where I stayed at the camp with thousands of others gathered to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I decided to go because, despite the lack of major media coverage, this has been the most visible Native-led movement against America’s system of exploitation in our country, and one that deeply impacts all of us, from issues of clean drinking water to climate change. I also went because I believe that we can’t allow the fossil fuel industry or our government to perpetuate a history of genocide for profit by jeopardizing the water source of thousands of Native Americans while ignoring their treaty rights and sacred lands – an example of capitalism at work. I knew that the water protectors at Standing Rock wanted people to come out there, so I went to contribute whatever I could to win the battle.

Standing Rock is an opportunity to organize and raise people’s consciousness that the climate crisis is the result of a system that exploits land and working people and then displaces them, so that natural resources can be extracted for profit. Without a systemic change, more pipelines will be constructed for profit and more communities will be destroyed, especially poor communities of color, regardless of a defeated DAPL or better energy policies.

Many people who were at Standing Rock were there because they decided to fight against a system that can seem unbeatable. Instead of letting discouragement or fear keep them away, they chose to fight the fossil fuel industry and our government that supports the destruction of their water supply and land. I wanted to connect with people in that context, to talk about the need for systemic change and to bring that energy of hope and a fighting spirit home to local battles against displacement, environmental racism and exploitation.

Jobs vs the Environment?: Mainstream and Alternative Media Coverage of Pipeline Controversies

By Robert A Hackett and Philippa R Adams - Corporate Mapping Project, September 2018

Much of the argument advanced in support of expanding Canada’s fossil fuel production centres on job creation and economic benefits. Politicians, pundits and corporate spokespeople who support fossil fuel infrastructure projects—such as new oil and gas pipelines—often evoke this rhetoric when they appear in the media.

This study examines how the press—including corporate and alternative outlets—treats the relationship between jobs and the environment. Focusing on pipeline projects that connect Alberta’s oil sands to export markets, it also asks which voices are treated as authoritative and used as sources, whose views are sidelined, which arguments for and against pipelines are highlighted, and what similarities and differences exist between mainstream and alternative media coverage of pipeline controversies.

Read the report (PDF).

Winds of Change: Public Opinion on Energy Politics in Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, and Randy Besco - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - April 2018

Energy politics are controversial in Canada. Debates over pipelines, from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion to TransCanada’s Keystone XL, are often splashed across newspaper headlines. In Saskatchewan, however, the Saskatchewan Party government and the official NDP opposition have rarely disagreed about the importance of defending the province’s oil industry from anti-pipeline activists and federal climate change policies. Most recently, the interim leader of the NDP sided with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in the dispute between Alberta and British Colombia over Kinder Morgan.1 Although Saskatchewan produces no bitumen itself, the NDP joined Premier Notley in condemning BC Premier Horgan’s announcement that British Colombia will place restrictions on the shipment of bitumen through its territory.

Given the seeming political consensus that defending the oil industry is consistent with defending the province’s interests, one might assume that Saskatchewan people are relatively united in their support for fossil fuel extraction. In this report we present some surprising results of public opinion polling that we conducted on issues of oil extraction, environment, and climate change in the province. Our results show that people living in Saskatchewan support a transition away from fossil fuels and agree that the government should invest more in solar and wind power while strengthening environmental regulations.

Read the report (PDF).

Native rights and resistance after Standing Rock

Nick Estes and Ragina Johnson interviewed by Khury Petersen-Smith - Socialist Worker, January 24, 2018

One of Donald Trump's first acts as president was to sign executive orders to push through construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and Keystone XL Pipeline. Both projects were flashpoints of Indigenous resistance, especially DAPL, which sparked a rebellion at Standing Rock that galvanized months of protest and political action around the country.

The executive orders signaled Trump's hard line against Indigenous protest, as part of his broader attack on oppressed people, the working class and the environment. More recently, Trump announced the reduction of protected lands at Bears Ears National Monument, amid a series of insults toward Native Americans, such as his disrespect of Navajo veterans when they visited the White House.

Nick Estes is a co-founder of the Red Nation website, and Ragina Johnson is an activist and member of the International Socialist Organization. Both participated in the Standing Rock resistance and other struggles, and have written prolifically on Indigenous politics. They talked with Khury Petersen-Smith about the state of the struggle after Standing Rock and the questions of Indigenous oppression and self-determination that lie before us.

Was 2017 the year that the tide finally turned against fossil fuel projects?

By Suzanne Dhaliwal - Open Democracy, December 21, 2017

Last week AXA announced its sell off of €700m of tar sands investments from its balance sheets, covering 25 tar sands companies and 3 major pipelines projects. Thomas Buberl, the company’s chief executive, called the projects “not sustainable and therefore also not insurable.”

This was a significant win for activists like the UK Tar Sands Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network, who have been calling on financial institutions to end investments in the tar sands projects and pipelines since 2009, and who have most recently taken their campaigning efforts to the insurance industry.

The AXA decision comes just weeks after BNP Paribas broke the news that it will no longer finance new shale or tar sands projects, nor work with companies that mainly focus on those resources. Last Friday, Norway’s largest life insurer, KLP announced that it would exclude from its portfolio any firms that derive 30 percent or more of revenues from the extraction of tar sands. In the same week the World Bank announced it would cease financing upstream oil and gas after 2019.

It’s welcome news. Based on the financial risks, climate impacts and indigenous rights violations, we have seen a significant shift in financial institutions backing fossil fuels. The Bank of England now recognizes the monetary risks associated with climate change and is advising the central banks and governments to get out of highly polluting fuels due to the pending carbon bubble and the bad business associated with ‘extreme’ energy extraction. As a result BP, Shell, Exxon and others have pulled out of major tar sands projects and pipelines.

And now the insurance industry is beginning to act more meaningfully. As early as the 1970s, the insurance industry acknowledged the risk of climate change and the need for the sector to take meaningful action. Insurers have already seen the costs of climate related catastrophes and extreme weather events skyrocket, compelling them to be among some of the first movers divesting from coal and also develop policies to stop the underwriting of new fossil fuel projects. But they have massive holdings in fossil fuels. And so they need public pressure to push them to divest.

So despite last week’s news, we must be careful not to pop those champagne corks too fast. Significant action and commitment has yet to be seen by Asian and American insurers. Moreover, regenerative steps need to be taken to ensure that the communities whose livelihoods depend on fossil fuels benefit from the transition to the clean energy economy. Simply put, who will be responsible for the massive clean-ups of stranded projects and direct the green energy transition?

Would the Atlantic Coast Pipeline be the job creator its TV ads claim?

By Sue Sturgis - Facing South, December 15, 2017

Dominion and Duke Energy got more bad news about their controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project this month, with North Carolina regulators announcing they would not issue the necessary air quality permit for a planned compressor station in Northampton County by Dec. 15, as the utilities had hoped. The proposed 600-mile pipeline would carry fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, with most of it used to generate electricity at gas-fired power plants.

On Dec. 4, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) — headed by the Environmental Defense Fund's former Southeastern regional director Michael Regan — asked for additional information about air pollution impacts, indefinitely extending the deadline for a response. This marks the fifth time that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's administration has asked the ACP developers for more information about the project, which has the necessary approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but still needs air, water and erosion permits in North Carolina. Last month the state requested additional details about economic benefits to communities along the pipeline's route.

Amid ongoing questions from state regulators about the ACP's impacts, its developers are running TV ads in North Carolina touting the project's job-creation potential. They're doing so through a group called the EnergySure Coalition, an alliance of pro-pipeline businesses and associations that's funded by Dominion and Duke as well as the other two minor ACP investors, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

One of the recent ads features Durwood Stephenson, a commercial and industrial construction contractor based in Johnston County, which lies along the ACP's route. He's also the executive director of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission, a regional economic development group.

"We need the pipeline if we're going to bring in industries and jobs," Stephenson says.

But are those job claims accurate? Will the $5.5 billion pipeline that would be financed primarily by Dominion and Duke Energy ratepayers be an economic boon for Eastern North Carolina, a region that faces higher-than-average unemployment?

An analysis released last week concluded that the developers' jobs claims are overly optimistic. It was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and carried out by the Applied Economics Clinic (AEC), a nonprofit consulting group housed at Tufts University in Massachusetts that focuses on energy, environment and equity. The researchers looked at the overall economics of the ACP as well as specific claims about manufacturing jobs and found the developers' promises to be unsubstantiated.

"Recent data on states with new natural gas pipeline capacity does not support the claim that the addition of a new natural gas pipeline in a state is correlated with lower industrial electricity prices or an increase in the number of manufacturing jobs in that state," the report said.

As Opposition Grows Against Pipelines in Virgina, Far-Right Press Plays Up ‘Green Antifa’

By the collective - It's Going Down, December 18, 2017

According to the End of the Line podcast, which chronicles anti-pipeline fights across the US, there is growing opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipelines (MVP) among rural residents in Virginia, where both watersheds and over 300 homes are threatened with pollution and the threat of eviction in the face of proposed construction of the two pipelines.

Last Tuesday, this anger boiled over at a Virginia State Water Control Board meeting, where hundreds of rowdy residents, landholders, and anti-pipeline opponents spoke into the night about the threats to water and land and why the pipelines should be rejected, demanding that the water board cancel potential permits for pipeline construction.

According to RVA MAG:

After a contentious Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hearing, the Virginia State Water Control Board voted Tuesday afternoon for a conditional approval of the 401 Certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) permit, tentatively stalling the ACP from moving forward with their pipeline construction planning process.

The vote was considered a positive decision for many landowners and environmental groups who oppose the pipeline, as the vote means ACP does not have an effective certification today.

This approval is contingent on many conditions which must be met within an undetermined 12-month period, set by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The vote is considered a more positive outcome for opposition compared to that of the DEQ hearing last week, which resulted in a full permit approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). A lawsuit has already been filed against the MVP decision in federal court by groups like Wild Virginia, Sierra Club, and Southern Environmental Law Center.

“We have never seen this kind of uprising on an environmental issue in this state,” Sligh said. “I’ve been working on these issues for over 35 years and I have never seen this kind of effort. I’ve never seen this kind of unity.”

Local organizers that talked to RVA MAG, stated that local leaders have met repeatedly with representatives from Dominion Energy who is pushing the pipelines, but have ducked local landholders whose homes and water is threatened:

“Ultimately, DEQ works for Terry McAuliffe,” said Mike Tidwell, Chesapeake Climate Action Network founder and director. “Terry McAuliffe has never to this day sat down and met with landowners opposed to this pipeline. He’s met for hours and hours and hours with Dominion. […] It would be great if the governor himself would say, ‘I hear you, Virginians. I hear you, landowners. I hear you, farmers. I hear you, students.’”

“Everyone in rural Virginia wants to protect Virginia and wants to protect their water,” said Cathy Chandler, Roanoke County landowner. “I felt the Board tried to ask good questions, and they got a very circuitous, jumbled response [from DEQ] without time and attention to giving an answer with clarity.”

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