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The Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Jobs-Killer

By Wenonah Hauter - In These Times, February 14, 2022

For years now, any discussion about climate action or the need to move off fossil fuels has run headlong into a familiar quandary: The industries fueling the climate crisis create good jobs, often in areas of the country where finding work that can support a family is incredibly difficult. 

This leaves activists gesturing towards well-intentioned goals like a ​“just transition,” a promise that likely rings hollow for workers and many labor unions because it’s hard to see where this has actually happened — even though, by every measure, we need to create some real policies that turn this vision into reality. While there are encouraging examples of labor unions throwing their support behind robust climate plans, it has proven difficult for the climate movement to find its way out of the jobs versus environment framing. 

But that is especially true when we refuse to question the original premise. The truth is that the fossil fuel industry wildly inflates its employment record, and the recent data show they are producing more fuel with fewer workers. Instead of avoiding this reality, perhaps it is time to tackle it head on. Dirty energy corporations are not creating jobs as much as they are cutting them these days, and that provides an opening to envision the kinds of employment — in areas like orphaned well clean up and energy efficiency — that will provide employment for the thousands of workers the industry is no longer employing. 

Some of the most common jobs estimates are produced by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the powerful oil and gas trade association. Over the years, API has released reports claiming that the domestic fracking industry creates somewhere between 2.5 million to 11 million jobs, both directly and indirectly. These numbers — or versions of them — are floated in political debates and in the media, but they are significantly out of step with other estimates, including the federal government’s labor reports. Food & Water Watch, an organization I founded, created a more accurate model that relies on direct jobs and relevant support activities, including pipeline construction and product transportation. The total comes to just over 500,000 in 2020, or about 0.4 percent of all jobs in the country. 

How to explain the massive gap between industry propaganda and reality? The API figures include a range of employment categories; in addition to direct industry employment, they add indirect jobs (those within a supply chain) and induced jobs (those that are supposedly ​‘supported’ by direct and indirect jobs). These categories make up the vast majority of their total. Convenience store workers, for example — working where gas happens to be sold — make up almost 35 percent of the industry’s supposed employment record.

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: Examining False Corporate Schemes advanced through the Paris Agreement

Election of Union Leader Who Called for COP26 to be Ditched ‘Not Ideal’, Say Campaigners

By Jocelyn Timperley - DeSmog, June 7, 2021

Pro-fracking union leader Gary Smith has accused politicians of “preaching about the need for a green jobs’ revolution” and said Glasgow’s hosting of the UN climate summit showed the UK had its “priorities all wrong”.

Green campaigners have expressed concern about the GMB union’s newly elected leader, who has called for Glasgow to ditch the upcoming COP26 climate summit and enthusiastically backed fracking.

Gary Smith was previously Secretary of GMB’s Scotland branch but on Thursday was elected as the union’s new UK-wide General Secretary and Treasurer. GMB is the third largest union in the UK, with some 620,000 members covering work across a range of industry sectors, including oil and gas, aviation and manufacturing, as well as the public sector.

Smith, who won just over half of the 61,000 votes cast, has a history of outspoken comments about climate change and last year slammed the international UN climate conference now due to be held in Glasgow in November, saying “our priorities are all wrong”.

“The world’s political elite will fly in and out of Glasgow later in the year but the city’s many challenges will remain the day after the circus leaves town,” he said at the time. “The best thing government could do for Glasgow is to ditch hosting the COP and instead invest the money in dealing with the state of the city.”

Smith has been a long-time backer of fracking and fiercely criticised Labour for its support for a nationwide fracking ban, saying “Britain needs gas”. He has also been outspoken on the offshoring of manufacturing and fabrication work for the UK’s renewables industry. 

In the lead up to the election, climate activist Leo Murray said Smith’s election “would not bode well for prospects of GMB finally arriving in the 21st century with respect to the climate crisis”, calling Smith a “fracking cheerleader extraordinaire”.

Responding to news of the election, Alex Brent, GMB activist and co-founder of GMB for a Green New Deal, said Smith’s scepticism towards decarbonisation and often confrontational attitude towards climate activism is “obviously not ideal”.

However, he added, “ultimately it’s not him that needs convincing – it’s workers”, noting that GMB Union was “hardly leading the way in climate action before Gary Smith became general secretary”.

“GMB members, trade unionists and climate activists will continue to organise for climate action at the only level that matters – among their branches, in their workplaces, and in their local communities,” he said. “If Gary gets in the way of that organising, then that may prove to be a problem. Until then, the work continues.”

North Dakota, Using Taxpayer Funds, Bailed Out Oil and Gas Companies by Plugging Abandoned Wells

By Nicholas Kusnetz - Inside Climate News, May 23, 2021

The bailout, environmentalists say, raises bigger questions about who will pay, in an energy transition, to close off the nation’s millions of aging wells.

When North Dakota directed more than $66 million in federal pandemic relief funds to clean up old oil and gas wells last year, it seemed like the type of program everyone could get behind. The money would plug hundreds of abandoned wells and restore the often-polluted land surrounding them, and in the process would employ oilfield workers who had been furloughed after prices crashed.

The program largely accomplished those goals. But some environmental advocates say it achieved another they didn’t expect: It bailed out dozens of small to mid-sized oil companies, relieving them of their responsibility to pay for cleaning up their own wells by using taxpayer money instead.

Oil drillers are generally required to plug their wells after they’re done producing crude. But in practice, companies are often able to defer that responsibility for years or decades. Larger companies often sell older wells to smaller ones, which sometimes go bankrupt, leaving the wells with no owner.

These “orphaned wells” become the responsibility of the federal or state governments, depending on where they were drilled. While oil companies are required to post bonds or other financial assurance to pay for plugging them, in reality those bonds cover only a tiny fraction of the costs, leaving taxpayers on the hook. One estimate, by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a financial think tank, found that those bonds cover only a tiny fraction of the expected costs of cleaning up the nation’s oil and gas wells.

But in North Dakota, it turned out that most of the wells the state plugged were not truly orphaned, but had solvent owners. After the industry warned last year that the pandemic-driven oil-crash was threatening its finances, state regulators stepped in, assumed ownership of more than 300 wells, and used CARES Act funds to plug them, meaning the companies avoided paying anything themselves.

“What happened was a bunch of people got a free ride,” said Scott Skokos, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, a grassroots environmental group in the state.

Does Shale Gas Extraction Grow Jobs?

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse (Third Edition)

Edited by Lucia Amorelli, Dylan Gibson, Tamra Gilbertson, the Indigenous Environmental Network, et. al. - Various Organizations (see below), April, 2021

Authored by grassroots, veteran organizers, movement strategists and thought leaders from across our climate and environmental justice movements, the third edition of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse is an easy-to-read, concise-yet-comprehensive compendium of the false corporate promises that continue to hoodwink elected officials and the public, leading us down risky pathways poised to waste billions of public dollars on a host of corporate snake-oil schemes and market-based mechanisms. These false solutions distract from the real solutions that serve our most urgent needs in an alarming climate justice moment of no-turning-back. By uncovering the pitfalls and risky investments being advanced by disaster capitalists to serve the needs of the biggest polluters on the planet, Hoodwinked also provides a robust framework for understanding the depth of real solutions and how they should be determined. As a pop-ed toolbox, Hoodwinked promises to be instructive for activists, impacted communities and organizers, while providing elected officials with critical lenses to examine a complex, technocratic field of climate change policy strategies, from local to national and international arenas.

The second version of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse was released in 2009 as a pop-ed zine collaboratively produced by Rising Tide North America and Carbon Trade Watch with the Indigenous Environmental Network and a number of allied environmental justice and climate action organizers leading up to the 2009 United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen (COP 15). During that mobilization and in years since, this zine has played a major role in raising awareness across climate movements around the world – both helping frontline organizers in their fights against destructive energy proposals and shifting policy positions of large non-governmental organizations.

With the proliferation of false solutions in the Paris Climate Agreement, national and subnational climate plans, the third edition of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse aims to provide a resource that dismantles the barriers to building a just transition and a livable future.

Includes contributions from the following organizations:

  • Biofuelwatch
  • Energy Justice Network
  • Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
  • ETC Group
  • Global Justice Ecology Project
  • Indigenous Climate Action
  • Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Just Transition Alliance
  • La Via Campesina
  • Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project
  • Mt. Diablo Rising Tide
  • Mutual Aid Disaster Relief
  • North American Megadam Resistance Alliance
  • Nuclear Information and Resource Service
  • Rising Tide North America
  • Shaping Change Collaborative

Read the text (PDF).

Pipelines, Pandemics and Capital’s Death Cult: A Green Syndicalist View

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 29, 2021

We can see this within any industry, within any capitalist enterprise. It is perhaps most clearly apparent, in an unadorned fashion, in extractives industries like mining, logging, or oil, where the consumption of nature (as resources) for profit leaves ecosystems ruined, where workers are forced to labor in dangerous, often deadly, conditions, and where it is all is carried out through direct dispossession, invasion, and occupation of Indigenous lands and through processes of mass killing, even genocide. And when it is all done, little remains except the traces of profit that have been extracted and taken elsewhere.

These intersections have come to the forefront with particular clarity under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The death cult of capital on full display in all its variety of ways.

Oil Trains: Are Profits Worth Our Risk?

Fracking boom brings job and income loss to Appalachian communities

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 23, 2021

A February study examined the economic changes in 22 counties the authors call “Frackalachia” – home to the Utica and Marcellus shale gas industry. The report, Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and Getting less in return examines the period from 2008 to 2019, a time when the area went from producing a negligible portion of U.S. natural gas to producing 40%. The report summarizes the job forecasts provided by oil and gas industry economic impact studies, (over 450,000 new jobs for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), and shows the actual economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis – a 1.6% increase in jobs – at a time when the number of jobs across the U.S. grew by 9.9%. Detailed statistics demonstrate the differences amongst counties and states – with Ohio faring the worst and Pennsylvania faring the best. The report’s analysis shows that in the entire area represented by the 22 counties, the share of the national personal income fell by 6.3 percent, the share of jobs fell by 7.5 percent, and the share of the national population fell by 9.7 percent , while 90% of the wealth generated from fracking left the local communities.

The report was produced and published on February 10 by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Pennsylvania, founded in 2020 with the vision of “moving beyond an extractive economy toward shared prosperity, lasting job growth, clean energy, and civic engagement.” This report has been widely reported, including in “Appalachia’s fracking boom has done little for local economies: Study”(Environmental Health News , Feb. 12), which summarizes the report and adds context concerning the health effects of fracking, and the failed attempts to expand production to petrochemicals and plastics using ethane, a by-product of the fracked natural gas.

Appalachia's Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and getting less in return

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, February 12, 2021

Economists debate whether there is such a thing as a “resource curse”.

Between 2008 and 2019, twenty-two old industrial and rural counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, which make up the Appalachian natural gas region, increased their contribution to US gross domestic product (GDP) by more than one-third. In 2008, the 22 counties were responsible for $2.46 of every $1,000 of national output. By 2019, the figure had climbed to $3.33. Their rate of GDP growth more than tripled that of the nation. However, during the same period, measures of local economic prosperity—the economic impacts of that growth—not only failed to keep pace with the increased share of output, they actually declined.

  • The 22 counties’ share of the nation’s personal income fell by 6.3%, from $2.62 for every $1,000 to just $2.46.
  • Their share of jobs fell by 7.6%, from 2.62 in every 1,000 to 2.46.
  • Their share of the nation’s population fell by 10.9%, from 3.26 for every 1,000 Americans to 2.9 for every thousand.

It is a case of economic growth without prosperity, the defining characteristic of the resource curse.

Most of the GDP increase in this group of counties was due to the Appalachian natural gas production boom, which was facilitated by the advent of a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short.

Read the text (PDF).

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