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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.

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).

Cracked: The Case for Green Jobs Over Pterochemicals in Pennsylvania

By staff - Food and Water Watch, September 2020

While the national economy struggled to recover from the Great Recession, wage and employment growth in Pennsylvania was anemic. This experience mirrored national trends of increasing inequality and a hollowing out of the middle class. Despite the state’s aggressive embrace of fracking as a driver of economic growth, fracking jobs remain scarce and temporary. As frackers suffocate in a glut of natural gas (including ethane) and as Pennsylvanians struggle with the environmental damage wrought by fracking and other dirty industries, Pennsylvania lawmakers are attempting to artificially sustain the boom by offering lucrative concessions to mega-corporations and dirty petrochemical producers.

Doubling down on toxic industries won’t fix the region’s economic woes, but will instead foreclose opportunities for long-term, sustainable growth through green energy manufacturing. Given the economic uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic, an aggressive commitment to public works investment in green energy is more important now than ever. Solar, wind and energy efficiency are necessary to avert catastrophic climate change. Wind and solar manufacturing would also employ more people than comparable investments in oil, gas, coal or plastics.

Read the text (Linked PDF).

Winding Down BC's Fossil Fuel Industries: Planning for Climate Justice in a Zero-Carbon Economy

By Marc Lee and Seth Klein - Corporate Mapping Project, March 2020

IMAGINE IT’S 2025 AND BECAUSE OF THE ESCALATING CLIMATE CRISIS, governments in Asia have declared ambitious new climate action plans, including the elimination of metallurgical coal for steel manufacturing within five years, to be replaced by state-of-the-art hydrogen-powered furnaces; and an aggressive transition off of natural gas and toward renewables within a dec-ade. After a short period of time, BC’s fossil fuel exports dry up, workers are laid off and local communities get hit with declines in both public- and private-sector jobs due to falling incomes.

It is this type of scenario that needs to inform planning for BC’s fossil fuel industries (coal, oil and gas). This report’s framework for a managed wind-down aspires to thoughtfully and strategic-ally phase out the extraction and production of fossil fuels in BC, most of which are exported and burned elsewhere.

The BC government’s continued interest in expanding production and export of its fossil fuels suggests little willingness to contemplate a managed wind-down so long as there are external buyers for BC resources. However, there is a risk that market conditions could change abruptly as other jurisdictions implement more aggressive climate policies and importers cut their con-sumption of fossil fuels. Fully phasing out BC’s fossil fuel industries over the next 20 to 30 years may be — for now at least — politically unthinkable. Nonetheless, this report aims to start a necessary conversation in BC. The managed wind-down framework is built on four pillars:

  1. Establish carbon budgets and fossil fuel production limits;
  2. Invest in the domestic transition from fossil fuels and develop a green industrial strategy;
  3. Ensure a just transition for workers and communities;
  4. Reform the royalty regime for fossil fuel extraction.

More than half of BC’s gas production is exported to Alberta for oil sands processing, with additional exports to the United States. Only 9 per cent of production is consumed within BC. Virtually all of the province’s coal is exported, with little domestic consumption. The bulk of production is higher-quality metallurgical coal used in steelmaking as opposed to thermal coal used to generate electricity.

Read the report (PDF).

Extractivism and Resistance in North Africa

By Hamza Hamouchene - Transnational Institute, October 2019

Extractivism as a mode of accumulation and appropriation in North Africa was structured through colonialism in the 19th century to respond to the demands of the metropolitan centres. This accumulation and appropriation pattern is based on commodification of nature and privatisation of natural resources, which resulted in serious environmental depredation. Accumulation by dispossession has reaffirmed the role of Northern African countries as exporters of nature and suppliers of natural resources – such as oil and gas- and primary commodities heavily dependent on water and land, such as agricultural commodities. This role entrenches North Africa’s subordinate insertion into the global capitalist economy, maintaining relations of imperialist domination and neo-colonial hierarchies.

The neo-colonial character of North African extractivism reflects the international division of labour and the international division of nature. It is revealed in largescale oil and gas extraction in Algeria and Tunisia; phosphate mining in Tunisia and Morocco; precious ore mining - silver, gold, and manganese - in Morocco; and water-intensive agribusiness farming paired with tourism in Morocco and Tunisia. This plays an important role in the ecological crisis in North Africa, which finds its clear expression in acute environmental degradation, land exhaustion and loss of soil fertility, water poverty, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and disease, as well as effects of global warming such as desertification, recurrent heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels.

Concurrent with this dynamic of dispossession of land and resources, new forms of dependency and domination are created. The (re)-primarisation of the economy (the deepened reliance on the export of primary commodities) is often accompanied by a loss of food sovereignty as a rentier system reinforces food dependency by relying on food imports, as in the case of Algeria; and/or as land, water and other resources are increasingly mobilised in the service of export-led cash crop agribusiness, as in Tunisia and Morocco. Extractivism finds itself mired in serious tensions, which generates protests and resistance. This paper documents some of these tensions and struggles by analysing activist grassroots work, including the participation in alternative regional conferences and ‘International Solidarity Caravans’ where representative of grassroots organisations, social movements and peasant communities met and travelled together to sites of socio-environmental injustices, providing a space to strategise together and offer effective solidarity to their respective struggles.

The rural working poor and the unemployed in Northern Africa are the most impacted by the multidimensional crisis. Comprising small-scale farmers, near-landless rural workers, fisherfolks and the unemployed, the movements emerging in the five case studies presented here are resisting the looting of their subsoil resources, the despoliation of their lands, pervasive environmental destruction and the loss of livelihoods. The paper asks the following questions: should we see these protests, uprisings and movements as mainly environmental, or are these fundamentally anti-systemic – anti-capitalist, antiimperialist, decolonial and counter-hegemonic protests? Are these circumstantial episodes of resistance, or do they rather represent the latest development in the historical trajectory of class struggle against the latest capitalist offensive in North Africa? The paper presents an assessment of the nature of these movements which grapple with tensions and contradictions that face them.

Read the report (PDF).

Internationalising the Green New Deal: Strategies for Pan-European Coordination

By Daniel Aldana Cohen, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, and Thea Riofrancos - Common Wealth, 2019

Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.

When the climate crisis first emerged into public consciousness in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were consolidating a neoliberal doctrine that banished the most powerful tools to confront global heating— public investment and collective action.

Instead, neoliberals sought to free markets from democratically imposed constraints and the power of mass mobilisation. Thatcher insisted that there was no alternative to letting corporations run roughshod over people and planet alike in the name of profit. Soon, New Democrats and New Labour agreed. While the leaders of the third way spoke often of climate change, their actual policies let fossil capital keep drilling and burning. Afraid to intervene aggressively in markets, they did far too little to build a clean energy alternative.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 and the left revival that exploded in its wake laid bare the failures of the neoliberal project. An alternative political economic project is now emerging—and not a moment too soon. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, keeping global warming below catastrophic levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” In other words: public investment and collective action.

Fortunately, movements on both sides of the Atlantic have been building strength to mount this kind of alternative to market fundamentalism. On the heels of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign breathed new life into the American left and its electoral prospects. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, spurred by a vibrant grassroots mobilisation, gives those of us in the U.S. hope: if New Labour could give way to Corbynism, surely Clintonism can give way to the left wing of the Democratic party. In the U.K., drawing on tactics from the Sanders campaign, Momentum has developed a new model of mass mobilisation to transform a fossilised political party. It’s restoring the dream that formal politics can be a means for genuinely democratic political organising. In turn, U.S. leftists are learning from Momentum’s innovations.

The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything, while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems and the broader political economy of which they are a part.

Read the report (PDF).

Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020

By Alison Kirsch, et. al. - Rainforest Action Network, et. al., January 2019

Financial companies are increasingly being recognized — by their clients, shareholders, regulators, and the general public — as climate actors, with a responsibility to mitigate their climate impact. For the banks highlighted in this report, the last year has brought a groundswell of activism demanding banks cut their fossil fuel financing, at the same time that increasingly extreme weather events have further underscored the urgency of the climate crisis.

This report maps out case studies where bank financing for fossil fuels has real impact on communities — from a planned coal mine expansion in Poland, to fracking in Argentina, to LNG terminals proposed for South Texas. Short essays throughout highlight additional key topics, such as the need for banks to measure and phase out their climate impact (not just risk) and what Paris alignment means for banks. Traditional Indigenous knowledge is presented as an alternative paradigm for a world increasingly beset with climate chaos. November’s U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, on the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Paris climate agreement, will be a crucial deadline for banks to align their policies and practices with a 1.5° Celsius world in which human rights are fully respected. The urgency of that task is underlined by this report’s findings that major global banks’ fossil financing has increased each year since Paris, and that even the best future-facing policies leave huge gaps.

Read the report (PDF).

UK: is the ‘dash for gas’ frackturing the labor movement?

By Francesca Sullivan and Karen Viquerat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 24, 2015

Unfolding story:  Proposal to frack in North West England leads to a minor earthquake

Just days after the UK’s leading union in the gas industry signed on to a charter with the gas industry to develop fracking, other unions are stepping up efforts to make sure the drilling never starts. The GMB’s Central Executive Committee issued its statement on fracking on June 8. The UK’s largest union, UNITE issued a press release in support of an anti-fracking demonstration organized by ‘Frack Free Lancashire‘ and Chris Baugh, Asst. General Secretary of Public and Commercial Services union, responded to the GMB’s argument.  See below for more details.

Unite Press Release

For immediate use: Monday 22 June 2015

Unite urges councillors to keep Lancashire ‘frack free’

Britain’s largest union, Unite will be joining campaigners and local groups tomorrow (Tuesday 23 June) in a demonstration to support a ‘frack free Lancashire’ and halt Cuadrilla’s fracking plans.

The ‘don’t frack Lancs’ demonstration outside Lancashire county council hall in Preston coincides with a council meeting where county councillors will decide whether to accept or reject Cuadrilla’s fracking applications.

Chair of Unite’s executive council, Tony Woodhouse is among the speakers at the demonstration being organised by Friends of Earth. The county hall demonstration runs from 17:00 to 19:00.

Last week council planning officers recommended that fracking should go ahead at Preston New Road, but permission should be refused at Roseacre Wood due to a severe impact on road safety due to heavy lorries.

Councillors tomorrow will decide on whether to accept or reject planning officers’ recommendations.

Unite North West regional secretary Mick Whitley said: “Fracking is a huge issue for communities across our region and a cause for deep concern.

“A moratorium on fracking is in place in Scotland and the Welsh assembly government is following suit such is the depth of concern in other parts of the UK.

“Here in Lancashire, county councillors need to listen to tens of thousands of people from across the county who have objected and reject all applications for fracking.”

Unite is committed to supporting and lobbying for a moratorium on all fracking activities across the United Kingdom.

Hemispheric Congress of Unions in São Paulo Urges Governments to Stop Fracking

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 28, 2016

More than 500 delegates representing unions in the Americas today adopted a ‘base document’ that included a call for governments in the hemisphere to issue a moratorium on fracking. Via the TUED-initiated Unions Against Fracking, five trade union centers in the Americas had earlier supported the call for a moratorium, namely CTA Argentina, CSN Quebec, the Canadian Labour Congress, CUT Brazil, and CUT Peru. A growing number of individual unions are also on board. The TUCA-CSA Congress document also declared, “We fight against the extractive model imposed by the business logic of large oil production and mining transnational corporations that do not foster development.”

Convened once every four years, the 3rd Congress of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americasis meeting at a time when unions in Brazil and across the region believe that a coup against president Dilma Rousseff is imminent. A right-wing government replacing the governing Workers Party is expected to push forward with an aggressive privatization agenda and a full-force attack on collective bargaining.

At a pre-Congress international seminar on April 26th titled “Democracy & Development in the Americas: Trade Union Strategy for the 2016-2020 period,” João Felício, current ITUC president and former leader of the main Brazilian union federation, CUT, underscored the seriousness of the situation. Referring to Dilma's period of incarceration during the 1964-1985 dictatorship, Felício said, “The torturers of Dilma, our democratically elected president, are poised to seize power. This is a coup. The CUT will never sit across the table with murderers and thieves.”

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow told the main session of Congress today, “This is about greed and corruption — corporate greed. We say, ‘No to coups, no to corruption.’ Dilma is the one person not charged for any personal corruption. Dilma is being tortured today in a different way.”

On climate change and the need for a ‘just transition,’ Burrow delivered a strong message: “Workers in fossil fuels should not be simply cast aside in the shift to a new economy. But there are no jobs on a dead planet. After the Paris Agreement, we need to act on the commitments made.”  Thanking Sharan for her work, TUCA president Hassan Yussuff acknowledged the ITUC's role at COP 21 in Paris. "Temperatures can not be allowed to rise above 2 degrees," he said, "We must ensure that unions are at the front of this fight." 

Representing TUED at the Congress, coordinator Sean Sweeney said, “Oil and gas multinationals have set their sights on Latin America in particular, and those supporting their agenda are playing their part in the attack on democracy in Brazil and across the continent. Unions at this Congress have seen with their own eyes what happens when mining and drilling companies move into their countries. They don't just go after fossil fuel deposits and water supplies, they also target democratic institutions and worker and human rights."

Our Climate is a Public Trust

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 20, 2014

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.

Can an ancient legal principle with roots in Roman law serve as a tool for the climate protection movement?

On October 23, Alec Johnson, aka “Climate Hawk,” is scheduled to go on trial for locking himself to a construction excavator in Tushka, Oklahoma as part of the Tar Sands Blockade campaign to block the route of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. He intends to argue that resisting the pipeline was necessary in order to protect the public trust – the common property right of the people to essential natural resources. Johnson will be the first defendant anywhere to make a necessity defense based on the duty of government to protect the climate under the public trust doctrine.

In a speech in Nacogdoches, TX on the day of the 2014 Peoples Climate March, Johnson said, “When it comes to our commons, to our public property, we the people have rights in a public trust.” The public trust doctrine means “we have rights when it comes to how our public commons are administered.” He will argue that his blockade of Keystone XL pipeline construction was necessary because the pipeline threatens our atmospheric public trust and state and national governments are failing to protect us against that threat.

Meanwhile, last week a petition was filed with the US Supreme Court by five youth plaintiffs seeking a decision that the Federal government is obligated to protect public trust assets like the atmosphere and the climate that under the public trust doctrine belong to the people. Behind this case lies a unique organizing effort by the group Our Children’s Trust, which has brought together young people and their legal supporters to file suits and petitions not only in Federal court but in every state in the US and several other countries. Then-sixteen-year-old Alec Loorz, founder of Kids v. Global Warming and lead plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, explained its public trust claim: “The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.”

And at a Climate Justice Tribunal across the street from the UN climate summit last month a judicial panel, after hearing evidence of devastating impacts of climate change around the world, declared that governments have a duty under the public trust doctrine to halt climate destruction. Organized by the Climate Justice Alliance and inspired in part by the International War Crimes Tribunal organized during the Vietnam War by renowned philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, the Tribunal’s judicial panel found that “Based on the evidence we have heard here today, the nations of our world are in violation of their most fundamental legal and constitutional obligations.” It called on governments to honor their duty to protect the atmosphere, which belongs in common to the world’s people, and halt their contribution to climate destruction.

Some courts are already starting to apply the public trust doctrine to protecting the atmospheric commons. Last December the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a law that prevented local communities from blocking fracking. The plurality opinion held that public natural resources are owned in common by the people, including future generations. Because the state is the trustee of these resources, it has a fiduciary duty to “conserve and maintain” them. The state has “a duty to refrain from permitting or encouraging the degradation, diminution, or depletion of public natural resources.”

Will courts force governments to fulfill that duty? So far several state courts have accepted important parts of the youth plaintiffs’ argument, but none have ordered a government to act. But in the meantime, thousands of people are sitting-in and blockading to halt climate-destroying activities. The judicial panel of the Climate Justice Tribunal declared that “those who blockade coal-fired power plants or block tar sands oil pipelines are committing no crime.” Rather, they are exercising their right and responsibility to protect the atmospheric commons they own along with all of present and future humankind. They are acting to prevent a far greater harm — indeed, “a harm that by virtue of the public trust doctrine is itself a violation of law on a historic scale.”

Alec Johnson says that “we the people” are “armed” by the public trust doctrine to demand that governments “recognize their responsibilities as trustees and exercise their fiduciary responsibility to act with the highest duty of care” to sustain the resources necessary for society to endure. “Enforcing our children’s rights to climate justice is no crime.”

Jeremy Brecher is a historian of social movements, a founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability, and author of Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (Paradigm Publishers, January 2015).

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