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The Case for Phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands

By Gordon Laxer - Resillience, May 23, 2017

Proponents call them oil sands while opponents call them tar sands. Whatever they’re called, Alberta’s bitumen reserves are so massive, James Hansen warns that it could be game over for the world’s climate if all are extracted and burned.[i] We can’t do that and possibly keep the world below the Paris target of a two degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels.

What to do about Alberta Sands oil is an issue for Americans as well as Canadians. The US imports over 3 million barrels of oil a day from Canada, accounting for 38% of US oil imports, outpacing the combined imports from the four next largest sources – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico and Columbia. Sands oil comprise the majority of US oil imports from Canada.

The future of Sands oil imports became an American issue after more than 1,200 people were arrested in 2011 in front of the White House protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Shortly after, President Obama blocked and then banned the XL line to take mainly Sands oil to the Gulf coast. President Trump overturned that decision in March, allowing the Keystone XL line to be built, a move applauded by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

Big Oil faces huge obstacles getting Sands oil to major markets. In the context of today’s low international oil price, the Sands are among the costliest to produce on the planet. They emit massive amounts of extra greenhouse gases because they are heated by huge amounts of natural gas to separate oil from sand. To get from remote, landlocked northern Alberta to tidewater, Sands oil must cross political barriers – through one or more Canadian provinces or cross the border to the US. That means they need a social license – public and government support – to get to market. The future viability of the Sands then greatly depends on politics.

As Their Trials Begins, Climate Protecting "Valve Turners" Say "Shut It Down" Is "Necessity"

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, March 10, 2017

Is there anything people can do about climate change in the Trump era? The new American president has asserted that global warming is a fraud perpetrated by the Chinese to steal American jobs; threatened to ignore or even withdraw from the Paris climate agreement; and pledged unlimited burning of fossil fuels. Whatever the details, Trump’s agenda will escalate global warming far beyond its already catastrophic trajectory. As we learn that 2016 was the hottest year on record, it sounds like a formula for doom.

On October 11 2016, with the presidential campaign still raging, five climate protectors traveled to five secluded locations in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Washington state and turned the shut-off valves on the five pipelines that carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada into the United States. Their action – dubbed “Shut It Down” – blocked 15% of US crude oil imports for nearly a day. It will not in itself halt global warming. But it exemplifies a rising climate resistance that is challenging our thrust toward doom – and the temptation to succumb to climate despair.

Black Snakes on the Move: U.S. Pipeline Expansion Out Of Control

By Teressa Rose Ezell - The Bullet, February 9, 2017

Lakota prophecy tells of a mythic Black Snake that will move underground and bring destruction to the Earth. The “seventh sign” in Hopi prophecy involves the ocean turning black and bringing death to many sea-dwelling creatures. It doesn't take an over-active imagination to make a connection between these images and oil pipelines and spills.

It's troubling enough that the growing “Black Snake” has branched out at an alarming rate, forming a massive subterranean coast-to-coast web. But to make matters worse, the nefarious reptile seems to suffer from leaky gut syndrome, so that it functions as a toxic underground sprinkler system, spreading gas, oil, and poisonous by-products everywhere it goes – including into waterways and drinking water sources.

Protest actions against major pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) have called attention to the potentially devastating effects of pipelines, but much of the general public still doesn't understand the scope of the existing and proposed pipeline network in the U.S. and around the globe. Executive actions by Donald Trump just four days into his presidency practically guarantee expedited approval for DAPL, as well as for Keystone XL. This indicates, among other things, that the maze of oil and gas pipelines in the U.S. will continue to expand at an unprecedented and reckless pace.

DAPL Doesn’t Make Economic Sense

By Mark Paul - Dollars and Sense, February 2017

Last week, Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. This should come as no surprise, as Trump continues to fill his administration with climate deniers, ranging from the negligent choice of Rick Perry as energy secretary to Scott Pruitt as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, a man who stated last year that “scientists continue to disagree” on humans role in climate change may very well take the “Protection” out of the EPA, despite a majority of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—wanting the EPA’s power to be maintained or strengthened.

As environmental economists, my colleague Anders Fremstad and I were concerned. We crunched the numbers on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The verdict? Annual emissions associated with the oil pumped through the pipeline will impose a $4.6 billion burden on current and future generations.

First and foremost, the debate about DAPL should be about tribal rights and the right to clean water. Under the Obama administration, that seemed to carry some clout. Caving to pressure from protesters and an unprecedented gathering of more than a hundred tribes, Obama did indeed halt the DAPL, if only for a time. Under Trump and his crony capitalism mentality, the fight over the pipeline appears to be about corporate profits over tribal rights. Following Trump’s Executive Order to advance the pipeline, the Army Corps of Engineers has been ordered to approve the final easement to allow Energy Transfer Partners to complete the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux have vowed to take legal action against the decision.

While the pipeline was originally scheduled to cross the Missouri River closer to Bismarck, authorities decided there was too much risk associated with locating the pipeline near the capital’s drinking water. They decided instead to follow the same rationale used by Lawrence Summers, then the chief economist of the World Bank, elucidated in an infamous memo stating “the economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” That same logic holds for the low wage counties and towns in the United States. The link between environmental quality and economic inequality is clear—corporations pollute on the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable; in other words, those with the least resources to stand up for their right to a clean and safe environment.

IWW Resolution Against DAPL and KXL

Resolution passed by the IWW General Executive Board - January 28, 2017

Whereas: Neither the Dakota Access Pipeline nor the Keystone XL Pipeline will provide anywhere near the number of permanent union jobs the promoters of these projects promise they will, and

Whereas: Far more permanent union jobs can be created at comparable wages by repairing existing pipeline infrastructure, such as water mains in Flint, Michigan, or repairing leaks in existing pipelines (which, if unfixed, release harmful amounts of methane, a known greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming); and

Whereas: Far more jobs currently exist in the growing renewable energy sector than in the declining fossil fuel sector; and

Whereas: Though these renewable energy jobs are currently, typically nonunion, unions if so determined, could easily develop a successful organizing program, using solidarity unionism, that could revitalize the currently struggling labor movement; and

Whereas: Neither pipeline project will deliver the promised "energy security" or "energy independence" promised by their promoters, including the Building Trades and AFL-CIO Union officials among them; and

Whereas: oil pipelines, such as the aforementioned pipelines tend to leak and create unnecessary risk to the surrounding environment both through methane gas leaks and crude oil spills; and

Whereas: such pipelines endanger the communities along their routes, including many indigenous communities whose tribal sovereignty has been often ignored or violated during the permitting process by agencies subject to regulatory capture by the capitalist interests that promote them; and

Whereas: the construction of these pipelines will contribute to the acceleration of already dangerous levels of currently existing greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to the already dangerous levels of climate change, which could lead to a dead planet with no jobs of any kind; and

Whereas: many unions, including the IWW, have already publically stated opposition to one or both the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Whereas: President Donald Trump's "executive orders" that ostensibly "clear a path" for the completion of the aforementioned pipelines  and mandate that they be constructed using US manufactured steel are contradictory in nature and are designed primarily to divide workers and environmentalists over the false dichotomy of "jobs versus the environment", which is utterly false as previously described;

Be it Resolved that: the IWW reaffirms its opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and officially declares its opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW stands in solidarity with the First Nations, union members, environmental activists, and community members who oppose both; and

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW urges rank and file members of the Building Trades, Teamsters, and other unions who have declared support for these pipelines to call upon their elected officials to reverse their support; and

Be it Finally Resolved that: the IWW demands that the promoters of these pipelines develop a "just transition" plan for the pipeline workers that would be affected by the cancellation of these pipeline projects.

10 Indigenous and Environmental Struggles You Can Support in 2017

From - Sacred Stone Camp, January 10, 2017

The Black Snake is not yet dead. Far from it. The corporations behind the Dakota Access pipeline made it clear that they “fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe.”

The winter camps will stand their ground as long as DAPL construction equipment remains on Oceti Sakowin treaty land. We can all continue to support them by emailing or calling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 202-761-8700 to ask when it will open the Environmental Impact Statement process to public comment. We can also keep pressure on the banks to divest with our international campaign to #DefundDAPL.

But while international attention has been on the Standing Rock Sioux and the #NoDAPL struggle, the Obama and Trudeau administrations have approved several other pipeline projects slated to run across indigenous territories from Canada to the U.S. and Mexico. The struggle to protect sacred lands from climate change, toxic pollution, and the fossil fuel industry continues to rage around the world.

In the year ahead, it is our hope that the energy and love we have received in our struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline can also be extended to other indigenous communities in their local battles. Here are ten struggles you could consider donating to, volunteering time for, or supporting in other ways:

Standing Rock and Beyond: Big Oil’s Corporate Dislocations and Extortions

By Wendell G Bradley - CounterPunch, November 4, 2016

If a corp (o’rat) wants to be criminally normal, here is how it must think/act:

Conceive of a project that is bigger than ever, yet still propagandizable as ‘in the public interest’.

Such capitalization, in the billions, makes it eligible for government-engineered (made-easy) credit access, and with regulatory approval already ‘play-booked’, for example, as with oil and gas.

Make the project as ‘venturesome’ (risky) as possible, thus bondable only in those high-yield categories the especially brave, free market entrepreneurs alone dare to inhabit, ostensibly creating benefits for everyone.

Big banks are anxious to use their tax-gifted, ever accumulating slush funds (already in the hundreds of billions) to financially ‘correct’ low interest environments.

Such projects are said to deserve their automatic (publicly guaranteed) insurance policies against any/all failures, given they are integral to ‘our’ economy, especially as general job creators.

‘Too big to fail’ projects are not subject to the free market, democratic process. They are not about ‘informed consumers making rational choices’. Foreign Trade Agreements, for example, are made in secret. Slick advertising of the effective kind, affordable only by big, corporate money, is highly successful in shaping public attitudes. The corporately touted basis for ‘free markets’ becomes undermined.

Indeed most risky, big project ideas (think internet) are developmentally funded by public money, at places like MIT. Upon corporate adoption, such tax-financed, highly promoted developments will yield insured, private profit, not free market trials under creative competition.

A particularly instructive ‘case in point’ is fracked oil and its delivery. At current and expected prices ($50/bbl), US oil is largely uneconomic to produce and pipeline to market. For example, the break-even price for both the Bakken (ND) and Niobrara (CO) oil fields has proven to be, on average, at least $75/ bbl (includes acquisition, leasing, capitalization, and transportation charges).

Of course some wells, a few percent in very localized ‘sweet spots’, can still yield profits. However, large scale projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), if based on total-formation output figures, will prove wholly unjustified–least of all for any public-benefit argument used to justify takings of private property, say by eminent domain proceedings.

For example, it simply does not make economic sense to justify DAPL’s $5 billion project cost on the basis of 400,000 bbl/day Bakken production if 90% of that oil, 360,000 bbls/day, is transported simply to recover some revenue from bad, initial investments at the wells.

The environmental degradations from the daily pipeline releases experienced across the US are huge. However, such costs do not figure into official economics. They are simply dismissed from accounting as ‘economic externalities’—another of the privileging violations of actual free market cost/benefit.

At current oil prices, the Bakken has few ‘economically recoverable’ reserves–the only ones that count in Securities Exchange calculations of legitimate investment. Accordingly, the future of legitimate oil development’s production/transport per the Bakken is highly speculative; too much so to establish any clear public benefit from DAPL. For example, if today’s proven oil reserves provided all US consumption, their depletion would fail energy independence in only 1.5 years.

Under a full accounting, DAPL’s justifications for forcible ‘takings/leasing’ finally evaporate altogether. For example, according to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of all oil reserves must stay in the ground if economically devastating climate change limits are to be heeded. DAPL approval is therefore a form of climate denial, one directly counter to Obama’s professed doctrine requiring special review for all additions of climate-influencing infrastructure.

So, why take oil’s public risks, such as its economic and environmental dislocations from pipeline ruptures, when clean, renewable solar is currently available, more economically. For example, solar produces utility-level electricity at less expense than does oil production’s natural gas complement, according to our National Energy Lab (Berkeley). Renewables are even replacing oil in production of plastics and clothing.

Clearly, the oil industry is experiencing a market-based decline known as ‘creative destruction’ under solar penetration. It can no longer compete, even though hugely subsidized. Exxon, the world’s leading oil company, experienced stock price declines (17%) apparently due to profit declines (17%) since 2014, and had a credit rating reduction to its lowest value in 17 years.

The smart money is ‘going solar’; divestments and bankruptcies in oil are increasing (105 filings since 2015; expecting around 200 overall).

Oil is rapidly becoming the dinosaur of energy, yet it continues to enjoy developmental subsidies, world-wide, of about a million dollars per day. Oil is not a rational-market operation.

Indeed, oil’s bigger-than-ever project justifications, such as DAPL, can only be entertained within a captive regulatory framework whose blatant defiance of rational, democratic choice is increasingly being understood as a form of Class Warfare, one enabling an economic elite to extort wealth from a 70% disenfranchised public (Princeton study.)

Witness the deep, gritty awareness at Standing Rock, ND where indigenous people are the first to make all of the above crystal clear in their direct resistance to Big Oil as Water Protectors. What can be more fundamental to well-being than that?

Oilpatch workers have a plan, but Ottawa needs to act: Four-point plan would get tradespeople retrained and back to work in clean energy

By Lyndsey Easton - Iron and Earth, Novemver 1, 2016

EDMONTON — A group of oil-and-gas workers has a plan to create job opportunities and retrain workers for clean energy projects, and they are calling on the federal government to step up.

The Workers’ Climate Plan was released today by Iron & Earth after four months of consultations with workers and industry. The tangible four-point plan stands in contrast to recent publicity stunts involving “roughneck” workers on Parliament Hill.

“This isn’t about taking jobs away from people, this is about opening up sustainable opportunities for skilled workers so their families can thrive,” said Lliam Hildebrand, executive director of Iron & Earth. “We’re giving a voice to real oil and gas workers who deserve a say in these issues and who want a better future.”

“Workers deserve something sustainable, so we don’t find ourselves in this boom-and-bust mess ever again,” said Kerry Oxford, mechanical engineering technologist and member of Iron & Earth. “That’s why we’re taking time out of our lives to work on this problem together. That’s why we spent four months talking with colleagues, coming up with a plan that works for the long term.”

Iron & Earth released the plan at a solar panel installation training facility in Edmonton — the kind of place where tradespeople and skilled labourers could find new opportunities in the energy transition. Making the switch is possible: of the energy workers surveyed for the Workers’ Climate Plan, the overwhelming majority say they could switch to renewable energy projects with minimal retraining, or sometimes no retraining at all.

The Workers’ Climate Plan identifies the four most important needs the government must address:

  1. Upskilling for the energy sector workforce
  2. More manufacturing capacity for renewable energy in Canada
  3. Support for contractors and unions that want to transition to renewables
  4. Integrating renewable technologies into existing energy projects

A draft of the plan was sent to the federal government during its climate change consultations in September. They’re asking the government to address their four-point plan in the federal climate strategy to be released in early December.

Iron & Earth has also submitted the Solar Skills proposal  to upskill 1,000 tradespeople for renewable energy jobs. The initiative would give them the skills to work on solar, energy efficiency and electrical vehicle installation projects. As these industries grow, out-of-work tradespeople are looking for help to make a transition.

Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped

By Paul Street - CounterPunch, October 28, 2016

Three nights ago, 19.37 million television viewers watched the opening game of North American professional baseball’s so-called World Series pitting the Chicago Cubs against the Cleveland Indians (the latter team won 6-0). I made it through the second inning before I had to switch to radio out of disgust at the Indians’ jersey and ball-cap team logo – a wild grinning Native American caricature best understood as a modern-day Red Sambo. It’s bad enough that the Cleveland team retains (well into the 21st century) the name “the Indians.” First Nations people (the Canadian term) in the United States are more properly called Native or Indigenous Americans – not a name imposed on them by white conquerors who mistakenly thought they’d “discovered” “the Indes.

But the logo is really beyond the pale. Imagine a team called “The Baltimore Blacks” or “The New Jersey Negroes,” with a ball-cap showing a racist caricature of a “Black Sambo.”   Or imagine a German football (soccer) team named the “Buchenwald Semites” – or an Austrian team named the “Vienna Hebrews” – with a jersey bearing the crudely exaggerated caricature image of an old stereotypically hook-nosed Jewish man. That would be unthinkable in Holocaust-haunted Germany, of course.

Native Americans suffered their own Holocaust on the lands that were swallowed up as the United States. By some estimates more than 15 million First Nations people inhabited North America (most of them on land later seized as U.S. territory) before Columbus. Thanks to white-imposed disease, displacement, eco-cide, and murder, the number of “Indians” alive in the United States fell to less than 250,000 by 1890. But team names bearing images and/or names of Indigenous people who experienced genocide – the Washington Redskins (yes, “redskins,” which the Black comic Chris Rock once analogized to naming a team “The New York Niggers”), the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks (named after a famous Sauk Nation warrior whose tribe members were butchered en masse by Andrew Jackson’s U.S. Army), the Kansas City Chiefs, the Fighting Illini, the Florida State Seminoles, etc. – live on with impunity in the U.S.

Meanwhile, up in the northern Great Plains, predominantly white and heavily militarized local and state police are attacking the civil rights and bodies of Indigenous people fighting heroically to help humanity (including the mostly white folks watching the World Series) avert environmental catastrophe. The remarkable prayer, protest, and resistance camp set up by North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe is dedicated to blocking Energy Transfer Partner’s eco-cidal Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline is a “giant black snake” being laid to carry 470,000 barrels of hydraulically fractured (fracked) crude oil daily from the North Dakota Bakken oil field under and near the Missouri River (under twice), the Mississippi (under once), and numerous other streams, lakes, rivers, and aquifers.

The Sky’s Limit: Unpacking the Climate Math

By David Turnbull - Oil Change International, October 6, 2016

Four years ago, the concept of “unburnable carbon” hit the mainstream when Bill McKibben published “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in Rolling Stone magazine, based off of work by the analysts at Carbon Tracker and before that Greenpeace. The research underlying that concept showed that the carbon embedded in proven fossil fuel reserves on the books of fossil fuel companies is many times greater than what climate scientists have determined the atmosphere can withstand in a safe climate scenario. This month, new analysis by Oil Change International updated that math, took it further, and is making waves.

In the new report, entitled “The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production,” we’ve identified a stark reality when it comes to fossil fuel development and the climate: Existing fossil fuel production, if allowed to run its course, would take us beyond the globally agreed goals of limiting warming to well below 2?C and aiming towards 1.5?C.

For the first time ever, this study utilized data from industry databases (e.g. Rystad Energy UCube) to catalog the fossil fuels that exist in current mines and wells — those sites where investments have been made and development is already underway — and compared it to carbon budgets associated with a two-in-three chance of staying below 2?C, or even chances of limiting warming to 1.5?C, backed by data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Our research found that the carbon budgets will be exhausted with current development, and in fact some currently-operating fossil fuel projects will need to be retired early in order to have appropriately high chances of staying below even the 2?C limit. Further, to meet a 1.5?C goal, the existing oil and gas wells currently in production have enough fuels in them to fill the budget, even if coal were phased out tomorrow.

This analysis is already sending shockwaves through the climate movement and being echoed by influential thought leaders around the globe. More than a dozen organizations, ranging from smaller groups like the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria to larger groups such as 350.org and Christian Aid, joined in to release the report. Climate scientists and energy analysts have expressed agreement with the findings since the release, and countless organizations and prominent individuals have joined the choir to spread the word about the report.

As George Monbiot writes in The Guardian, the report presents three scenarios for moving forward:

First: a gradual, managed decline of existing production and its replacement with renewable energy and low-carbon infrastructure, which offer great potential for employment. Second: allowing fossil fuel production to continue at current rates for a while longer, followed by a sudden and severe termination of the sector, with dire consequences for both jobs and economies. Third: continuing to produce fossil fuels as we do today, followed by climate breakdown.

The good news, as highlighted in our report, is that if the right investments of political will and financing are made, a just transition to renewable energy is definitely possible in the timeframe necessary. Renewable energy is expanding at ever-increasing rates, becoming cheaper by the day, and could be poised to follow the path to universality seen by recent technologies such as the personal computer and cell phone. The report lays out a number of studies that show renewable energy can absolutely fill in the energy gap as fossil fuels are phased out.

Many have already called the report “the math behind the Keep It In The Ground movement,” and, with any luck, just as unburnable carbon entered the public consciousness four years ago, the climate imperative of ending new fossil fuel development may do the same.

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