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“Pipeline on Rails” Plans for the Railroads Explode in Quebec

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, July 12, 2013

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

The boom in oil fracking and tar sands has lured the great and small to the rails in search of profits and jobs.

The great include Bill Gates, who took time from the virtual world of software to acquire controlling interest in the Canadian National railroad(CN), part of the real world of steel rails, mile long trains and the rumble of linked diesel locomotives pulling tar sands oil out of Alberta.

The not so great, like Edmund Burkhardt, CEO of Rail World, which controls the short line “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway” saw the boom in rail transported petroleum as a way to make his mini-empire of short lines profitable.

And of course the “small people”, railroad employees of the “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway” like Tom Harding, the engineer of the train that blew up, found steady workrunning the endless strings of crude oil tankers across Canada and the US to refineries. Harding, by the way, is now being blamed by CEO Burkhard for the disaster.

Railroad industry watchers have predicted even more exponential growth for the “pipeline on rails” booming on in the shadow of the stalled Keystone pipeline plans still awaiting Obama’s signature.

Now all these plans are up in the air, after the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train’s engine caught fire, was shut down, which might then have been the cause for the brakes to leak off, sending fully loaded oil tank cars careening down the grade into Lac Megantic, Quebec where they exploded, incinerating dozens of people.

Bay Area IWW Endorses August 3rd "Summer Heat" Action in Richmond, California!

At its July business meeting, the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW endorsed the following event:

This May marked an ominous milestone on our rush past the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  As CO2 exceeds 400 parts per million, the moment has come to do “hard, important, powerful things” to stop the large-scale burning of fossil fuels. These are the words of the organizers of 350.org’s national Summer Heat campaign—Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Sandra Steingraber, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, who are asking that we turn up the heat, show up and speak out “to the industry that’s wrecking our future.”

As part of Summer Heat events all across the country (see JoinSummerHeat.org), 350.org and its allies invite you to come together in a momentous West Coast mass action to declare our collective resistance to fossil fuels. We hope this will be one of the largest climate justice protests ever. Please join 350 Bay Area, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, No Keystone Action Council, Idle No More, San Francisco Solidarity, Urban Tilth, and Gathering Tribes on August 3rd and 6th to stand with the people of Richmond, California who are in the frontlines in our common fight for the health and safety of our communities, and against accelerating climate change.

On August 3rd, three days before the one-year anniversary of the Chevron refinery explosion and fire, we will gather at 10am at the Richmond BART to march to a spirited rally with national and regional leaders in the fight against climate catastrophe.  (Full schedule is at JoinSummerHeat.org/bay; bus available for non-walkers.) The rally will be followed by a march to the gates of the Chevron refinery with the following demands:

  • NO KEYSTONE XL TAR SANDS PIPELINE.
  • NO MORE LIFE-THREATENING HAZARDS. Chevron and other Bay Area refineries shall prevent future spills, fires and explosions by retrofitting with the best and safest technology available.
  • NO REFINING OF DIRTY CRUDE.  Refining high-sulfur, low-quality tar sands and fracked oil increases greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants. It also seriously corrodes refinery machinery, which contributes to major industrial accidents.
  • NO MORE CORPORATE TAX EVASION.  Chevron shall pay its fair share of taxes to City, County, State and Federal agencies, and stop all frivolous litigation relating to these matters.
  • NO MORE POLLUTING OUR DEMOCRACY.  Chevron invests more in lobbying and manipulating elections with outrageous campaign contributions than it does in plant safety. Big Oil’s injection of mega-bucks into the political process ensures its continuing domination of energy policy.
  • A JUST TRANSITION FROM DIRTY FOSSIL FUELS TO UNION JOBS IN CLEAN ENERGY.              Government and Big Oil shall invest in high-quality union jobs in clean energy for local residents. Chevron needs to support Richmond’s long-term transition to a renewable energy-based economy that’s good for people and the planet.

By Rail or Pipeline: Can Tar Sands be Safely Transported at All?

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, July 8, 2013

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

My last years working as a railroad machinist were spent working on locomotive air brakes. In most situations, the system is fail safe. I always chuckle when I see a movie where a train separates, as it did in the latest James Bond thriller, and  both ends of the train keep going. This is close to impossible in real life, the air brake system automatically will go into emergency braking if there is a break in two. When a locomotive engineer applies the brakes to a train, he or she makes a “reduction”

of the equalizing or control air, which then triggers a brake application. This reduction of equalizing air, in the case of a break is the key to emergency brake applications. There is much more to the system, of course as it was refined over time, but its all based on this concept.

What we know so far in Quebec, is that the oil train was parked on a grade. The brakes were set by the crew, at some point the brakes came off, and the train rolled into the little town of Lac-Megantic, derailed and exploded, leaving many dead and the town devastated.

Capital Blight: Old Wine in New Bottles; Why Obama's "Bold" Announcement on Climate Change Gives the Fossil Fuel Industry Just About Everything it Wants.

By x344543, June 25, 2013.

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

Count me as being among those  who find little to cheer about in Barack Obama's so-called "bold" speech on Climate Change.

Yes, it's true that he called for an end to big oil tax subsidies, but he offered no specific plan on how he would make that happen (and very likely the US Congress and Senate, who are the bodies that actually craft the budgets the President must sign into law, most of whose members are deeply indebted to the fossil fuel industry for campaign contributions are not going to bite the hands that feed them).

Yes, he called for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas, but he said nothing about putting an end to public financing of new domestic coal plants, nor did he say anything about regulating coal exports.  

According to the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC):

"He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to put an 'end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution' from new and existing power plants. IF EPA comes up with a good regulation for existing power plants, this will be exceptionally good news and long overdue. If this regulation takes a political eternity to adopt and doesn’t require significant reductions or allows broad exemptions, then this regulation won’t be worth the paper it is written on."

I agree and want to add to that that both the EPA, OSHA, and other regulatory agencies whose mandates are to regulate the environmental, labor, and business practices of such activities are either routinely understaffed or under the directorship of capitalist representatives of the very businesses that are supposed to be regulated. It's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you cannot leave the fox in charge of the henhouse.

The Devil's Triangle: How Big Green, Mainstream Labor and the Democratic Party Derail the Struggle to Stop Fracking

By John Reimann - June 11, 2013

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

Fracking kills.

It kills by poisoning the earth, the water and the air.

It kills by destroying wilderness and open space areas.

It kills by destroying our quality of life.

It kills by releasing methane – a potent greenhouse gas - into the atmosphere.

It kills by diverting investment and resources away from developing renewable energy sources, thus enormously exacerbating global climate disruption/global warming.

And the entire gamut of Corporate America-–from the oil and gas industry to the major financiers-–is lined up to continue to rape, plunder and pillage the environment using this disastrous practice. Covering for them, major environmental NGO's and supposedly environmentally conscious politicians, as well as the mainstream union leaders are pretending that it can be made acceptable if properly regulated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the report (PDF).

Tar Sands: Rejecting False Conflict Between Trade Unions and Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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