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Pipeline fighters resist climate catastrophe

By Carl Sack - Socialist Action, July 8, 2016

Humanity is faced with a worsening climate catastrophe. In June, levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere topped 400 parts per million at the South Pole, a concentration not seen on this planet in the last four million years. Scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which is registering 407 ppm carbon dioxide as of this writing, say that the concentration there is now probably permanently above 400.

The significance of this milestone is massive. NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen has written that 350 parts per million is the upper limit of Earth’s carbon dioxide concentration, “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.” Carbon dioxide concentrations were last at 350 ppm around 1985.

Human-induced climate change is already wreaking havoc. May 2016 marked the 13th consecutive hottest month on record in global average temperature, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The permanent drought and major wildfires in the western U.S., the huge Horse River Fire that destroyed parts of Fort McMurray in far northern Alberta, Canada (ironically the epicenter of Canada’s tar sands oil boom), the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the killer heat wave in India, and many more unfolding disasters are all attributable to a warming world.

Yet, the world’s capitalist rulers are actively pouring gasoline onto the climate fire. U.S. politicians from President Barack Obama on down have cheered on the expansion of fracking for oil and natural gas, which has only slowed slightly in the face of a historic fossil fuel glut. Fracking continues to be exempted from most federal environmental regulations, despite its routinely poisoning of local air and water supplies, causing earthquakes, and releasing huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20-year time span.

Last December, with the support of both Republicans and Democrats, Congress quietly lifted the country’s 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports, allowing fracking for oil in the Bakken fields of North Dakota and Montana to go full speed ahead even when domestic demand can’t keep up. In June, the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee reiterated that party’s support for fracking, rejecting a proposal to call for a national moratorium on it.

In Canada, the federal government continues to actively promote the development of tar sands. Tar sands oil is the dirtiest energy source on the planet. Mixed in with soil, it takes huge amounts of energy to extract and refine, and has resulted in massive deforestation and pollution in the boreal forest region of Alberta. James Hansen has called the full development of the tar sands “game over for the climate.”

Laws limiting fossil-fuel production at the source are necessary to combat climate change, yet the agenda of Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals alike seems to be just the opposite. In their calculus, short-term profits for U.S. and Canadian fossil fuel companies trump the future livability of the planet. Likewise, the representatives of the global capitalist class utterly failed to implement meaningful limits on greenhouse gas emissions through the most recent international climate accord, the Paris Agreement, signed last December.

In a June 30 article in the journal Nature, several climate scientists warn that all of the non-binding pledges for greenhouse gas reductions made by countries as part of the agreement, if fully implemented, would result in a disastrous global temperature increase of 2.6-3.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. The agreement aspires to hold global temperatures to “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” a number which would still mean famine and displacement for millions.

There is hope in the climate justice movement, which continues to build its power to stop fossil fuels even in the face of long odds. Activists are fighting back against the expansion of pipelines used to carry oil and gas from the point of production to refineries and export terminals—and in some cases they are winning.

Although plenty of oil and gas are getting to market, pipelines represent a choke point for future production. The 2016 Crude Oil Forecast from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents Canada’s tar sands industry, concludes that “Canada’s oil supply will soon greatly exceed its current pipeline capacity.” Denying the fossil fuel industry this capacity is a symbolic blow against the industry and shows that it is vulnerable to movement pressure.

Much of the growing pipeline resistance has also been driven by more local concerns. If a line bursts, it can devastate farmland, ecosystems, and waterways. This nightmare visited Michigan in 2010, when an Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured and spilled 1.1 million gallons of heavy tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in the U.S. to date. Tar sands oil is heavy and thick and pumped at high pressure, putting a large amount of stress on the pipes. Along natural gas pipelines, compressor stations release large amounts of methane, along with toxins such as benzene, toluene, sulfuric oxide, and formaldehyde.

The most famous pipeline battle to date was over the Keystone XL line, which would have cut across the central U.S., bringing 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil from northern Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. In the face of a national groundswell of opposition, the Obama administration denied the pipeline’s permit to cross the Canadian border, killing the project. Now activists are fighting to keep Keystone’s successors at bay.

A Dream Scenario

By Cailynn Klingbeil - Future Perfect, July 2016

Tradespeople working in Canada’s oil sands have created their own organization to provide training in renewable energy. Positioning themselves at the forefront of a bourgeoning industry, they are seeking to realize a vision for a more sustainable future.

Over the six years that Lliam Hildebrand worked in Alberta’s oil sands, he regularly broached a subject around the lunch table that he expected to be taboo: renewable energy. But Hildebrand, a journeyman welder and steel fabricator based in Victoria, British Columbia, found that the topic was front of mind for many workers, himself included.

“I’ve always been environmentally minded, and always had a bit of a personal struggle with working in the oil sands and the contributions to climate change,” Hildebrand says. “I found in the conversations I was having with the tradespeople up there, it was a shared experience… they’re interested in innovation and technology and they care about the future of the planet for their children.”

Hildebrand previously worked at a steel fabricating shop in Victoria, B.C., building pressure vessels for the oil sands and ship loaders for coal terminals. Later, he watched the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth while working on a windfarm weather station at the shop. He realized that tradespeople could play a key role in building renewable energy infrastructure. “I started on a path to try and figure out how to make these things work in sync with each other,” he says.

His lunchtime conversations, combined with the atmosphere in Alberta – falling oil prices have led to massive job losses, while the provincial government has introduced a new climate policy – then encouraged Hildebrand to act.

He formally launched Iron & Earth, a worker-led initiative aiming to train tradespeople in renewable energy, in March 2016. Oil and gas workers have transferable skills, the organization posits, and they want to be part of building a greener energy industry in Canada. So why not help them get supplemental training to join this bourgeoning industry?

“It’s about time Canada starts diversifying our energy grid,” says Hildebrand, now executive director of Iron & Earth. “We can build products we’re proud of and contribute to preventing global warming – and provide greater economic security and energy stability in Canada.”

A shared vision

The organization is led by Hildebrand and four directors – all tradespeople – who have worked or are working in Alberta. More than 450 members from various trades have joined Iron & Earth and expressed interest in training programs, including boilermakers, electricians, pipe fitters, ironworkers and labourers.

Joseph Bacsu, a third-generation boilermaker in Alberta, shared many lunchtime conversations with Hildebrand, and ultimately agreed with his vision. Bacsu also recognized that a transition to green energy could fill a need inherent to oil-related jobs. The boom and bust cycles of the oil sands mean that workers crave consistent employment. “People want the work, they want to be trained, and they want to be called upon when these jobs [in renewable energy] are available. It’s a no brainer,” Bacsu says.

He is now a director of Iron & Earth and has seen many workers, including his father, a 35-year industry veteran, join the organization. “[My father’s] thoughts are the same as mine,” Bacsu says. “If I could be somewhere doing what I’m doing now, but knowing I’m making a better earth, why wouldn’t I?”

Getting Trade Readjustment Allowance for Shalefield Workers

By Alex Lotorto - IWW Local 570, April 22, 2016

In 1974, The Trade Adjustment Act was passed, establishing a benefit for workers separated from their jobs due to foreign trade, Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA). Here is a brochure from the Department of Labor with an overview of the program (Link).

The TRA benefit has been modified over the years, but currently includes extended unemployment benefits (normal unemployment compensation only extends 26 weeks), free retraining, relocation assistance if workers find jobs outside of their area, an Obamacare credit to purchase health insurance, and assistance to workers over 50. See here for specifics (Link).

It's not ideal and is a pittance compared to what workers were compensated before the downturn in shale gas production driven by both overproduction in North America and foreign imports of oil from OPEC nations. However, in lieu of any sound just transition policy to help energy sector workers after boom and bust cycles like the one we're facing nationally, TRA is worth pursuing.

For any shalefield workers who need an ally or assistance in applying for TRA benefits, the Northeast Pennsylvania Workers' Help Line is accessible to support this effort: (570) 478-3IWW or (570) 478-3499Petitioners may receive assistance in preparing the petition at their local American Job Center, by contacting the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. at 202-693-3560 (Main Number).I took some time today to research the possibility of shalefield workers obtaining Trade Readjustment Allowance and found many recent decisions denying workers across the country laid off due to the downturn in production.

Permanent trust funds: Funding economic change with fracking revenues

By Devashree Saha and Mark Muro - Brookings, April 19, 2016

The recent boom and bust of unconventional oil and gas development, or “fracking,” has reopened serious questions about resource management in many U.S. states. While the oil and gas boom generated revenue, jobs, and economic development, the recent bust has adversely impacted state budgets due to declining industry investments in exploration and production and job cuts.

The boom-bust cycle of unconventional oil and gas development highlights the need for strategic management by state governments of fracking-related revenues, not only to minimize the less desirable aspects of the boom-bust cycle but also to enhance long-term prosperity. States can address these challenges by imposing a reasonable severance (extraction) tax on their oil and gas industry and channeling a portion of the revenue into permanent trust funds. In doing so, states can convert volatile near-term revenues from unconventional oil and gas development into a longer-term and continuous source of investment funds for building sustainable and dynamic economies.

To that end, this report advances five elements of good fund governance and management that states should consider in the design and implementation of permanent trust funds:

  • Establish an effective governance framework
  • Define the fund’s revenue source, deposit, and withdrawal rules
  • Design the investment strategy
  • Seize the opportunity to invest fund earnings to economic transformation
  • Formulate explicit disclosure and transparency standards

Read the text (Link).

Amid Price Plunge, North American Oil and Gas Workers Seek Transition to Renewable Sector

By Candice Bernd - Truthout, April 3, 2016, ©Truthout; reprinted with permission.

Lliam Hildebrand says he had a moment of clarity during an apprenticeship at a steel-fabricating shop in Victoria, Canada. He was learning the metal-working skills he would need to become a boilermaker, to eventually move on to work on the many steel vessels -- including furnaces, pipelines, "cokers" and "exchangers" -- that make up the oil industry's vast infrastructure in Alberta, Canada's oil sands fields.

During that apprenticeship, Hildebrand would come into the fabricating shop and see a pressure vessel on one side of the shop being made for the oil sands, and at the same time, on the other side of the shop, his own project -- a wind farm weather station. Hildebrand says he walked into the shop one morning, and the contrast between the two ventures struck him sharply. That was the moment when he realized, "We are the trade -- the building trade -- that's really going to help address [climate change]."

From then on he has felt as though he's been living two lives. Coming out of his apprenticeship, he started looking for jobs in the renewable sector, but was unable to find work. Six years ago, he reluctantly decided to apply his skills where there were plenty of jobs: the Canadian oil sands fields.

But after years of working in an industry that one top climate scientist has called "the biggest carbon bomb on the planet," Hildebrand came to realize that he was not the only oil worker in Alberta who felt "guilty about developing the infrastructure that is creating climate change."

Dimock families win water contamination case against Cabot Oil & Gas

By Traci - Energy Justice Network, March 12, 2016

IWW members are involved in this campaign.

A federal jury awarded two couples from Dimock, Pennsylvania 4.2 million dollars after finding Cabot Oil and Gas negligent for contaminating their well water during drilling for natural gas.

The plaintiffs in the case are Nolen “Scott” Ely and his family, and Ray Hubert and his family who live next to the Elys. The Ely family has lived in Dimock since the 1800’s.

The Dimock federal civil litigation, which began under the caption Norma Fiorentino, et al., v. Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation and Gassearch Drilling Services, Inc. in 2009, and concludes under the caption, Nolen Scott Ely, et al., v. Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, had its final verdict in United States District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, located in Scranton, PA.
The panel awarded Mr. and Mrs. Ely $2.6 million and their three children $50,000 each. The Huberts were awarded $1.4 million, while another of their family members was awarded $50,000.

"It's been a battle," said plaintiff Scott Ely. "I mean, you're up against a multi multi multi million dollar company. We are the lucky ones in the case, but there are still many more families in the Dimock area who are still without the benefit of clean water.”

“This is a huge victory for Dimock families who have fighting for clean water for over six years. Finally justice has been served for Scott and Monica Ely, their three children, and their neighbors, the Huberts,” said Alex Lotorto, Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network stated.

Cabot Oil & Gas states that they plan to appeal the ruling, but Lotorto said, “No matter the outcome, we have publicly disclosed all of the facts of the case for the world to see and the couples have beautiful children which is their greatest wealth.”

Except for a two year period when Cabot supplied these plaintiffs with water, since 2008, the Elys and Huberts have been living without reliable access to water and under rationing conditions. To survive day to day, these families haul water at their own expense every week for drinking, bathing and other daily basics.

Beginning in the fall of 2008, Dimock families noticed problems with their drinking water, and began to experience rashes, nausea, headaches and dizziness. A trigger point to the litigation was the explosion of Norma Fiorentino’s private water well on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2008 due to methane gas accumulation in the well head.

The case eventually included 22 families from Dimock and Springville Townships in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, who sought fair compensation for damages to their property and their lives caused by Cabot’s failed natural gas drilling operations.
The travails of these plaintiffs, as well as those of other Dimock families, have been chronicled in the HBO documentaries, Gasland I and Gasland II.

The federal case number is 3:09-cv-02284-MCC.

Energy Justice Network fiscally sponsored the legal fund for the case and have been working with the family since 2009.

BCGEU signs solidarity accord with First Nations against Northern Gateway pipeline

By Alyse Kotyk - Rabble.Ca, February 9, 2016

The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) has signed a solidarity accord with Indigenous nations opposing pipelines in their territories.

The accord affirms the Save the Fraser Declaration, an Indigenous law signed by representatives of over 100 First Nations that states it "will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross [Indigenous] lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon."

Last month, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the provincial government had failed in its duty to consult with Indigenous groups on the Northern Gateway pipeline.

"We agree with the recent ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court that the Province has not met its duty to consult with First Nations on Enbridge's Northern Gateway," said Paul Finch, BCGEU Treasurer in a statement. "We are proud to support the Save the Fraser Declaration, which demonstrates the resolve of First Nations in refusing consent for Northern Gateway."

The BCGEU has 65,000 members, many of whom work directly with the government. This significant number joins other labour unions including Unifor and the B.C. Teachers' Federation as well as businesses, environmental groups and community groups.

"BCGEU's endorsement of the Save the Fraser Declaration is indicative that more and more Canadians are committing to respect the laws and authority of First Nations and their efforts to protect the environment, fishers and the health and safety of all B.C. communities from Enbridge's Northern Gateway and other tar sands projects," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is a multi-billion dollar project that involves a new twin pipeline system for export of bitumen, running from near Edmonton, Alberta, to Kitimat B.C.

"Premier Clark and Prime Minister Trudeau be advised: the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway is dead, dead, dead," said Phillip. "We call on you to stand with us, and to work with us to come up with alternatives for real change."

Former inspectors allege safety issues with Spectra pipeline project

By Steve Ahlquist - RI Future, November 30, 2015

Two safety inspectors who worked on Spectra Energy’s proposed methane gas pipeline that will cut through Burrillville, RI, say the company cut corners when it came to project, worker and environmental safety.

“Right now, what they’re hoping to do, is they’re hoping to slam all this through, and then at the end ask for forgiveness,” said one of the former inspectors. “Oops, sorry about that, I didn’t know, let me write you a check. Because once this thing’s turning meter, they’re going to be making millions of dollars a day. It doesn’t matter what your problems are…”

The other added, “We were told to shut the fuck up or quit.”

Both men, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, were subcontracted by Spectra and both were terminated from the project this summer. I was introduced to them through FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas), an environmental group that opposes the project, and have spent time talking with both men by phone as well as reviewing audio interviews and emails provided by FANG.

“Like every other company, Spectra gives a tremendous presentation about their commitment to safety, but their actions lack any kind of resolve. No one ever says, ‘Safety’s #2 here,’” said the first inspector. “At every turn when I made a safety suggestion, I was met with monumental resistance from the company on every level.”

Perhaps suspecting their days are numbered, fossil fuel companies are rushing to build the infrastructure required to keep us dependent on methane or “natural” gas for the next 50 years or more, even as evidence mounts that methane is a major contributor to climate change. This gives lie to the claim that methane will serve as a bridge fuel, something to ease the transition from fossil fuels to green energy sources, as the infrastructure investments being made are long term and permanent. Companies are investing billions laying pipelines, building compressor stations, and constructing energy plants and other infrastructure ahead of industry-wide extinction.

In their rush to build, safety and environmental concerns are being brushed aside, suspect many experts. A recent “Pipeline Safety Trust analysis of federal data,” shows that, “new pipelines are failing at a rate on par with gas transmission lines installed before the 1940s.”  Sarah Smith writes that Carl Weimer, director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, told attendees at a National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives annual meeting in Tempe, AZ that, “The new pipelines are failing even worse than the oldest pipelines.”

Pipeline Incidents

Though some of the problems may be related to workers learning how to implement the latest technologies, Weimar says, “there’s also some suggestions that we’re trying to put so many new miles of pipeline in the ground so fast that people aren’t doing construction … the way they ought to.”

In the same piece Smith quotes Robert Hall, of the National Transportation Safety Board Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations, who agreed that, “the rapid construction of pipelines in the U.S. is likely a contributing factor to ‘people … out there possibly taking shortcuts or not being as diligent’ as they would be if the pace of construction were less fervent.”

Coming forward to confirm these observations are two former Spectra contractors I’m calling Inspector One and Inspector Two. Both wish to remain anonymous for this piece for personal and professional reasons, though they know that their former bosses may be able to identify them.

Spectra Construction Disrupted by Anti-Fracking Lockdown in Chaplin

By Renee Hamel - Capitalism vs the Climate, November 16, 2015

Web editor's note: The following article details the exploits of one or more IWW members.

Chaplin, CT: Early in the morning, Bernardo McLaughlin of Capitalism vs. the Climate (CvC) obstructed the start of the work for Spectra Energy, locking himself to equipment at a compressor station that Spectra is expanding as part of a massive expansion of fracked gas pipeline infrastructure.

“I placed my body here because we’re out of options. The political class has decided they can survive climate catastrophe and written the rest of us off as acceptable losses. Nobody is coming to save us. Our only hope is organized grassroots power and direct action,” said McLaughlin. Protesters explained that the nonviolent blockade took place as part of Flood the System, a national mobilization for climate justice called by Rising Tide North America.

Spectra’s billion-dollar “AIM Project” creates an incentive for increased fracking, a dangerous method of extracting methane gas from shale fields. Spectra plans to build part of the pipeline, which carries highly-flammable gas, just one hundred feet from New York state’s Indian Point nuclear power plant, running the risk of catastrophic injury to tens of thousands of people. The engineer Paul Blanch has said that a disaster at this part of the pipeline could cause the release of more radioactive materials than were released in Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Federal Regulatory Commission has said that the Chaplin area construction would directly impact Mansfield Hallow State Park, twelve streams, two wetlands and habitat for state-protected species.

So far, activists have been arrested 66 times in the campaign against Spectra’s pipeline expansion. The actions have had an impact. Last week, dozens willing to risk arrest in West Roxbury, Massachusetts arrived at a vacant construction site. Spectra had abruptly decided to pause construction in West Roxbury until the spring. Meanwhile, Spectra has been seeking $30,000 in damages from three protesters who nonviolently blocked construction in Burrillville, Rhode Island in September. Activists see Spectra’s extreme response as a scare tactic to deter future demonstrations and as an acknowledgement that the ongoing blockades and lockdowns are effectively disrupting the company’s construction plans.

Earlier this month, the climate justice movement won a partial though major victory by stopping the northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Protesters in Chaplin said that although they welcomed President Obama’s rejection of the northern part of the Keystone XL pipeline, the fight against dirty energy infrastructure has barely begun. During this morning’s blockade against Spectra, CvC members and supporters stood outside the site holding a banner with a “To-Do” list:

  • 1) Stop Keystone XL ✔
  • 2) Stop Spectra
  • 3) End Capitalism

“After several years of blockades, arrests, and protests against the Keystone XL, Obama finally announced that he would not allow construction of the pipeline’s northern segment. While this was a victory for the climate justice movement, the fight is very far from over,” said Gabby Rodriguez of Capitalism vs. the Climate.

Capitalism vs. the Climate is a horizontally-organized, Connecticut-based group that takes direct action against the root causes of the climate crisis. Capitalism vs. the Climate invites people to join their Anti-Capitalist Contingent at the climate movement’s upcoming November 21 March for 100% Renewable Energy at 12 pm at the State Capitol.

After White House Rejects Keystone XL, Battle Against Larger Texas Pipeline Intensifies

Article and Image by Dahr Jamail - TruthOut, November 13, 2015

(Depicted: right) Coyne Gibson and Alyce Santoro are part of a grassroots resistance movement opposing a massive gas pipeline project between Mexico and the US. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

If a couple of billionaires get their way, a 143-mile-long, 42-inch high pressure natural gas transmission pipeline will be built right through the heart of Texas' starkly beautiful and remote Chihuahuan desert. Plans are currently in the works for the pipeline, which would be larger in diameter than the infamous Keystone XL.

Although it has garnered far less media attention than the Keystone XL, this West Texas project has already sparked a massive grassroots resistance movement that has unified ranchers, Tea-Partiers, artists, environmentalists and the vast majority of the residents in this sparsely populated corner of the country.

Texas billionaire Kelcy Warren, the head of the Dallas pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) which now boasts former Texas governor Rick Perry on its board of directors, and Carlos Slim of Mexico, who is reportedly the second-richest person on earth, are the core partners behind the Trans-Pecos pipeline project. The aim of the pipeline is to deliver natural gas from Texas to Mexico, where it is in high demand.

Transporting gas from a plant in Coyanosa, near Fort Stockton, Texas, down to the border, the line is supposed to be built underneath the Rio Grande River, after which it will connect into Mexico's gas infrastructure.

Slim and Warren promise that the pipeline will be both safe and environmentally friendly.

But Coyne Gibson, who worked for a decade in the oil and gas industry as an electrical and control systems engineer, vehemently disagrees with that claim.

"I used to do this kind of work, so I admit to past crimes, so to speak," Gibson told Truthout in Alpine, Texas, where signs of the pipeline's construction are already evident.

"I've seen firsthand what this [pipeline] does to the places it touches," he said. "It is horrifically environmentally impactful. The immediate impact is the absolute environmental destruction of every living thing in its path. And that's just to get started."

It is information like this coming from Gibson, coupled with what people are perceiving as an arrogant and bellicose attitude of Energy Transfer, that has created what has now become a battle for the land in Far West Texas.

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