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Five workers remain hospitalized after Eagle Ford rig fire

By Jennifer Hiller - Fuel Fix, October 31, 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.

Five contractors working on a workover rig in remote La Salle County remain at San Antonio Military Medical Center for treatment after suffering serious burns a week ago.

The workers were injured in a fire Oct. 24 at a Pioneer Natural Resources site.

“Pioneer continues to work with their families and employers to make sure they have the resources they need during this difficult period,” said Tadd Owens, vice president of communications and government relations for Pioneer.

“The workover rig and well site experienced minimal physical damage. We are conducting an internal investigation of the incident, as well as working with the contractors and appropriate authorities to determine the cause of the fire.”

La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez Jr. said that McMullen and Live Oak counties also responded to the fire, about 21 miles east of Cotulla.

Rodriguez said the accident highlights the public safety challenges facing rural counties with lots of oil and gas activity. The county has invested in new GIS systems to locate sites with hazardous materials and has improved ambulance and fire service, as well as adding sheriff’s deputies.

But rigs move frequently. On large ranches, it can be hard for emergency responders to know which road to take to get to a rig, Rodriguez said. Sometimes the gate guards don’t know where workers are on a property.

“One of the biggest concerns we continue to have is you have so many rigs drilling in a remote area,” Rodriguez said. “The drilling sites will continue to change as these wells get completed.”

Massive Civil Disobedience in Vermont a Possible Game-Changer

Staff Report - Earth First! Newswire, October 28, 2014; image by Bob Kinzel (VPR)

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.

This morning, a group of students stood in protest against Governor Shumlin’s fossil fuels infrastructure policy after a night of massive civil disobedience that saw some 64 people arrested.

Yesterday’s demonstration consisted of more than a hundred community members staging a mass sit in at Shumlin’s office on the top floor of the Pavillion Building, accompanied by a dance party on the bottom floor. The sit in lasted several hours.

Shumlin was not present, but requested that everyone act respectfully, stating, “While I agree that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our state, nation, and world, I disagree with the protesters’ position on the natural gas pipeline, which I believe will help hasten our state’s transition away from dirtier fuel oil and help our economy.”

Is Big Oil a Big Job Creator?

By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood - Rabble.ca, October 29, 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.

Job creation is high on the oil industry's list of go-to arguments for increased investment in the oil sands. Energy extraction is a key driver of employment growth, they tell us, and the benefits extend well beyond Alberta. "Almost every community in Canada has been touched by oil sands development through the stimulating impact it has on job creation," according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The industry's favourite number? 905,000. That's the projected increase in oil sands jobs in the next two decades, up from a meager 75,000 today, according to an oft-quoted report by the industry-funded Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI).

But what does that number mean? And is it as impressive as it sounds?

According to the report, 905,000 is the total number of new oil sands-related jobs that will be created in Canada by 2035. That means it includes not only direct employment in the Alberta oil sands, but also indirect employment in associated industries, like truck manufacturing, and any "induced" employment that may be created throughout Canada due to increased economic activity in the oil sands.

Even if we take that 905,000 figure at face value -- CERI makes a wide variety of optimistic assumptions and an accurate 25-year employment forecast is pretty farfetched -- it works out to just 36,000 new jobs per year. And if we cut out indirect and induced employment, the report says the oil sands will create only 12,000 new jobs per year.

To make matters worse, the 905,000 lump sum hides huge regional disparities. According to CERI, 86 per cent of new oil sands-related job creation will be in Alberta, including 100 per cent of direct job creation. That's hardly a recipe for widely shared economic prosperity.

The oil industry is trying to cherry-pick cumulative data rather than presenting the annual and regional numbers we're used to. "905,000 new jobs in Canada" is meant to sound more impressive than "12,000 new jobs in Alberta." But at the end of the day the job creation reality doesn't live up to the hype, even by CERI's optimistic calculations.

And those calculations are really optimistic. According to the non-partisan Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS), the oil and gas industry will add only 4,500 new jobs per year in the coming decade, not 12,000 like the CERI report claims. The COPS estimate even includes oil and gas industry jobs outside the Alberta oil sands.

To put that number in perspective, the health-care industry in Canada will create more than 40,000 new jobs per year for the next 10 years. In fact, COPS predicts that almost a dozen different industries will create more jobs for Canadians in the coming decade than the energy sector will, including the education, retail, and computer services sectors.

By manipulating the numbers, the oil industry is trying to put a positive spin on a non-story. If there's a benefit to the Canadian economy from the oil sands, you won't find it in the job market.

Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood is the CCPA's 2014 Andrew Jackson Progressive Economics Intern. Follow Hadrian on Twitter @hadrianmk.

Breaking the Rules for Profit: An Analysis of the Frac Sand Industry’s Violations of State Regulations & Manipulation of Local Governments in Wisconsin

By Stephanie Porter - Land Stewradship Project, November 2014

The frac sand industry has rapidly proliferated across Wisconsin, with the number of facilities multiplying by more than tenfold within four years,from 10 in 2010 to 135in 2014. The Land Stewardship Project reviewed readily available public data from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)and media reports to determine what conclusions can be drawn about this industry and its rapid growth. We found that:

  • Of the forty-seven frac sand companies currently operating in Wisconsin, twenty-four or 51% have seriously violated DNR regulations, manipulated local governments, or engaged in influence peddling and conflicts of interest.
  • Twenty of forty-seven companies (43%) not only violated DNR regulations, but they required substantial regulatory action to come into compliance —or, even worse, never came into compliance even after court action and fines. (One county-level regulator was quoted as saying “citations are pretty much ineffective for this industry.”
  • In total, between 2011 and 2014 there were at least nineteen cases of frac sand companies abusing the annexation process to avoid regulations, engaging in influence peddling, and creating conflicts of interest in local governments.

The industry in both Wisconsin and Minnesota has claimed that violations of state regulations and abuses of the public trust are isolated incidents by “bad apples” or new, inexperienced companies. However, the data paints a picture of an industry in which violations are the norm, not the exception, and insider dealing, conflicts of interest, and influence peddling are common.

As recently as October 6, for instance, a mine in Trempealeau County was shut down for operating without proper permits, prompting a frustrated local regulator to say “they are just running wild, with no permit at all.” This recent case was not the first time a violation this basic has occurred. In 2011, Unimin Corporation –which has been mining for over 40 years –began constructing a site without a permit and continued with construction even after being notified by the DNR of their violation. As seen in these examples and the many others detailed below, this is an industry that consistently ignores state regulations enacted for the sake of the health of local citizens, rural communities, and the land.

Read the report (PDF).

Poisoned by the shale? Investigations leave questions in oil tank deaths

By Mike Soraghan - EnergyWire, featured on Dakota Resource Council, October 23, 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.

KILLDEER, N.D. — Dustin Bergsing was 21 and six weeks a father when he arrived here at Marathon Oil Corp.’s Buffalo 34-12H well pad, a square of red gravel carved into a low hill.

By dawn, he was dead.

A co-worker found him shortly after midnight, slumped below the open hatch of a tank of Bakken Shale crude oil. It was Bergsing’s job to pop the hatch and record how much was inside. An autopsy found he died of “hydrocarbon poisoning due to inhalation of petroleum vapors.”

An environmental engineer in Marathon’s Dickinson, N.D., regional office heard about it a few days later. He’d been warning his bosses they were creating a dangerous buildup of lethal gases in their tanks. But, he said, they ignored him.

“With that excessive gas, you get lightheaded,” he said in a deposition with the attorney for Bergsing’s family, Fred Bremseth. “It would be just like carbon monoxide. You’re gonna doze off, and Katy bar the doors, man — you’re dead.”

An investigation of the drilling industry’s worker safety record and what it means for those living amid the boom. Click here to read the series.

Bergsing died in January 2012. At least three other men have died this way during the Bakken Shale boom, found lifeless on steel catwalks, next to the hatches they’d opened to measure the bounty of the shale.

Material Risks: How Public Accountability is Slowing Tar Sands Development

By Tom Sanzillo, Lorne Stockman, Deborah Rogers, Hannah McKinnon, Elizabeth Bast, and Steve Kretzmann - Oil Change International, October 29, 2014

The report, “Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development,” presents market analysis and industry data to support its estimates on lost sales revenue to the tar sands industry as public opposition creates delays and project cancellations. The report also describes other market forces that are putting tar sand developers at a growing disadvantage.

The report puts tar sands development lost revenue at $30.9 billion from 2010 through 2013, in part due to the changing North American oil market but largely because of a fierce grassroots movement against tar sands development. The report attributes 55% of the lost revenue, or $17 billion, to the diverse citizen protests against pipelines and the tar sands.

A significant segment of opposition, the report notes, is from First Nations in Canada who are raising sovereignty claims and other environmental challenges.

Among the reports findings:

  • Market forces and public opposition have played a significant role in the cancellation of three major tar sands projects in 2014 alone: Shell’s Pierre River, Total’s Joslyn North, and Statoil’s Corner Project. Combined, these projects would have produced 4.7 billion barrels of bitumen that would in turn have released 2.8 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to the emissions of building 18 new coal plants that would last 40 years each.
  • Tar sands producers lost $30.9 billion from 2010 through 2013 due to transportation bottlenecks and the flood of crude coming from shale-oil fields. Of that, $17.1 billion, or 55 percent, can be attributed to the impact of public- accountability campaigns.
  • The combination of risks facing the industry has the potential for canceling most or even all of the planned expansion of the industry in Canada.
  • Rather than seeing more than a doubling of output from 2 million barrels of oil per day to 4.8 million barrels per days — as the industry predicts — the report projects flat production levels.
  • Tar sands producers have lagged, with 9 of 10 leading tar sands producers in Canada underperforming the broader stock market in the last five years.

Analysts have recently downgraded their outlook for tar sands production.

The report also explores how smaller tar sands producers are having trouble accessing capital markets, how the industry is increasing capital spending even as it faces declining cash flows, weak revenue expectations, rising production costs and tight margins.

Read the report (PDF).

Adrift in Oil Country

By Laura Gottesdiener - Tom Dispatch, October 12, 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.

At 9 p.m. on that August night, when I arrived for my first shift as a cocktail waitress at Whispers, one of the two strip clubs in downtown Williston, I didn’t expect a 25-year-old man to get beaten to death outside the joint. Then again, I didn’t really expect most of the things I encountered reporting on the oil boom in western North Dakota this past summer.

“Can you cover the floor?” the other waitress yelled around 11 p.m. as she and her crop-top sweater sidled behind the bar to take over for the bouncers and bartenders. They had rushed outside to deal with a commotion. I resolved to shuttle Miller Lites and Fireball shots with extra vigor. I didn’t know who was fighting, but assumed it involved my least favorite customers of the night: two young brothers who had been jumping up and down in front of the stage, their hands cupping their crotches the way white boys, whose role models are Eminem, often do when they drink too much. One sported a buzz cut, the other had hair like soft lamb’s wool.

The rest of the night was a blur of beer bottles and customer commands to smile more. It was only later, after the clientele was herded out to Red Peters’s catchy “The Closing Song” -- “get the fuck out of here, finish up that beer” -- and the dancers had emerged from the dressing room in sweatshirts, that I realized everyone was on edge.

“What’s wrong?” I asked the scraggly bearded bouncer walking me to my dusty sedan, whose backseat would soon double as my motel room.

“The kid’s going to die,” he replied. Turned out one of the brothers had gotten his head bashed in by a man wielding a metal pipe. He’d been airlifted to the nearby city of Minot where he would pass away a few days later.

Catalysts for Instability

I hadn’t driven nearly 2,000 miles from Brooklyn to work as a cocktail waitress in a strip club. (That only happened after I ran out of money.) I had set off with the intention of reporting on the domestic oil boom that was reshaping North Dakota’s prairie towns as well as the balance of both global power and the earth’s atmosphere.

This spring, production in North Dakota surged past one million barrels of oil a day. The source of this liquid gold, as it is locally known, is the Bakken Shale: a layered, energy-rich rock formation that stretches across western North Dakota, the corner of Montana, and into Canada. It had been considered inaccessible until breakthroughs in drilling and hydraulic fracturing made the extraction of oil from it economically feasible. In 2008, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced that the Bakken Shale contained 25 times more recoverable oil than previously thought, sparking the biggest oil rush in state history.

Now, six years later, the region displays all the classic contemporary markers of hell: toxic flames that burn around the clock; ink-black smoke billowing from 18-wheelers; intermittent explosions caused by lightning striking the super-conductive wastewater tanks that hydraulic fracturing makes a necessity; a massive Walmart; an abundance of meth, crack, and liquor; freezing winters; rents higher than Manhattan; and far, far too many men.

Read the entire article here:

The Most Dangerous Road: Fracking Increases Traffic, Puts Drivers at Risk

By Hilary Lewis - Earthworks, October 14, 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.

A new investigation by Houston Public Media and the Houston Chronicle shows Texas highways are now the nation's deadliest, and fracking is to blame.

Fracking requires thousands of truck trips to haul water, frack fluid and more recently, about 4% of fracked oil.

All the increased traffic has led to more accidents and fatalities. And not just in Texas.

Accidents

A 2014 AP report on roads and traffic fatalities found that fracking requires 2,300 to 4,000 truck trips per well to deliver fracking fluids, which is 33-50% more than conventional methods. With increased truck traffic comes more accidents. US census data in six drilling states shows that in some places, fatalities have more than quadrupled since 2004 — making vehicle crashes the single biggest cause of fatalities for oil and gas workers.

If you zoom in on North Dakota, recently deemed the deadliest place to work by the AFL-CIO, the numbers become starker (via AP):

In North Dakota drilling counties, the population has soared 43 percent over the last decade, while traffic fatalities increased 350 percent. Roads in those counties were nearly twice as deadly per mile driven than the rest of the state.

Another factor in the specific relationship between oil and gas workers and truck accidents (compared to other industries) is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) Hours of Service Oilfield Exception. This loophole allows the oil and gas industry to pressure truck drivers to work longer hours, an obvious safety hazard.

The New York Times exposed the drama and debate of the issue in Deadliest Danger Isn’t at the Rig but on the Road in 2012. Check out the annotated Documents on the Oil Field Exemptions From Highway Safety Rules for ignored testimony from truck drivers and the National Transportation Safety Board, and of course the industry defense, from a failed attempt in 2012 to close the loophole.

Grassroots environmental and social justice groups condemn Public Service Board decision, Call for Massive Rally and Sit-In

By Will Bennington; image by John Dillon - Popular Resistance, October 10, 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.

Addison County, VT – A coalition of environmental and social justice groups condemned today’s Public Service Board (PSB) ruling to not reopen the Addison Natural Gas Project Certificate of Public Good, and called for a massive rally and sit-in on October 27 to protest the decision and the Shumlin administration’s continued support of the project.

350 Vermont, Rising Tide Vermont, the Vermont Workers’ Center, and Just Power are calling for the sit-in, which will focus on the Governor and his continued support for the project.

“We’ve reached the end of our rope with Vermont’s broken utility regulatory process,” said Jane Palmer, a small farmer and landowner in Monkton, who has been involved in a legal battle with Vermont Gas for over two years to keep the pipeline off her property and out of the state, “The Board is ignoring the facts. The whole process is broken and rigged to get Vermont Gas the result it wants. The Board is giving Vermont Gas carte blanche to do and spend whatever they want, while ignoring the concerns of the larger community.”

Open Letter: Laborer Challenges Union Support of Fossil Fuel Export Projects

By Tim Norgren  - Portland Rising Tide, October 5, 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.

The following is an open letter from  union member Tim Norgren to Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Read on as Tim explains why union support of fossil fuel export projects is short-sighted and generally not in the best interest of workers. 

Dear LIUNA and Fellow Workers,

In joining forces with avowed union enemies to lobby for export projects like coal and bitumen/oil terminals and pipelines, which would create some short term, but VERY FEW long term local jobs, I strongly feel we’re selling ourselves out, along with every worker in America!

The propositions stand to benefit billionaires like the Koch brothers and other members of ALEC, which as you know are behind state by state attacks on worker’s rights via campaigns like the “right to work” bill recently pushed in OR (see www.alecexposed.org for more).

Export proponents Arch and Peabody coal (ALEC members) were featured in the Labor Press last summer for shifting pensions worth over $1.3 BILLION (owed to some 20,000 beneficiaries) to a shell company- then bankrupting it, leaving retirees destitute. This “success” opened the door for Detroit to become the first city to declare bankruptcy and default on pensions. Scrutiny showed this to be an ALEC “model” scheme. Supporting companies which commit such crimes against dedicated workers is UNACCEPTABLE for anyone who purports to be part of a labor movement!

According to Greg Palast (investigative reporter for the BBC), the Koch brothers stand to save about $26 a barrel bringing in the oil from the Keystone XL instead of from H. Chavez in Venezuela. The Koch’s Houston refineries are designed to refine only the high carbon tar sands oil available from those sources and cannot even process the lighter Texas crude. $26 a barrel would add up to a lot more ammo in their union-busting arsenal.

Should proposals succeed, then when our job’s over, coal will continue being extracted from public lands, with mainly non-union miners and huge federal subsidies (taxpayer expense) in obscenely higher quantities than now, then carted though our neighborhoods alongside explosive fracked oil tankers. Tar sands oil will keep flowing into Koch Industries refineries. And while NOT keeping us working, it WILL continue to profit enemies of labor (fueling their next campaigns) as it’s shipped to Asia, providing cheap fuel for deathtrap factories where subsistence workers slave at jobs outsourced from living wage employment in America!

Indeed as industrial and other jobs are replaced with government subsidized resource extraction and privatization schemes, across the board from fossil fuels and lumber to such basic staples as water and social services, we can see in our mirror a third world nation.

In my humble opinion as a member of LIUNA, pursuing these proposals rather than insisting on cleaner, more labor-friendly energy and transmission projects IS SUICIDE! Are we truly willing to follow the short-term carrot on a stick, like an ass to the slaughter? To feed ourselves willingly to those who would destroy us? Or do enough of us still have the conscience, guts and faith to stand up with those who’ve struggled at such cost to give us rights as workers?

Sincerely,

Tim Norgren, Laborers Local 320

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