You are here

sacrifice zones

What Did the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium Mean for the Workforce?

By Joseph E. Aldy - Common Resources, August 22, 2014

On April 20, 2010, the Transocean Deepwater Horizon suffered a catastrophic blowout while drilling in a BP lease in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo Prospect. This accident resulted in the largest oil spill in US history and an unprecedented spill response effort. Due to the ongoing spill and concerns about the safety of offshore oil drilling, the US Department of the Interior suspended offshore deep water oil and gas drilling operations on May 27, 2010, in what became known as the offshore drilling moratorium. The media portrayed the impacts of these events on local employment, with images of closed fisheries, idle rigs, as well as boats skimming oil and workers cleaning oiled beaches.

In a new RFF discussion paper, “The Labor Market Impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium,” I estimate and examine the net impact of the oil spill, the drilling moratorium, and spill response on employment and wages in the Gulf Coast. The spill and moratorium represented unexpected events in the region, and the resulting economic impacts varied within and among the Gulf states. Coastal counties and parishes were expected to bear the vast majority of the burden of these two events, while inland areas were expected to be largely unaffected. The moratorium was expected to affect Louisiana—with significant support of the offshore drilling industry—but not, for example, Florida, which had no active drilling off of its coastline. Beyond the economic impacts, the timing and magnitude of the spill response varied across the states over the course of the spill as well.

Despite predictions of major job losses in Louisiana resulting from these events, I find that the most oil-intensive parishes in Louisiana experienced a net increase in employment and wages. In contrast, Gulf Coast Florida counties south of the Panhandle experienced a decline in employment. Analysis of the number of business establishments, worker migration, accommodations industry employment and wages, sales tax data, and commercial air arrivals likewise show positive economic activity impacts in the oil-intensive coastal parishes of Louisiana and reduced economic activity along the non-Panhandle Florida Gulf Coast. The billions of dollars of spill response and clean-up mobilized over the course of the spring and summer of 2010 positively impacted economic activity, similar to the effect of fiscal stimulus. The geographic variation in labor market impacts reflects the focus of spill response efforts in Louisiana and the absence of oil and thus spill response along the Gulf coast of Florida south of the Panhandle.

Read the report (PDF).

The U.S. Export-Import Bank’s Dirty Dollars: U.S. tax dollars are supporting human rights, environment, and labor violations at the Sasan Coal-Fired Power Plant and Mine in India

By various - Sierra Club, 350.org, Carbon Market Watch, Pacific Environment, and FOE, October 2014

In January and May 2014, a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Sierra Club, 350.org, Carbon Market Watch, Pacific Environment, and Friends of the Earth U.S. (hereafter referred to as the Fact Finding Team), undertook two field visits to Singrauli, India, to meet with communities affected by Reliance Power’s Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) and its associated mine to assess the project’s effect on local communities and the environment.

Since the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) approved over $900 million in financing for the coal project in October 2010, little information has been provided by the agency about Sasan’s compliance with Ex-Im environmental, social, human rights, and corruption policies. This includes the Bank’s commitments under the Equator Principles1 and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards,2 the agency’s environmental, social, human rights and corruption policies, as well whether or not the project has lived up to the expectations laid out in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) documents for the mine and the power plant. An apparent lack of oversight prompted the NGOs involved in this report to conduct this independent investigation. The Fact Finding Team has uncovered numerous reports of corruption and human rights and labor violations associated with the Sasan coal project, all of which have largely been ignored by the Ex- Im Bank.

Read the report (PDF).

Chevron Richmond Refinery August 6, 2014 Pipe Rupture and Fire [REPORT NO. 2012-03-I-CA OCTOBER 2014]

By staff - U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, October 2014

An August 6, 2012, release of flammable vapor led to a fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California. The CSB released three investigation reports into this incident.

This report is particularly sigificant in that it reveals that the refinery workers repeatedly tried to warn the managers and employers of the deteriorating conditions of the refinery's infrastructure (which led to the fire), but were ignored. Knowing this, climate justice activists and organizers can develope relationships with workers in capitalist extractive industries and do the painstaking, tedious work of cultivating relationships and building trust to build a united front against the capitalist class.

Read the report (English PDF).

Railroad Worker Jen Wallis: "The Fence is Capitalism...It's Time to Take it Down!"

By Jen Wallis - exclusive, September 21, 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.

Editor's note: Jen Wallis meant to give the following speech at the People's Climate March in Seattle on Sunday, September 21, 2014, but had to abbreviate it due to time constraints. Here is the entire speech she would have given:

Hi my name is Jen Wallis, and I’m a founding member of Railroad Workers United. We are a rank-and-file caucus of the various national and international railroad unions. A few of us started this organization to respond to the decades of infighting created by the carriers to keep us divided.

I've been a conductor with BNSF Railway for over ten years. In 2008, I was injured on the job through no fault of my own. I was one of the first workers to file a whistleblower suit against a major railroad for retaliation for reporting a work-related injury. After 6 years of litigation, I won my case in Federal Court this past March, so I know a little bit about what it takes to fight corporations and what they will do to you and your family. I lost much of my support system, and I lost my house to foreclosure. And just as a side note, I first met Kshama Sawant when she showed up and got arrested for those of us fighting foreclosure. She is amazing!!! Over 1,000 railroaders who filed similar complaints have lost. I’m one of a handful to have won. The railroads have a lot of money to fight you, and they usually win.

I’ve taken it upon myself to use my victory to speak out for safety on the railroad because I’m one of the few people who can and not get fired for it, and I was actually in San Francisco speaking at a labor conference this past July when I got word that a group of unelected union officials from the conductor’s union had been meeting in secret with BNSF for 18 months, and unleashed a proposal that would have ended the job of the conductor on freight trains right here in my territory. My job. One person running trains at least a mile long through our communities where there have always been at least two, and engineer and a conductor. 140 years of railroading tradition gone with one contract. All the railroads would follow that precedent.

So we at Railroad Workers United went into what I can only call DEFCON 1 organizing. We had less than a month to mount a campaign to vote no before ballots were to be sent out. There were plenty of carrots in the agreement being dangled for the huge numbers of new hires we have, with things like “worker retention board” which claimed if you can’t hold a job, we’ll pay you to sit at home and not work, ending pay scale for new hires, and huge buy-outs for those getting close to retirement anyway. It was the standard concessionary agreement. Now those of us who have been in the game long enough knew these were only empty promises. We’ve seen enough of these broken in our careers, but the massive numbers of new hires did not, and we saw what scare tactics do at places like Boeing. Unions usually don’t defeat concessionary contracts, even when those companies are swimming in profits.

We knew we had to be bold, as bold as they were. I immediately started a FB group to protest the meeting in Sea-Tac where the officers would be to give us the hard-sell pitch. Now railroaders aren’t allowed to strike, and we haven’t done much in terms of organizing anything since 1894. You won’t find many of us who have ever so much as held a sign on a picket line. So I invited people who are more comfortable with holding signs - I invited my environmentalist friends I’d been trying to build alliances with these last couple of years - people from Backbone, from 350.org, Rising Tide, and members of the more radical unions like the Teamsters and Teachers and ILWU, and they showed up for us. Jess Spear showed up for us. The media we got in Seattle from that little picket inspired towns all across the country to follow suit. In places like Greybull, Wyoming and Creston Iowa, we got the spouses and families out there holding signs, (probably for the first times in their life), because they know our jobs and how terrifying it would be to have their loved ones out on these dangerous trains by themselves working under extreme fatigue in every kind of weather. We added over 2,000 new members to our facebook group in a month, distributed thousands of stickers and flyers and talking points. Many of us put our lives on hold and spent every waking moment organizing around this.

Finally, on September 10th, less than two months after we first got wind of it, the results were in. From the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes to right here in the Pacific Northwest, our members voted that proposal down. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. But as sweet as that victory was, none of that means anything compared to this fight against climate change. I have a 9 year-old son. I read recently that by the time he is my age, at the rate we’re going, this planet will experience a mass extinction. Extinction! And I can’t help but wonder If I’ve really done enough to protect him from that future.

Now our recent victory was a huge inspiration to all of us. We now know what we have to do, and we know what it takes to do it. We understand completely now that we are fighting an industry that cares as much about us as they do the environment, which is not at all...It might seem a little scary for environmentalists to approach labor, and sometimes the feeling is mutual, but when my co-workers saw that tripod up in Everett with the sign that said “Cut Oil Trains, Not Conductors”, they were blown away. Nobody has stood up for us in a very long time. America has what I call an epidemic of fence-straddling. Most people like to be perched up there, listening to information from both sides and occasionally hopping down from one to the other based on the news we get or the friends we know or which side has the most money or slickest campaign. But my friends, the fence is an illusion. If we could all just step back for a minute and notice that big field we’ve been in together this entire time. The fence is capitalism and corporate plutocracy, and it’s time to take it down!!!

Workers At Coal Waste Landfill Told That Coal Ash Is ‘Safe Enough To Eat,’ Lawsuit Says

By Emily Atkin - Think Progress, September 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.

Employees of an Ohio landfill used primarily for disposing of toxic coal waste byproducts like coal ash were told that the waste was “safe enough to eat” and weren’t required to wear protective gear, resulting in numerous illnesses and some deaths, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of 77 people last month.

Doug Workman, a supervisor at the General James M. Gavin Residual Waste Landfill landfill in North Cheshire, Ohio, allegedly responded to worker inquiries about whether working with the coal waste was safe “by sticking his finger into the coal waste and then placing his fly-ash covered finger into his own mouth,” thereby implying that “that coal waste was ‘safe enough to eat,’” according to a report in the West Virginia Record. Both Workman and American Electric Power — the power company that owns the landfill — are targets of the lawsuit, which claims that workers who handled the waste were not adequately protected from its toxic properties.

“Repeatedly, individuals were not provided with protective equipment, such as overalls, gloves or respirators when working in and around coal waste,” the lawsuit reads. “These working men and women, already exposed to the contaminants at the job site, then, in turn, carried the coal waste home to their families on their clothes and shoes, thus even exposing family members to the deadly toxins.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 77 people, 39 of whom were direct employees of the landfill and others who claim they were harmed by contact with those employees. The West Virginia Record notes that most of the workers were actually employees of contractor companies that worked for AEP.

AEP owns the landfill because it is directly next to one of its coal-fired power plants, and is therefore used to dispose of the waste that comes from that plant. One of the biggest forms of waste from burning coal is called coal ash, which is usually stored with water in large ponds, or in landfills. The black sludgy substance is known to contain arsenic, lead, and mercury.

However, workers at the Gavin landfill were allegedly told that the coal ash was only a mixture of “water and lime,” and that it contained “such low levels of arsenic, it made no difference.” The workers were allegedly told that the “lime neutralizes the arsenic,” according the the Record’s report.

The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking

By staff - Food and Water Watch, September 2014

The term “fracking” has come to mean far more than just the specific process of hydraulic fracturing, when companies inject large volumes of fracking fluid composed of water, sand and chemicals deep underground, at extreme pressure, to create fractures in targeted rock formations to bring oil and gas to the surface.

Today, the term “fracking” represents the host of problems that this dangerous process entails. This report details evidence on the many reasons why fracking is unsafe and should be banned, including:

  • Fracking water contamination destroys families’ drinking water. Pollution from fracking chemicals contaminates drinking water and puts peoples’ health at risk.
  • Fracking produces massive volumes of toxic and radioactive waste. The disposal of this waste is causing earthquakes and putting drinking water resources at risk.
  • Fracking pumps hazardous pollutants into the air. Fracking uses over 100 dangerous chemicals known to cause life-threatening illnesses, including cancer.
  • Fracking destabilizes the climate. Fracking wells release large amounts of methane gas, which is known to trap 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the decades after it is emitted, contributing greatly to climate change.
  • Fracking disrupts local communities. Fracking presents a broad number of consequences for people living in areas where it is occurring, including damage to public roads, declines in property value, increased crime and an increased demand on emergency services.
  • Fracking causes thousands of accidents, leaks and spills. More than 7,500 accidents related to fracking occurred in 2013, negatively impacting water quality in rivers, streams and shallow aquifers.

Read the report (PDF).

Wrong Side of the Tracks: Why Rail is Not the Answer to the Tar Sands Market Access Problem

By Lorne Stockman, et. al. - Oil Change International, September 2014

Tar sands pipelines face increasing resistance both in the United States and Canada. As existing pipelines reach capacity, the delay and possible cancellation of new pipelines is costing tar sands producers billions of dollars and reducing investment in the sector. The success of anti-pipeline campaigns has forced industry to look to rail in an attempt to address these losses and open new markets for their product.

The crude oil produced from the Albertan tar sands is a semi-solid substance called bitumen, rather than a liquid crude oil. Shipping bitumen by rail is more expensive than shipping it by pipeline and the added cost is a substantial challenge to the long-term viability of the tar sands industry. Despite significant evidence, market analysis, and real world experience to the contrary, some prominent institutions - including the U.S. Department of State - continue to assert that rail has the potential to replace tar sands pipeline capacity, and thus the rapid pace of tar sands development will continue regardless of whether new pipeline capacity is built or not.

This report details why this is not the case.

Read the report (English PDF).

The Global Ocean Grab

By Carsten Pedersen, et. al. - World Fishers, September 2014

The term ‘ocean grabbing’ aims to cast new light on important processes and dynamics that are negatively affecting the people and communities whose way of life, cultural identity and livelihoods depend on their involvement in small-scale fishing and closely related activities. Small-scale fishers and fishing communities in both the Global South and the Global North are increasingly threatened and confronted by powerful forces that are dramatically reshaping existing access rights regimes and production models in fisheries. This process is leading not only to the dwindling of control by small-scale fishers over these resources, but also in many cases to their ecological destruction and very disappearance.

Today we are witnessing a major process of enclosure of the world’s oceans and fisheries resources, including marine, coastal and inland fisheries. Ocean grabbing is occurring mainly through policies, laws, and practices that are (re)defining and (re)allocating access, use and control of fisheries resources away from small-scale fishers and their communities, and often with little concern for the adverse environmental consequences. Existing customary and communal fisheries’ tenure rights systems and use and management practices are being ignored and ultimately lost in the process. Ocean grabbing thus means the capturing of control by powerful economic actors of crucial decision-making around fisheries, including the power to decide how and for what purposes marine resources are used, conserved and managed now and in the future. As a result, these powerful actors, whose main concern is making profit, are steadily gaining control of both the fisheries’ resources and the benefits of their use.

Read the report (English PDF).

Indigenous Resistance Grows Strong in Keystone XL Battle

By Crysbel Tejada and Betsy Catlin - Waging Nonviolence, May 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.

On cloudy days, heavy smoke fills the air of Ponca City, Okla., with grey smog that camouflages itself into the sky. The ConocoPhillips oil refinery that makes its home there uses overcast days as a disguise to release more toxins into the air. These toxins are brimming with benzene — a chemical that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, can cause leukemia, anemia and even decrease the size of women’s ovaries. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2008 the ConocoPhillips refinery released over 2,000 pounds of this chemical into the air in Ponca City.

“Of the maybe 800 of us that live locally, we have averaged over the last five to seven years maybe one funeral a week,” explained Casey Camp-Horinek, a Ponca woman and longtime activist. “Where we used to have dances every week, now most people are in mourning.”

The refinery is located only 1,000 yards behind Standing Bear Park, which is named after the Ponca chief who, in 1877, led his people on their Trail of Tears, from the Ponca homelands in northern Nebraska to present day Oklahoma. But the park is more than a memorial to the distant past. In 1992, the oil giant’s tank farm spilled and contaminated ground water in a nearby predominantly Ponca neighborhood. As a result, ConocoPhillips agreed to purchase the contaminated land and tear down the 200 homes that were on it. In its place, the company built Standing Bear Park — a bitter testament to the Ponca people’s history of forced relocation and genocide.

“We live in a situation that could only be described as environmental genocide,” said Camp-Horinek. Beyond the refineries, she explained, “We also have had the misfortune of living on top of a spider web of pipelines as a result of ConocoPhillips being here.”

Some of these pipelines are transporting Canadian tar sands bitumen, which carries chemicals such as natural gas, hydrogen sulfide, benzene and toluene. This highly toxic diluted substance runs through large pipelines such as Enbridge’s Pegasus line, which recently burst in Mayflower, Ark., and would also flow through TransCanada’s contested Keystone XL pipeline if completed.

“It will not only come through the original territory of the Ponca people [but] it will follow the Trail of Tears of the Ponca people from the 1800s,” said Camp-Horinek. “As a Ponca woman these things are not far removed from us. My own grandfather, my mother’s father, was on this Trail of Tears of the Ponca.”

Ash in Lungs: How Breathing Coal Ash is Hazardous to Your Health

By Alan H Lockwood, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Lisa Evans, Earth Justice - Report, August 2014

Take a deep breath. But if you live near a coal-burning power plant that dumps coal ash into a nearby landfill or lagoon, don’t inhale too deeply because you’re probably breathing fugitive dust made up of airborne coal ash filled with dangerous and toxic pollutants. Whether blown from an uncovered dump site or from the back of an open truck, toxic dust contaminates hundreds of fence line communities across the country. Acrid dust stings residents’ eyes and throats, and asthmatics, young and old, are forced to reach for inhalers. Breathing this toxic dust can be deadly, and yet no federal standards exist to protect affected communities.

This report describes the health impacts of the pollution found in coal ash dust. It also points to the imminent need for federal controls to limit exposure and protect the health of millions of Americans who live near coal ash dumps. Coal combustion waste (or coal ash), particularly fly ash, a major component of coal ash waste, poses significant health threats because of the toxic metals present in the ash, such as arsenic, mercury, chromium (including the highly toxic and carcinogenic chromium VI), lead, uranium, selenium, molybdenum, antimony, nickel, boron, cadmium, thallium, cobalt, copper, manganese, strontium, thorium, vanadium and others. Ironically, as coal plant pollution controls like electrostatic precipitators and baghouse filters become more effective at trapping fly ash and decreasing coal plant air pollution, the waste being dumped into coal ash waste streams is becoming more toxic.

Read the report (PDF).

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.