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The Case for Phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands

By Gordon Laxer - Resillience, May 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

By Delaying Chemical Safety Rule, Pruitt Endangers First Responders and Refinery Towns

By Daniel Ross - Truthout, May 18, 2017

At 8:48 a.m. on the morning of February 18, 2015, an explosion at the ExxonMobil Torrance refinery in Southern California ripped through the facility with such ferocity, the resulting shockwaves registered on the Richter scale. Dust was scattered over the densely populated neighborhood up to a mile away from the blast. Four workers suffered minor injuries. A hulking 40-ton chunk of debris from the refinery's Electrostatic Precipitator narrowly avoided hitting a tank containing tens of thousands of pounds of highly toxic modified hydrofluoric acid.

The damning findings of a Chemical Safety Board (CSB) review of the accident were made public earlier this month. Among some of the problems identified in the report: the refinery repeatedly violated ExxonMobil's corporate safety standards leading up to the incident, while multiple gaps existed in the refinery's safety systems.

"It was only sheer luck that the hydrofluoric acid tank wasn't hit," said Dr. Sally Hayati, president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. If it had been hit, the collision could have released a toxic ground-hugging cloud with the potential to kill for nine miles and cause serious and irreversible injuries for up to 16 miles under worst-case scenario projections, she added.

"This is yet another symptom of how in our country we always put profit ahead of safety," Hayati said.

Just before Obama exited office, his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put in place a new federal rule setting tougher safety procedures at facilities covered by the EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP). The rule is designed to prevent accidents like the 2015 Torrance refinery explosion from happening again, and to better protect first-responders and the communities perched in the shadow of facilities that store and use potentially dangerous chemicals.

According to EPA data, over 1,500 accidents were reported by RMP facilities between 2004 and 2013, causing more than $2 billion in property damages.

The new rule was supposed to come into effect in March. But after a petition opposing the rule was filed by a coalition of trade associations, the EPA initially stayed its implementation for three months. Then, after various states and companies in the refining, oil and gas, chemical and manufacturing sector filed further petitions, the EPA proposed to extend the stay an additional 20 months -- until February 19, 2019 -- in order to win time to consider these various petitions, and to possibly "revise" the RMP amendments.

Fearing that the EPA under Scott Pruitt will take the side of industry and further delay, weaken or even try to abrogate the new rule entirely, a coalition of community groups, scientists and environmental organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit last month.

"We don't expect Pruitt to defend [the rule]," said Gordon Sommers, associate attorney with Earthjustice, who filed the motion on behalf of the coalition. In a letter to the EPA last year when still Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt asked the agency to withdraw the rule, citing national security concerns.

"We know where he stands and we know that his arguments are the same arguments that the big industries are making," said Sommers. "We know his priority is not protecting these communities."

Free Nurbek Kushakbayev! Support independent workers’ organisation in Kazakhstan!

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, April 19, 2017

Trades unionists have launched an international campaign for the release of Nurbek Kushakbayev, who was jailed this month for his part in organising strike action in the western Kazakhstan oil field.

A court in Astana, the Kazakh capital, sentenced Kushakbayev to two-and-half years in jail, followed by a further two-year ban on organising.

Kushakbayev is a trade union safety inspector at Oil Construction Company (OCC), an oilfield service firm based in Mangistau, western Kazakhstan. He is also deputy president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, which the government banned last year under a law designed to straitjacket unions not controlled by the state.

In January, workers at several oil companies in Mangistau staged a hunger strike in protest at the ban on union federation, to which their workplace organisations were affiliated. Dozens of participants in the hunger strike were arrested. Most were released without charge, but Kushakbayev and another union organiser at OCC, Amin Yeleusinov, were arrested and secretly transported to Astana, more than 1000 kilometres to the east. Yeleusinov is still awaiting trial.

King CONG vs. Solartopia

By Harvey Wasserman - The Progressive, December 5, 2016

As you ride the Amtrak along the Pacific coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, you pass the San Onofre nuclear power plant, home to three mammoth atomic reactors shut by citizen activism.

Framed by gorgeous sandy beaches and some of the best surf in California, the dead nukes stand in silent tribute to the popular demand for renewable energy. They attest to one of history’s most powerful and persistent nonviolent movements.

But 250 miles up the coast, two reactors still operate at Diablo Canyon, surrounded by a dozen earthquake faults. They’re less than seventy miles from the San Andreas, about half the distance of Fukushima from the quake line that destroyed it. Should any quakes strike while Diablo operates, the reactors could be reduced to rubble and the radioactive fallout would pour into Los Angeles.

Some 10,000 arrests of citizens engaged in civil disobedience have put the Diablo reactors at ground zero in the worldwide No Nukes campaign. But the epic battle goes far beyond atomic power. It is a monumental showdown over who will own our global energy supply, and how this will impact the future of our planet.

On one side is King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes, and Gas), the corporate megalith that’s unbalancing our weather and dominating our governments in the name of centralized, for-profit control of our economic future. On the other is a nonviolent grassroots campaign determined to reshape our power supply to operate in harmony with nature, to serve the communities and individuals who consume and increasingly produce that energy, and to build the foundation of a sustainable eco-democracy.

The modern war over America’s energy began in the 1880s, when Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla clashed over the nature of America’s new electric utility business. It is now entering a definitive final phase as fossil fuels and nuclear power sink into an epic abyss, while green power launches into a revolutionary, apparently unstoppable, takeoff.

In many ways, the two realities were separated at birth.

Apocalypse postponed: the oil price crash two years on

By Brian Parkin - RS21, December 31, 2016

Between November 2014 and January 2015, oil prices on international markets fell by nearly 80%. Since then many of the smaller ‘unconventional’ shale fracking operations have gone bust while the deep water and Arctic circle developments by the oil and gas ‘majors’ have been put on hold or abandoned. Here Brian Parkin surveys the damage and finds that despite the most bruising experience since 1973 oil price crisis the world of hydrocarbons is still driven by the same speculative greed and climate crisis disregard as ever. But with the cancellation (at the time of publication) of the XL Keystone pipeline, an outstanding victory at Standing Rock and a rediscovered militancy in the UK North Sea offshore industry, things may be changing.

House of fools

Prior to the oil price collapse of late 2014, the sustained high price of oil, largely predicated on expectations of sustained high Chinese economic growth, as well as heroic predictions of world economic growth post-2008 credit crash, had given rise to a speculative boom in ‘unconventional’ oil and gas exploration and production ventures. This meant that hitherto high cost and ‘marginal’ production techniques in smaller and relatively low yield fields, in combination with record low interest rates, suddenly and overnight looked like safe bets.

Another key factor at work was the shared political and strategic consensus in the US, that after the Gulf (of Arabia) military clean-up of a ‘new American century’, the US would seek to become energy self-sufficient by the mid-2030’s, by which time it would have also largely completed its imperialist ‘pivot on Asia’ strategy for the economic and military containment of China[1].

Apart from the marginalisation of OPEC[2] and the securing of wider MENA[3] regional oilfields dedicated to the supply of the US’s strategic allies in Europe and East Asia, the decisive factor would be in the development of ‘tight’ oil (and gas) from hydrocarbon bearing shale ‘plays’ that make up much of the north American east, mid-west and southern states geological formations. Additionally, high production cost ventures in the Gulf of Mexico and Outer Continental Shelf deep waters as well as within the Arctic Circle augmented further by the Canadian tar sands would complete the future hydrocarbon supply mix.

Oil Refineries Don’t Just Pollute; They Also Kill Workers

By Jim Morris - Center for Public Integrity, December 13, 2016

ANACORTES, Washington—From 500 yards away, John Moore felt the concussion before he heard it.

Without empathy for Trump voters, movements can’t succeed

By George Lakey - Waging NonViolence, November 10, 2016

This was a highly emotional election, and we need time to feel our feelings and sort out what it means for us and for the country. Donald Trump is a con man; his game is to manipulate emotions and activists can be as vulnerable as anyone else. Knowing that, we can give ourselves some space to breathe rather than hype each other’s fear. We can also begin to ask, what does his victory mean for social activists on the left?

First, and most obviously, Bernie Sanders was not Trump’s opponent. Many Trump voters liked Sanders for the same reason they supported Trump: He was an outlier who was an alternative to the establishment that has for decades been implementing what billionaire Warren Buffett calls the economic elite’s “class war.”

We activists on the left, even with some disagreements with Sanders, could reasonably regard him as a standard-bearer for us, but that’s not the choice voters made this November. I voted for Hillary without believing for a minute that she was putting forth my politics — or that my politics even got attention in the general election.

What we learn from the vote against Hillary is that many people who are losing the class war don’t like losing, and took it out on a pillar of the establishment. In 2008 and 2012, many white working-class people in the North gave their support to Barack Obama because he was the most credible hope for change, running in each election against a pillar of the establishment. By wide margins they didn’t let the color of his skin prevent them from voting for the chance of a pause in the battering they’d been getting.

For people interested in learning how to make major change in the United States, the electoral arena is only a tiny peephole covered with gauze. Voter participation is low in the United States compared with, say, Scandinavia, and that was true this year, too. Because the election only involves part of the citizenry and is mostly about money, celebrity and manipulation, it tells us little and invites us to make up stories laced with our own fears.

Nevertheless, combing the electoral data can tell us something. Exit polls, for example, tell us that one in five voters who pulled the lever for Trump do not believe he is qualified to be president.

Why vote for someone so unqualified? One answer is because that voter feels certain they know what a second Clinton presidency would bring: unjust policies that further degrade the lives of the oppressed. Here’s the chance for activist empathy, crucial for our having any chance of success in the future: When people so desire change that they will vote for someone they believe unqualified, they are desperate. Activists are used to calling people who are rendered desperate by unjust polices “the oppressed.” If using that name helps us stop othering working-class Trump voters, let’s use that name.

The white working class reading of recent American history may be more accurate than that of many activists. Bill Clinton betrayed the Democratic Party’s traditional working-class base through the North American Free Trade Agreement, destruction of “welfare as we know it,” and subsidizing corporations’ moving industrial jobs overseas. Even when the presidency and both houses of Congress were in the hands of the Democrats, a union movement that worked night and day to get Democratic politicians elected could not get its priorities enacted.

Many in a social class that once believed the Democratic Party was its ally were bound to notice, sooner or later, that the party’s allegiance is elsewhere. I’ve often heard middle-class liberals complain about working-class people voting against their interests, but I’m not hearing them complain that tens of millions of middle-class people vote against their interests – something they do routinely, and did so again by voting for Trump. In fact, the middle class reportedly provided Trump’s most reliable funding during the primary season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Just Transition for Fossil Fuels Workers is Possible

Robert Pollin interviewed by Sharmini Peries - The Real News Network, October 24, 2016

Geelong refinery workers just scored a huge win for safety

By Rosie Jones - Green Left Weekly, October 12, 2016

The Geelong refinery dispute may not hold the record for the longest campaign for workers’ rights, but the dispute over safety nevertheless won due to a concerted campaign.

On October 5, almost 300 workers voted to walk out of the refinery, owned by Viva Energy Australia, over safety concerns. They began a 24-hour picket, covering four access gates to the refinery. The initial walk out was facilitated by the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

The next afternoon, a notice was put up on all four gates, literally nailed to the trees along refinery road, saying the AWU and the AMWU had received an injunction order from the Supreme Court to refrain from any further participation in the action — not just on the site but anywhere. In response, concerned community members set up a small camp at the main gate to support the workers.

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