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The West Coast Will Determine the Fate of the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Arun Gupta - Yes! Magazine, March 24, 2017

Despite a string of victories in the last few years limiting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure on the West Coast, Donald Trump’s presidency shows it was never going to be easy to defeat the oil and gas industry.

In two months, Trump has moved to revive the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline routes that had been blocked by the Obama administration, expedite environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, and reverse fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. He is expected to reverse environmental regulation policies established under President Obama, including the Clean Power Plan, and will not likely adhere to the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Republicans in Congress have followed suit, voting to kill two regulations passed in the waning days of the Obama administration: the Stream Buffer Rule, which prohibits coal companies from dumping toxic waste into an estimated 6,100 miles of streams; and a Bureau of Land Management rule that directs energy companies to capture natural gas from drilling operations on public lands rather than allowing them to burn or vent it into the atmosphere, where it’s heat-trapping potential is 84 times that of carbon dioxide.

For now, the situation is “scary,” says Mia Reback, a climate justice organizer with 350 PDX in Portland, Oregon. At the same time, she said, Trump has sparked “a groundswell of people coming into the climate justice movement who are looking to strategically and thoughtfully take action to create political change.” At her organization alone, orientation attendance has increased tenfold since the election.

All along the West Coast, environmentalists are gearing up for an epic fight. Advocates of a clean energy economy talk of building a “thin green line” from California to British Columbia to protect and improve on gains against the spread of fossil fuel infrastructure so that the production, use, and export of oil, coal, and natural gas steadily decline.

The fronts in this war are multiplying—along pipelines and rail lines, in the courts and media, through finance and all levels of government—even as an emboldened fossil fuel industry tries to roll back gains for climate justice and revive stalled infrastructure projects. Opponents are outmatched by the billions of dollars energy companies can throw around, but they are buoyed by an invigorated grassroots effort to stymie the industry and strengthen resistance by local elected officials. And they are aided by economic trends that increasingly favor renewable energy.

Portland and the entire Northwest are key to the fate of the fossil fuel industry simply because of geography, explained Dan Serres, conservation director of Columbia Riverkeeper. The Columbia River, which forms most of the border between Washington and Oregon, is the most accessible shipping point for large flows of oil, coal, and natural gas seeking a deep-water pass. The river’s path also provides the flattest route for trainloads of oil and coal. As such, the Northwest is the gateway between vast energy reserves in the U.S. interior and huge markets in Asia.

Extinction 2017: California Edition

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, February 28, 2017

One of the least discussed issues in California environmental politics – and one of the most crucial to understanding Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels Plan – is the clear connection between the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and the California WaterFix, formerly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

At a time when local, national and international mainstream media are focusing on the Oroville Dam crisis, it’s important for reporters to dig deeper and understand the context that the emergency, which spurred the evacuation of over 188,000 people in Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties, occurs within.

It’s crucial to understand that these two neo-liberal processes, the MLPA Initiative and the California Water Fix, are the environmental “legacy” that two Governors, Arnold Schwarznegger and Jerry Brown, have devoted their energy, staff and money to, rather than doing the mundane but necessary process of maintaining and repairing the state’s water infrastructure, including Oroville Dam.

The privately-funded MLPA Initiative and the California WaterFix at first may appear to be entirely different processes.

The MLPA Initiative, a process begun in 2004 under the Schwarzenegger administration, purported to create a network of “marine protected areas” along the California coast. The network was supposedly completed on December 19, 2012 with the imposition of contested “marine protected areas” along the North Coast under the Jerry Brown administration.

On the other hand, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process began under the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations to achieve the so-called “co-equal goals” of water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem restoration. In 2015, the state and federal governments divided the BDCP into two projects, the California WaterFix, the conveyance component and the California EcoRestore, the habitat “restoration” component.

But in spite of some superficial differences, the two processes are united by their leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and numerous conflicts of interest. When people educate themselves on the links between the two processes, I believe they can more effectively wage a successful campaign against the Delta Tunnels and to restore our imperiled salmon and San Francisco Bay-Delta fisheries.

Black Snakes on the Move: U.S. Pipeline Expansion Out Of Control

By Teressa Rose Ezell - The Bullet, February 9, 2017

Lakota prophecy tells of a mythic Black Snake that will move underground and bring destruction to the Earth. The “seventh sign” in Hopi prophecy involves the ocean turning black and bringing death to many sea-dwelling creatures. It doesn't take an over-active imagination to make a connection between these images and oil pipelines and spills.

It's troubling enough that the growing “Black Snake” has branched out at an alarming rate, forming a massive subterranean coast-to-coast web. But to make matters worse, the nefarious reptile seems to suffer from leaky gut syndrome, so that it functions as a toxic underground sprinkler system, spreading gas, oil, and poisonous by-products everywhere it goes – including into waterways and drinking water sources.

Protest actions against major pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) have called attention to the potentially devastating effects of pipelines, but much of the general public still doesn't understand the scope of the existing and proposed pipeline network in the U.S. and around the globe. Executive actions by Donald Trump just four days into his presidency practically guarantee expedited approval for DAPL, as well as for Keystone XL. This indicates, among other things, that the maze of oil and gas pipelines in the U.S. will continue to expand at an unprecedented and reckless pace.

Trump's "America First" puts the planet last

By Michael Ware - Socialist Worker, February 9, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S executive orders for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and for building a border wall provoked the most visible and immediate responses of the early days of his presidency.

But his moves to restart construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and the new administration's censorship of government workers and federally funded scientists regarding climate change were a shot across the bow of the environmental movement.

Upon taking office, Twittler and his henchmen directed federal agencies to cease public communication that wasn't vetted by the new administration, effectively putting a gag order on any talk about climate change or scientific research that contradicts the administration's taste for "alternative facts."

The Badlands National Park Twitter account defied the ban, issuing unspeakable truths like "The Pre-Industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93ppm." The account has since been reigned in and the tweets deleted.

This week, the new administration scored a victory when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bowing to an order from Trump, reversed its denial of an easement needed to complete a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline running under the Missouri River. The Army Corps not only abandoned plans to wait for an environment impact study, but rushed through approval so drilling could start in 24 hours--making it harder for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to take action in court.

New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil's Call to Continue Business As Usual

By Dan Bacher - Daily Kos, January 17, 2017

On January 12,  California Assemblymembers Autumn R. Burke, Jim Cooper, Evan Low, and Blanca Rubio introduced legislation, AB 151, to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program beyond 2020.  

The sponsors of Assembly Bill 151 said the legislation affirms the State’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 “in the most technologically feasible and cost effective way by using a market based mechanism: cap-and-trade.” 

“Cap-and-trade is an important tool to help disadvantaged communities participate in efforts to improve air quality,” said Assemblymember Cooper. “AB 151 will help ensure California continues to invest cap-and-trade revenues in areas of the state with the greatest need."

But Gary Graham Hughes, Senior California Advocacy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said “thorough academic review of the market-based compliance mechanism,” as implemented in California so far, shows that Cap-and-Trade does not work for the lower-income communities and communities of color that disproportionately live closest to polluting facilities.

Many environmental justice and indigenous organizations oppose cap-and-trade, calling it “carbon trading” or “pollution trading,” because of the tremendous adverse impacts the program has on indigenous communities and the environment throughout the world.

“Cap-and-Trade is a pollution trading scheme in which so-called greenhouse gas emissions ‘reductions’ rely extensively on scientifically dubious out-of-state ‘offset’ projects, while real emissions at many of the state’s largest industrial facilities continue to rise,” Hughes said. 

As Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said at a protest against Governor Jerry Brown’s environmental policies, including carbon trading and REDD, in October 2013:

“Governor Brown is moving ahead with a policy that grabs land, clear-cuts forests, destroys biodiversity, abuses Mother Earth, pimps Father Sky and threatens the cultural survival of Indigenous Peoples. This policy privatizes the air we breathe. Commodifies the clouds. Buy and sells the atmosphere. Corrupts the Sacred.” (www.ienearth.org/...)

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.

Challenging a Giant

By Mark Dudzic - Jacobin, January 5, 2017

One of the few bright spots in this year’s election was the victory of the Richmond Progressive Alliance candidates and RPA-endorsed rent control initiative in Richmond, California, a predominantly black and Latino, gritty (though rapidly gentrifying) industrial city of 110,000 in the East Bay.

The alliance, a coalition of community groups, unions, liberal democrats, Greens, environmentalists, and leftists of various stripes, had participated in the governance of Richmond for the previous twelve years despite formidable opposition from the Chevron Corporation, the city’s largest private employer, and the political establishment beholden to it. That the RPA triumphed once again in 2016 was a tribute to its staying power and capacity to mobilize a broad constituency around a working-class agenda.

Company Town

Richmond is a company town. The company in question, Chevron, is not only the city’s largest but also its dirtiest employer. Chevron practically founded the town in 1905 when it opened what was, at the time, the world’s third-largest oil refinery. Other industrial development followed, peaking in World War II with a giant Kaiser shipyard, Ford plant, and dozens of other industrial companies employing tens of thousands of workers. (Richmond is home to the Rosie the Riveter national historic park commemorating the role of women industrial workers during World War II.)

Those workers included many black migrants from the American South squeezed into substandard and segregated housing. The city rapidly deindustrialized after the war, leaving large swathes of abandoned factories and toxic residue. Chevron stayed.

There are few corporate entities more reprehensible than large oil corporations. The prototype, Standard Oil, was created by John D. Rockefeller in 1870 and by the 1880s controlled close to 90 percent of US oil refining and distribution. Broken up by trustbusters in 1911, it spawned dozens of new companies. Three of them (including Standard Oil of California, later Chevron) were part of the “seven sisters” which dominated the world political economy throughout the twentieth century. They have an unmatched record of environmental degradation, political subversion and corruption, and contempt for workers’ rights and government regulation.

Half of the members of my old union, the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers (now part of the Steelworkers), worked for these behemoths. The in-house history of the union was called Challenging the Giants because our union’s identity was forged in struggle with them. Their arrogant unilateralism was the secret behind OCAW’s surprising militancy and internal democracy. Big oil never accepted the post–World War II consensus that unions ought to be integrated as junior partners into a tripartite class-conflict management team.

Company unions persisted at Standard Oil properties into the 1990s, and all the big oil refineries were run as open shops, forcing the union to engage in continuous “close the ranks” internal organizing that, perversely, built rank-and-file power and kept union density above 90 percent at most refineries.

The industry extracted a huge toll on its workers. One refinery worker described his twelve-hour shift as “eleven-and-a-half hours of extreme boredom, thirty minutes of swimming in a pool of toxic shit, and thirty seconds of sheer terror.” Their daily exposure to “thirty minutes of toxic shit” condemns refinery workers to high rates of occupational cancers and other illnesses. The “thirty seconds of terror” has subjected them to over 500 fires and explosions in the nation’s 141 oil refineries since 1994.

Hopelessly devoted to fossil fuels

By Amy Leather - Socialist Review, January 2017

World leaders are failing on climate change. Theresa May’s Tory government has given the go ahead to a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, backed the expansion of Heathrow airport and overturned the local decision in Lancashire to stop fracking. Meanwhile climate change denier Donald Trump is heading to the White House.

The last decade has seen a massive expansion of so-called “dirty energies” such as fracking, deep water drilling, and tar sand extraction. The pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries in December 2015, are only voluntary. Even if signatories kept to them we would still be on track for global warming far higher than is sustainable.

The scale of the crisis is widely recognized. Climate scientists and environmentalists such as Ian Angus have shown that we have entered a new geological era — the Anthropocene — in which the dominant influence on the environment is human activity. Unless urgent action is taken we face catastrophic climate change. The solution to global warming is quite simple — we need to stop burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and instead make a rapid switch to renewables.

So why won’t our rulers act? We need to look beyond the individual politicians. There are, of course, the climate change deniers, who must be challenged and stopped, but much of the ruling class does accept that climate change is a reality. The problem is they are guardians of a system with fossil fuels at its heart. Tackling the climate crisis would mean tackling the vested interests of the fossil fuel corporations — some of the most profitable companies in the world. To understand why capitalism and fossil fuels are so intertwined we need to go back to the time of the industrial revolution in Britain.

Andreas Malm, in his book Fossil Capital, outlines how in the early 1800s an energy transition took place in Britain. The first machines of the industrial revolution, the spinning and weaving machines of the cotton industry, were driven by water. In 1800 there were at least 1,000 water mills concentrated in Lancashire and Scotland. Even as late as the 1820s most mills in Manchester were still water-powered. Just ten years later steam generated by burning coal had overtaken water.

Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere

By Alex Steffin - Medium, December 15, 2016

You can’t understand what Trump’s doing to America without understanding the “Carbon Bubble”

If you’re an American, you’re likely misinformed about the most dire crisis in our world.

American journalists, pundits and media executives have largely convinced themselves that climate change is not a serious political issue, because they think the polls tell them that. A majority of American voters regularly tell pollsters they don’t think climate change is a critically important election issue, so therefore the media decides it must not be an important political issue at all.

Unfortunately, that conventional wisdom blinds us to both to the actual bedrock reality of this era, and to — as I see it — the defining aim of the in-coming Trump administration: delaying climate action.

Trump has surrounded himself with more oil industry and oil industry connected people than any president in history (even George W. Bush). You can’t understand what’s going on with Trump unless you understand the oil industry… and you can’t understand the oil industry without understanding climate change.

Understanding Climate Change

In case you’re just joining us here on Earth, we’re making the planet hotter. The science is incontrovertible that by burning fossil fuels, we’re changing the planet’s climate. Because the consequences worsen dramatically as we emit more climate pollution and the planet gets hotter, every nation on Earth agreed last year in Paris to hold that temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (2ºC).

This means we must limit the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse pollution we put into the sky: we have to meet a “carbon budget.” To meet that budget, we have to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions — burning way less oil, coal and gas — in the next two decades, and set the global economy on a steep path to zero emissions.

Again, the American media has failed to convey the magnitude of the costs of unchecked global warming. Those costs are profound already, today, as the Arctic heatwave, Syrian civil war, bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, worsening storms, droughts, wildfires and freak weather events all show. Those costs will only grow, and they will grow more dire, more quickly as the planet heats.

At the same time, the innovations we need to create zero-carbon prosperity are already here. From plummeting costs for solar, wind, electric vehicles and green buildings to better approaches to urban planning, agriculture and forestry, we already have the tools we need to start building a much more prosperous world, producing hosts of new companies and millions of jobs. Indeed, a giant building boom is what successful climate action looks like.

Because we have no real choice but to act — and, in fact, climate action will make most people not only safer, but better off — big changes are coming, far sooner than most Americans understand.

But some people totally understand: the ones who stand to lose money from these changes.

The Chevron Way: Big Oil’s Vacation From East Bay Politics Won’t Last Long

By Steve Early - CounterPunch, November 22, 2016

In the two election cycles prior to 2016, the global energy giant Chevron spent more than $4 million on city council or mayoral races in Richmond, CA. Big Oil’s independent expenditures were so large two years ago that they drew widespread condemnation as a particularly egregious example of the unrestricted corporate spending unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.

In our Chevron refinery town of 110,000, rent control was on the ballot this year. That’s not an issue that Chevron cares anything about. So, as company spokesman Leah Casey explained to the Richmond Confidential last month, her employer “decided not to participate in the 2016 local Richmond election,” preferring to remain “focused on keeping the refinery running safely and partnering with the city and the community on our modernization project.” (As a nearby neighbor, I found Chevron’s new “focus” particularly reassuring.)

This fall, the California Apartment Association replaced the oil company as our biggest local spender. According to Kathleen Pender in the SF Chronicle, the CAA and its allies raised $2.5 million to defeat rent control in multiple Bay Area communities on Nov. 8. In Richmond, the CAA pumped nearly $200,000 into its losing effort here (three times more than rent control advocates raised). By a 65 to 35 percent margin, Richmond voters approved a new system of rent regulation, a rent rollback to July, 2015 levels, and the legal requirement that landlords have “just cause” for evicting tenants.

Once again, Richmond progressives were celebrating a singular local triumph over “big money in politics” on election night. The strongest pro-rent control candidates in the 2016 council race, both RPA members, finished first and second in a field of nine. In similar fashion two years ago, three members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance running for re-election to the city council won an upset victory–despite Chevron’s record-breaking spending against them.

Among that year’s winners was a persistent nemesis of Big Oil, former mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the California Green who sought to increase Chevron’s local taxes and county property tax bill to raise more revenue for cash-starved city services.

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