Fast and furious…

Posted July 9th, 2013 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Fast and furious…

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Fast and furious – that’s the pace at which the crude oil and natural gas industries are constructing their vast energy extraction and transshipment networks around North America, from Canada and the US wherever the stuff is to our refineries and our ports, from Alberta to Illinois, from Bakken to Maine, from Alberta to the northwest U.S., from Superior WI to the St. Lawrence Seaway, from Alberta and North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Fracking wells and frac sand mines are sprouting up wherever there is a gas bubble deep in the earth that can be coaxed up to burn, wherever the hard silica sand can be gouged out of the earth’s surface to be used to free up those bubbles.

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It is all happening at a dizzying pace before most people even realize what is being done to them or their communities, what decisions have already been made that will change their lives forever, what ecological ruin is in store for their towns and farmlands, their scenic riverways and precious freshwater lakes. The fish they won’t be able to eat anymore. The water no longer fit to drink. The air becoming too toxic to breathe.

Of course, the rapidity of this development is by design, not need, not even a result of market demand. What has become apparent is that we are way over supplied right now in some of the most toxic forms of energy. Production in Alberta is backed up, one reason for the voracious speed at oil railcar building and rail and barge transshipment (the stuff is already going down the Mississippi River, and I wonder how many river communities know about this) and extreme political pressure to get pipelines approved and constructed.

The speed of this industrial expansion is by design, as we are learning in Wisconsin, because when local communities find out what has already been done to them, or what is in store for them, the opposition and the pushback begin to get really messy. That costs the industry money as they then have to fight attempts to regulate them, from expensive pollution controls to water usage rules, from zoning laws that restrict their access to the many lawsuits that are also a mushrooming business all across the country as the environmental damage from these industries mounts. And you have to consider the expense of campaign contributions to candidates you want ruling in your favor (a reason they tend to donate to both political parties).

Do we doubt at all that the controversy that has stalled construction of the Keystone XL pipeline has been very expensive for TransCanada? As we now know, Enbridge, the pipeline company that brought us the Kalamazoo River disaster (among many others), is planning an even bigger pipeline for Alberta bitumen, an expansion of an existing pipeline network right through my state. They’re no fools. They follow the news more closely than any of us. And this is how they are responding:

Enbridge Seeks Exemption to Fast Track Pipeline Before Opposition Builds

It’s angering until you realize that it is a mark of the success of the anti-pipeline movement. They are taking us very seriously. We have become a factor in their business considerations.

Frac sand mining in Pepin County WI. Source: Pepin County Government

Frac sand mining in Pepin County WI. Source: Pepin County Government

Do you think the frac sand mining companies are paying close attention to what just happened in Pepin County WI (see last week’s post) and trying to figure out how to take decisions like this out of the hands of local governments? Watch them pay state politicians to try to take jurisdiction over these decisions away from local communities.

That’s not a measure of our failure, but of success, and we need to get smarter and smarter as they ramp up their financial corporate p.r. muscle to try to quash these local efforts. We just need to remind ourselves every day that these local efforts, these grassROOTS, the source of everything that grows, need our constant vigilance, care, and support.

Okay, we’ve all seen the horrific news of recent days, more than a heart can bear, it seems – at least mine. The death toll in the oil train disaster at Lac-Mégantic PQ stands at 13 with 40 people still missing. Some remains may be difficult to ever identify. (Incredibly disturbing photos here.) Meanwhile, in Toronto, what is probably more evidence of climate change (aided and abetted by the Alberta tar sands industry), the city just experienced record rainfall – 5 inches in just two hours – which brought much of the city to its knees. Check out this CBC story with videos, incredible stuff. Just a couple of weeks ago, torrential downpours devastated Calgary and beautiful mountain towns, like Banff, which was cut off from the world by water for a time.

Then, just to stay on the Canadian side of the border for a bit, up in the tar sands region, one of the largest spills in the history of North America began back in 2011 and only now is government action being taken – and I’m going to guarantee you that you will hear nothing about this from US mainstream news outlets. This story nearly brought me to tears. 42 hectares of boreal forest – completely dead.

Back in May Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this about the industry: “The only real immediate environmental issue here is, do we want to increase the flow of oil from Canada by pipeline or via rail?” Now he will undoubtedly use this tragedy in Quebec as an excuse for pipeline transport. Will anyone mention the 42 hectares of dead boreal forest, or the explosion of cancers and other diseases among the First Nation communities in the vicinity of the tar sands exploitation?

Both north and south of our borders, the most important challenge to the industry is coming from those, as I wrote last week, who are defending their “places,” those who are experiencing the impacts in their communities, in their bodies, in their watersheds and woodlands, in the way in which these kinds of boom-and-bust industries fragment and degrade lives linked to the land and water – which all of our lives are, one reason why our civic life is so degraded, because we have degraded so much of the eco-communities in which we live. We can’t have healthy bodies, lives, communities, or societies on a degraded planet. That’s just simply true, but the fossil fuel industry leaders don’t really care much about that notion, nor are they excited about anyone trying to pass on such a message.

Like First Nation peoples of Canada, like the Dene Tha’ and the Ft. McKay First Nation, or the Bad River Band of Chippewa in Northern Wisconsin, or the people living along Mississippi’s Great River Road, like the people of Pepin County WI, or… It’s a long list. And we ought to join in because we all have places in need of defending.

idle no more logoMovements like Idle No More, or the harvest camp  set up by the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in the Penokee Hills of Northern WI where a coal mining company, Gogebic Taconite (G-TAC), is drilling deep into the earth for iron ore testing – a first step in preparing a permit application for an enormous open pit iron ore mine – these are movements created in defense of the land, water, and forests that belong to all of us and to all creatures who depend on them for life. These are our near relations and they are in grave danger. Can we be inspired by these examples? Do they give us an indication of what to do and why despair can only come from doing nothing?

As soon as we act, there is hope. And that’s why it is so important to spread word of these incipient and potentially powerful movements – to encourage us to engage!

Because the other side is fiercely engaged. And I want to add just one very disturbing example in that regard. As many of you who follow this site and others know, G-TAC is a very aggressive, no-nonsense company owned by the Cline Resource and Development Group (read about majority owner Chris Cline here, see a photo of his 33,413-square foot house in Palm Beach, Florida. Do you think he cares what happens to the Lake Superior watershed?). This week we learned that G-TAC has contracted with an Arizona security company and now has guys in fatigues, wearing masks, carrying semi-automatic rifles, “protecting” their test drill sites from protestors.

This is what’s going on in Northern Wisconsin, my friends, because of the controversy over the mine. Can you feel it? Can you feel this whole thing intensifying, this life and death struggle over the living communities of the planet?

To end for this week, I just want to make note again of the vast expansion of these dirty industries now underway in our country. Here is a visual from EarthJustice that will give you an idea of how much of the country is under siege just from fracking. If we add in the frac sand mining in WI, MN, and IA, the geographic area would extend by a lot.

Shale plays - EIA (sm)Now here’s how the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) sees the future of natural gas fracking in this country. Now see what the industry is trying to do to shape the political decision-making around regulating the industry. If Act 13 in Pennsylvania is any indication, we will see more and more of a corporate takeover of our democracy. This is mandatory reading, okay? I insist!

And just to show again why we need to partner more closely with our Canadian c0lleagues, here is an excellent report on the environmental threats from fracking, and then another article about how CN railroad is building a massive terminal in Alberta to receive our midwest frac sand!! You see? We have really strong connections here. This is not only a national work, but international as well. If the industry operates this way, building these links, so must we. This brand spanking new railroad terminal is a direct threat to my state which is dealing with a frac-sand rush that is devouring areas of our western counties. How does one stop an economic juggernaut like this if we act in fragments, if we don’t see the connection to the greater whole?

Last example: we all know the nature of the destruction of Alberta’s tar sands industry. I have posted the photos here many times and intend soon to pay my own visit where I’m sure my heart will be broken forever by what I see. But as I reported last week, tar sands exploitation is coming to Utah, already approved by the Bureau of Land Management. And now this new news – it is also coming to Kentucky. Yes, Kentucky!

Don't want this in Utah or Kentucky

Don’t want this in Utah or Kentucky

Here ya’ go folks: Tar Sands Mining to Begin This Summer in Logan County, Kentucky

So, there is it – a little perspective on the plans to provide energy to the global economy, the burgeoning human community, and our consumer way of life. The scope and speed of it just take my breath away. They don’t want us to know because the momentum just keeps gaining speed and they want to run over any opposition before we can effectively stop them from vast destruction.

And yet we must stop them from vast destruction.

Just remember – those semi-automatic rifles in the North Woods of Wisconsin, and Act 13 in Pennsylvania, and the rush to build rail and pipeline networks and sand and ore mines before people can know enough to push back – all of this means we are having an impact. So we don’t despair, we keep on – because it is actually making a difference.


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