Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Battles Aplenty

Not only was it surprising to see so many turn out for the Women's March on Washington, D.C., but the numbers in other cities across the U.S. were astonishing, too. Many cities then rallied protesters last night over the President's decision to green light two big oil pipeline projects, one of which (Dakota Access) is 90% complete. Then, today Greenpeace acrobats hung a big "Resist!" banner off a crane near the White House. Widespread protests look like they will be a distinguishing characteristic of the Trump era.

There are actually numerous pipeline resistance movements ongoing across the country, some over oil, others over gas pipelines. Aside from these projects' failure to address indigenous peoples' concerns, adding fossil fuel infrastructure would rarely be worth the environmental cost at this point in Earth's feverish condition. If, however, there is an either/or choice between burning coal or natural gas, the decision would be more nuanced. Since 2006, the United States alone has averaged more than 300 pipeline spills a year, and technology to predict and monitor leaks is notoriously unreliable. Pipelines and roads also break up wild habitat. Keystone XL comes with the even more detrimental problem of transporting tar sand.

The fact that pipelines (and roads under tRump's infrastructure strategy) are owned privately violates the rights of landowners when eminent domain is applied. It is the continuous, linear nature of pipelines that makes them the most politically, as well as physically, vulnerable subsystem of fuel extraction. On the other hand, if the industry has sunk investment into drilling, storing, and refining, there may be more sympathy by government to help the companies involved link everything up. While there may be holdouts one any given route, there are many possible routes to take. Therefore, pipelines are unlikely to be a complete show stopper for fuel extraction.

Ideally, infrastructure projects will be shut down well before pipes are being laid. From the standpoint of reducing buy-in by government entities, preventing construction of high value subsystems, e.g. refineries, would be better than blocking a pipeline. We found that to be too hard with the Cove Point LNG Plant expansion, but local efforts elsewhere have succeeded in preventing LNG export facilities from going forward. An even more widespread intervention would be to legislate against activities that cause excessive environmental damage. If you live in my state, perhaps the most effective action against expanding fossil fuel infrastructure would be Don't Frack Maryland. There are many subsystems to target in infrastructure intervention campaigns and many external factors that can be influenced. We have plenty of battlefields to choose from. Let us choose our battles wisely.

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