[NOTICE: There is a Shell Cracker breakout session on Sunday at 10:45am at the conference. Please join us!]
The first day of this conference was filled with valuable new connections and insights from hard-working activists from around the country. I’ve collected some key insights and reflections that came up during the event to help inform our movement.
The day opened with a beautiful and grounding opening ceremony led by indigenous leaders. It is always important to consider the legacy of the land we inhabit.
As the sessions ramped up, one of the first exercises that moved me was when a panelist encouraged everybody to turn to the person on their left and right and say “my fight is your fight.” This simple act set the tone for me through the day as I encountered person after person working to hold back some tentacle of the fossil fuel industry that had found its way into their region, threatening health locally and climate globally. We spend a lot of time working to resist the Shell petrochemical development in Beaver here at NoPetroPA, and I was eager to connect with better-resourced allies in other regions, but found that EVERYBODY had a story of struggle to tell. It was a good reminder that a great way to generate allies is to become an ally to others. We can all use a hand. Which leads to my next point…
That hashtag emerged sometime during the morning sessions (not my invention), and is particularly relevant to the Sunoco Mariner 2 East pipeline, which, according to Sunoco, will “provide needed pipeline infrastructure to transport ethane, propane and other petroleum products from the Marcellus Shale to markets in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.” Ethane is a critical feedstock for making plastic (as we know from the Shell Cracker), which is not a public utility but a private industrial use. So it seems particularly odd that Sunoco could use eminent domain to force the family of Elise Gerhart (Camp White Pine) off their own land in order to build that pipeline. Elise was a featured panelist several times during the conference, and I was dismayed to learn details of her family’s struggle against Sunoco’s claim to their land. I strongly encourage you to read more about the resistance camp set up on their property and the challenges they have faced: https://www.unicornriot.ninja/2017/weve-got-no-choice-interview-elise-gerhart-camp-white-pine/ . And here is information about spills along the pipeline: https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2017/09/06/dep-says-sunoco-violated-agreement-on-mariner-east-2-drilling/ . Industry claims that this additional pipeline capacity is essential to support demand for petrochemical products, but that might not be true…
Does Industry REALLY Need So Many New Pipelines?
Lorne Stockman (Oil Change International) gave a fascinating presentation questioning whether the petrochemical industry really needs all the new gas and oil pipelines that they’re pursuing across North America. He points to a report (Art of the Self-Deal: How Regulatory Failure Lets Gas Pipeline Companies Fabricate Need and Fleece Ratepayers) authored by his organization, which states,
“Absent effective oversight, ratepayers could end up shouldering long-term costs for pipeline capacity they don’t need, while losing out on opportunities to take advantage of increasingly cheaper, cleaner choices.”
The report also concludes,
“In today’s dynamic energy landscape, the demand for gas over the next 20 years and beyond is highly uncertain.”
I was delighted to learn about the Break Free From Plastic coalition working together to “stop plastic pollution” around the world, ultimately seeking “a future free from plastic pollution.” Over 800 organizations have joined the coalition to-date, and they are apparently beginning to work upstream and expand their scope from pollution to plastic alternatives. This large coalition may simplify our work of connecting with a global array of allies in the fight against the PA petrochemical expansion.
Sandy Buchanan (Institute for Energy, Economics, and Financial Analysis) offered a wealth of tools leveraging financial analysis to find weakness in an activist’s corporate target. She highly recommended reading, “The New Geopolitics of Natural Gas” to better understand the international landscape faced by companies like Shell. Sandy also astutely noted that you can uncover a variety of new allies if you talk about the financial costs and consequences of a petrochemical project (as opposed to just the health and/or climate considerations). Comments about a company’s finances (pulled from SEC filings, financial reports to shareholders, etc.) can add credibility to sound bites you may offer to mainstream press. Is the company’s stock price in decline? Have they cut dividends recently? What is their cash position? Do they have customers for the products they’re asking permission to manufacture in your area? What institutions are lending to the manufacturer? Answers to these questions can give you power in a conversation with the press or the public.
Say ‘Em Together: Oil, Gas, AND Plastics
I noticed a not-so-subtle push among the attendees to add the plastics industry into any conversation about fossil fuels. Since virtually all plastics come from fossil fuels, we can reasonably assume that the colonial mindset of resource extraction and unabashed toxic pollution applies to all three. A surge in natural gas extraction will lead to a surge in ethane which, without citizen intervention, will likely lead to a surge in plastics manufacturing as companies spend millions to figure out how to generate demand for their supply. I can imagine that these companies will become ever more hungry to turn fuels into plastics as the planet wakes up to the climate crisis and the economics of renewable energy leave dirty power sources far behind. The Center for International Environment and Law offers a potent set of publications connecting fossil fuels to the plastics industry. Read on to learn more via these two papers:
I find the second paper particularly compelling, with the following text pulled from its introductory description,
“The availability of cheap shale gas in the United States is fueling a massive wave of new investments in plastics infrastructure in the US and abroad, with $164 billion planned for 264 new facilities or expansion projects in the US alone, and spurring further investment in Europe and beyond. In as little as five years, these investments could increase global plastics production capacity by a third, driving companies to produce ever greater volumes of plastics for years to come.”
Wrapping Up Day One
That about covers my favorite points from the first day of the conference. Please post your favorite points from this and other days. You can also be proud of the numerous local activists and organizers in attendance at the event. I saw many friends and colleagues fill the rooms and pepper the panelists with thoughtful questions and insights that kept the Shell Cracker in Beaver ever-present the hearts and minds of this potent gathering at the People vs. Oil and Gas Conference: A Summit of Communities Fighting Back.
P.S. If you’re new to NoPetroPA, please look around the other pages, particularly the video page, starting with this video: