Global Gas Lock-in - Uniting the North-South Resistance at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Brüssels – Report back from Broad Alliance Secretary Dan McMahon
Having been involved in The Broad Alliance and local anti-fracking organising in East Dunbartonshire for a few years now, attending this conference in late September helped me to look at my campaigning from a more international perspective.
While the anti-fracking movement in Scotland and the UK has always looked to the USA and Australia in particular to tell us what the wide scale takeover by oil and gas technologies would actually look like and the impacts on our health and quality of life, we have given little attention to the Global South.
This conferenceredressed the imbalance, with Tunisian, Mexican, South African, Russian and Nigerian delegates speaking about the situation within their countries, looking at the politics of gas, lobbying, oil spills, how different nations are linked by pipeline projects and mobilising very diverse communities against gas development.
While I met many fascinating people over the course of the three days of the conference and tasted some fantastic vegan cakes and coffee in Brussels, I wanted to share some of the key things I learned that we can take forward.
1. Natural Gas is Fossil Gas
This may seem like semantics, but it is important. So much of the power of the gas industry to lobby the European Union, national governments and the public to, comes from their ability to claim the importance of gas to the future economy. They promote the fallacy that 'natural gas’ is going to be required – and available - for years to come. They claim it as a ‘partner for renewables’. Folksy ads show millennial couples ‘living NEARLY off the grid’ with the help of gas products. This greenwashing of gas is the main PR strategy of Shell, Exxon Mobil, Statoil and INEOS. It allows fracking to take hold, new pipelines to criss-cross the United States and Europe and even highly carbon intensive liquified natural gas to be volleyed between continents.
As anti-fracking activists we know this to be deeply dishonest, with the carbon footprint of natural gas from fracking comparable to that of burning coal, plus the devastation of local communities when this industry takes hold. Activists across the world are deciding to recast the way we speak about gas by reminding people of its similarity to oil and coal in extraction and emissions, and finite supply, by referring to 'fossil gas'.
2. Linking up supply chains
As many of us know, Scotland’s ‘ban' on fracking through the planning framework doesn’t mean that we have chased the fracking industry beyond the Solway Firth. INEOS has simply shifted focus from Scotland being a producer to being a link further down the supply chain, through the notorious ‘dragon ship’ imports. INEOS have a 15-year contract with Range Resources in Pennsylvania for fracked gas. While the ethylene being imported to Grangemouth is not destined for home heating systems or gas fired power plants, and therefore not immediately destined for the atmosphere, its environmental impacts are nevertheless severe. There are numerous sites around the supply chain (and post-supply chain life as near eternal plastic pollution) where environmental impacts are being felt. In Middleton, Pennsylvania, community members are so concerned about the pipelines of Appalachian gas and Highly Volatile Liquids which travel through their town on the journey to the Coastal Marcus Hook export Terminal that they are now informing us of their plight. The hard fact is that the dangers their community face from these pipeline projects are exacerbated by the demands of Europe-based client companies who require Highly Volatile Liquids in a non-odour treated state in order to use these as the building blocks of plastic.
While companies do have mechanisms to detect a drop in pressure in their pipeline, they cannot detect a drop below 1% without this odour treatment and clearly this makes a leak much more difficult for surrounding communities to pick up on. These pipelines, known as the Mariner East Pipeline, a 100 year old ‘repurposed’ gas pipeline which has unsafely had its purpose and direction of flow reversed, are soon to be joined by the Mariner East 2 Pipeline, all traversing densely populated East Coast communities. Middleton and Delaware County were given no chance to submit planning objections to this new Pipeline, traversing over 10 miles of their community before the Pennsylvanian Department of Energy granted permission to this project.
This is why we formed a sub-group at the conference, in order to work more closely together and this will continue. Melissa Hayes, the representative from the Middleton Coalition, a community group based in Middleton, Pennsylvania, brought her research and experience of the various companies involved in these pipelines in her area and the importance of exports and European clients (notably Scotland and Norway) to the development strategy of this industry in the US.
Melissa also discussed how difficult it is to mobilise against this industry in her part of the world, where many people are employed by Pipeline companies, climate and environmental issues are thoroughly less urgent than a need for ‘jobs’ and politicians of both major parties (Democratic Party and Republican Party) have deep, even familial and marital ties to Sunoco Logistics, the main pipeline company involved in these operations who have 10x the number of leaks and spills seen by their competitors. Sunoco is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, the outfit behind the Dakota Access Pipeline and has ties right up to the White House.
While there was a mammoth push in the East Coast to get organised at the time of the New York State fracking moratorium that then became a ban, community members from Middleton feel that their plight is not getting the attention that they require to make a change. There are now hundreds of pipelines being proposed across the US, which is looking to export a glut of gas to Asia and Europe. Many of them are being granted planning permission at record speed under Eminent Domain Laws originally intended to give special planning status to projects of 'common good'. This is a situation where the lobbying of the oil and gas industry is setting dangerous precedents and there is a real risk of environmental and health disasters as challenges against industry are taken on by activists and NGO groups like Food and Water Watch, whose resources are spread very thin in the face of such threats. In Scotland, we have a duty to speak out about these things, which wouldn’t be possible if companies like INEOS weren’t able to convince us and our politicians that operations in the United States were both legitimate or none of our business.
Plans for 2018. This is where it gets really exciting! Broad Alliance members, along with Food and Water Watch Europe (represented by Andy Gheorghiu), The Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, The Middleton Coalition and groups facing INEOS licenses in England (big shout out to Friends of the Earth England and Wales on this one) are hoping to host a conference in the new year, focused on taking the fight to INEOS and linking our causes.
More than these concrete plans, the conference was a chance to be grateful, humbled and energised at various times. It was amazing to meet up with allies in the NGO sector, collectives and community groups, knowing how many dimensions there are and the geographical spread of the struggle against gas. I have come away with a renewed knowledge of the depth and breadth of the struggle and how the context for this risky dash for gas is widespread economic insecurity, corporate money in politics and loneliness which has left people so vulnerable, as well as the success of anti-coal and anti-fracking activism in European countries.
Unfortunately, this struggle doesn’t come to a clean cut, celebratory end point, and often very quickly gives way to a new proposal for a Liquified Natural Gas Import terminal or a transnational pipeline project (such as the Southern Gas Corridor which brings gas from Azerbaijan all the way to Italy, or the Midcat pipeline linking Algerian gas to Spain and France). As an activist I am working on improving my social media skills, to help amplify the impact of actions at home and abroad.
The difficult truth to all of this is that we are in for a longer battle against this fossil fuel frenzy than we might have hoped. In light of that brutal realisation, conferences like this are all the more important in helping us reflect, share skills and tactics in this struggle. That sense of solidarity is a powerful reboot for a weary anti-fracker like me.
I hope that everyone gets a chance to rest and catch up with friends and family up over the winter holidays.
Kirkintilloch Against Fracking member and Secretary of the Broad Alliance
If you want to find out more about the work the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation is doing in fighting gas developments please take a look at their website. Here is a link to their conference report from last year’s fossil fuel fighting conference called ‘Fossil Fuel Lock-in: Why gas is a False Solution’- http://www.rosalux.eu/topics/social-ecological-transformation/fossil-fuel-lock-in-why-gas-is-a-false-solution/