Oil Companies Rallying the Troops Against Activists on Fracking and Water Quality

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 11.12.06 AMNew Orleans   I was raised in the oil fields of the West, as my family moved from company towns in Wyoming and Colorado to old fields in Kentucky and finally to the motherlode in New Orleans near the huge Gulf of Mexico and False River strikes. My father punched their clock for 38 years beginning with the California Company and ending under the Chevron banner. I worked in other oil fields in Oklahoma and offshore in the Gulf during summers until finding my future as an organizer. My mother depends on the company for her care and at 92, she depends on me to open her mail, pay her bills, and make sure her time is safe and secure.

Recently, part of this package meant reading a breathless warning note from the local head of the retirees’ association saying,

At the recent CRA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, we heard about activism against our industry and what Chevron is doing in response. In the last few years, activists have made progress in their efforts to convince the public and policy makers that our industry is dangerous, villainous and needs to be shut down. This has resulted in some high-profile decisions like the blocking of the Keystone Pipeline, the blocking of offshore leasing in the Atlantic and a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing in New York State.

Whoa, Nellie! “Dangerous, villainous and needs to be shut down” must be euphemisms for closely regulated for the public good independent of the company’s self-interest. This was a call to action and an invitation to join the Chevron Advocacy Network or CAN so that Chevron employees and retirees, friends and neighbors, could get the “truth” from their horses’ mouths. In the presentation from Chevron they started listing 2200 actions by “activists” against their industry, broadly conceived. To beat the drums further they led with quotes against fracking by Bernie Sanders and Bill McKibben, offset by wet kisses from the current and former heads of the Energy Department, Interior, and even the EPA, saying that fracking was actually OK under some circumstances involving steel casing, distance from water sources and so on. And, true enough when they say fracking has been done for decades, because I remember fracking being done in old wells in the late 60’s in the Oklahoma fields during my season there. Of course there’s no mention of the impact fracking has had on Oklahoma over time like the consensus agreement now about the increase of earthquakes, but no matter, that wasn’t covered in the presentations.

This was all about fracking and water quality where I assume the company finds themselves most vulnerable, but they understand Congress enough that they know they have a potential army of former employees, current employees, and retirees ready to be activated in a straight up “us against them” fight. Same day I got an email from the Nobel Prize winning Inside Climate News leading with an article about the “clean air” fight decades ago being a warm up for the current campaigns around climate change and these other nuisances being raised by activists. They had a Smoke and Fumes Committee within the industry for a smoke-and-mirrors campaign.

Reading all of the news from Chevron and its call to action for the Chevron Advocacy Network, I felt like the proverbial fly on the wall, buzzing around someplace I didn’t belong. They’re hoping to sign up 20% of the retirees in their 70 chapters around the US and Canada. My mother asks me regularly if there’s anything she “needs to worry about,” and I tell her “nothing whatsoever,” and I think I’ll include Chevron’s hysterics about fracking and water in her “don’t bother” list, but for the rest of us, seeing oil companies continue to unabashedly mobilize against us certainly says they haven’t learned any lessons yet. While their goal might be 20% in CAN, perhaps ours should be getting that number of activists’ actions up a couple of thousand more.


Hard Fight on Eminent Domain to Stop Foreclosures Still Raging in Richmond

eminentdomainNew Orleans      Some months ago the City of Richmond in California, long seen as little more than a company town for the giant oil conglomerate, Chevron, rose to the attention of millions of families still trying to sort out the problems of threatened foreclosures.  Richmond uniquely proposed to use the powers of eminent domain to condemn properties that were being foreclosed or were “underwater,” owing more to banks than the market value of the homes, in order to force refinancing or to effectively sell the homes back to the previous owners after seizure for the true, current market value.  

            On Wade’s World on KABF, I recently caught up with Marilyn Langlois, a co-founder and coordinator of RPA, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which along with ACCE, the Alliance for California Community Empowerment, formerly California ACORN, has been the primary proponents of this strategy to see what was happening now with the headlines off of the front pages.   A lot has happened, but also not surprisingly, Wall Street is putting up a lot of hurdles on this road, just as they did earlier when ACCE tried a similar strategy in Riverside outside of Los Angeles.

            With their progressive mayor helping lead the way, as a first step rather than condemning the properties, Richmond made a first offer to buy 600 of the 1200 Richmond homes that were underwater for approximately 10% less than their independently appraised market value.  The city offered 10% less to cover their costs and the closing fees to make the deal work so that it was also fiscally neutral for the Richmond taxpayers in this working, moderate income city.  The response:  not a bite, a whimper not a roar.  The Wall Street freeze out continues, despite the fact that Richmond has a private investor willing to finance the deal.

            The next step hasn’t been taken, according to Marilyn, is to formally seize the properties under eminent domain unfortunately because pressure from business, Chevron, and the banks has sent the deciding vote needed on the council sideways.  The next move really depends on the November elections.  The mayor is term limited, but RPA has plans and feels it will be in a competitive position to win the votes to make this happen.    They are also trying to join with a number of other cities in the Bay Area in a consortium that would make their attack on foreclosures more powerful.  Having been in the meat grinder on this issue for a long time, wisely they are also trying to get legal opinions supporting their strategy in order to prevent being held up in court for years and years, once they pull the trigger on these seizures.  Court delays would make the victory hollow since fewer and fewer families could survive the financial squeeze that long.

            It’s not easy for any city, especially a smaller one, to forge new ground in public policy, but here’s hoping that Richmond can break the hard ground on stopping needless foreclosures.