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.

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Fracking Threatening Chaco Canyon

Chaco_Canyon_Chetro_Ketl_great_kiva_plaza_NPSLake Buckhorn    If you don’t know about Chaco Canyon and the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, I hate to be the one to tell you, since it is an incredibly significant archaeological wonder here on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and so fragile and, frankly, spiritual that as a visitor you almost feel both honored to be there on one hand and reticent almost to speak above a whisper until you depart. Camping there you feel the stars are at your fingertips and the quiet is literally unearthly as if the Anasazi or ancient ones are still right at your shoulder. Chaco Canyon is more than 30 miles off of a dirt road off the highway to visit, so few do, relatively speaking. You have to mean to go there. If you do, the rewards are amazing. My partner and I were so moved that a year later after our last visit, we named our son, Chaco when he was born.

For those unfamiliar with the history, there was a time when Chaco Canyon was the largest city within the footprint of the continental United States. Between 850 C.E. or Current Era and 1250 C.E., this canyon in the San Juan Basis was the hub of a 10000 square kilometer Pueblo culture with roads leading in every direction as trade routes within an amazing network. After 400 years, this sophisticated civilization disappeared in an unresolved mystery with speculation ranging from the loss of arable land for crops for the population to discussions about cannibalism.

Now, the continued surge of oil and gas exploration and development, especially through fracking, is muscling in on Chaco Canyon and archaeologists, environmentalists, and Native American activists have been battling against the odds to try and protect this incredible treasure. They need all the help that we can give them.

A map in Science magazine dramatically illustrates the scope of the problem as oil and gas leases discolor much of northwestern New Mexico. In a temporary victory, the Bureau of Land Management created a 16-kilometer buffer around the park itself. Campaigners are trying to push the federal government into making the buffer permanent. Archaeologists are arguing for an even wider protected region. They have identified 200 great houses as far away as Colorado and as far south as Mexico along Chacoan roads five to ten meters in width and theorize that there may be almost as many unidentified and undiscovered.

Many in the tribal communities are divided. Even though wanting to protect the area, the dire poverty of many families makes them easy prey for oil and gas land men and the couple of thousand dollars they are offering to obtain access to their land in order to move drilling programs forward. As Ora Marek-Martinez, director of the Navajo Nation’s Historic Preservation Department says, “The socioeconomic situation is that many of our people had pretty much nothing, no electricity or running water. Everything here is sacred; our spirituality is tied to the landscape. More and more of our communities are saying they are against the drilling.”

The least any of us can do is lend support by signing one of the many petitions to stop the fracking and development in the Chaco Canyon area. One of them is available on the website of the Native Voice Network. 

For those who can do more, please step up so Chaco Canyon can survive for all of those who love it and for those of you who will one day want to visit and share the experience.

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