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How Fossil Fuel Companies Are Aiding Their Own Demise

All over the nation, fossil fuel companies are creating localized pockets of backlash. And the resistance is just growing stronger.

In the early 1920s, the Long-Bell Lumber Company planned the city that would become Longview, Wash., plotting individual streets on a map that gave life to the community before the first house was raised. Long-Bell built the town for families of employees at two nearby sawmills, and the timber industry is still a major employer for the community of 36,000.

Longview, which sits on the bank of the Columbia River, retains some of its original industrial feel. It might not be the first place you’d look for a thriving center of climate activism, but that’s just what it has become in recent years.

In 2010, Millennium Bulk Logistics, a subsidiary of Australia’s Ambre Energy, submitted a proposal to the Port of Longview to build a coal export terminal that would send coal to overseas markets like China. The project would involve bringing open-top coal trains through Longview and dozens of other nearby towns, polluting them with coal dust and diesel fumes while cutting communities in half with increased rail traffic.

A grassroots organization of Longview residents called Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community started organizing to oppose the coal terminal. Earlier in 2010, after a four year battle, the group had managed to stop the construction of a liquefied natural gas pipeline through the community — a victory that put them in the environmental spotlight. But the ongoing fight against coal exports has proven to be even bigger.

By the time state and federal agencies held their first public hearing on the coal terminal proposal in September, Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community were ready, and they had the support of other organizations, including Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. Two thousand people showed up at the hearing, with those who opposed the coal export terminal outnumbering its supporters three to one.

“Millennium has repeatedly lied to our community and deliberately conspired to keep pertinent information from our local decision makers,” said Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community President Gayle Kiser in a news release for Columbia Riverkeeper. “We don’t trust them to tell us the truth about what their project means to Longview.”

The debate over coal exports, preceded by the fight against liquified natural gas, has put the former lumber company town of Longview at the center of a regional movement against fossil fuel projects. But Longview isn’t alone. All over the nation, fossil fuel companies are creating pockets of localized backlash. People who never before had a special reason to dislike them now have very good reasons indeed.

The extreme energy attack

From fracking wells, to tar sands pipelines, to shale oil, to coal exports — a barrage of new fossil fuel projects have hit U.S. communities in recent years, many falling under the heading of extreme energy. Although the reasons for the boom are complex, a few key economic, political and historical factors stand out.

One reason fossil fuel companies are focusing on hard-to-reach, low quality North American energy reserves is that private companies’ access to overseas fossil fuels is shrinking. The trend is exacerbated because much of the world’s oil and gas is controlled not by private entities, but by state-owned companies. The world’s biggest oil company isn’t ExxonMobil, it’s Saudi Aramco.

According to Forbes, Exxon is only the fourth largest, with Russia’s Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company also outranking it.

Because most oil nations have state-owned extraction companies, access to dwindling reserves of crude is seriously limiting for private companies. Add to that the proliferation of technologies like fracking and political pressure to achieve energy independence, and you get major incentives for oil companies to focus on North America.

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