Going forward, we know what the new environmental activism looks like. They have told us. They call it: “Keep it in the ground.”
The campaign is about all fossil fuels: oil, gas, and coal. Instead of an “all of the above” energy policy, when it comes to fossil fuels, they want “none of the above.”
I wrote about the movement in December. Last month, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion editorial for one of its leaders, Bill McKibben: “How to drive a stake through the heart of zombie fossil fuel.” In it, McKibben states: “In May, a coalition across six continents is being organized to engage in mass civil disobedience to ‘keep it in the ground.’”
While big news items fuel the fight, smaller, symbolic wins are part of the strategy. Introducing the plan late last year, The Hill states: “It stretches into local fights, over small drilling wells…”
Here’s what keep it in the ground looks like in the real world—in “local fights” and “over small drilling wells.”
In a suburb of Albuquerque, the anti-fossil fuel crowd does everything they can to prevent a “small drilling well” from being developed. Rio Rancho is in Sandoval County—which currently, in the northern part of the county, has 600 oil-and-gas wells on tribal or federal lands.
An Oklahoma company, SandRidge Energy Inc., is hoping to drill an exploratory well. The well, which has already received approval from the state Oil and Conversation Division (OCD), is “about four miles outside of the Rio Rancho city limits,” reports the Albuquerque Journal. It will be a vertical well, drilled to a depth of 10,500 feet—which is expected to take about 25 days.
To begin drilling, SandRidge needs a zoning variance from the county. On December 10, the Planning and Zoning Committee held a contentious meeting to hear public comment on the SandRidge application. So many wanted to speak that there was neither time nor space to accommodate them. Another meeting, in a larger venue, was scheduled for January 28. There, dozens of people spewed generic talking points against fracking; speaking vaguely about pollution, earthquakes, and/or water contamination.
A few folks braved the hostile crowd and spoke in support of the project—only to be booed.
It was in this atmosphere that the Committee recommended that the County Commissioners deny the request. Essentially, they threw up their hands and acknowledged that they weren’t equipped to deal with the intricacies of the application—which is why such decisions are better made at the state levels, where there are engineers and geologists who understand the process.
The Sandoval County Commissioners may still approve the special use permit, as they are the final decision makers.
One “small drilling well” outside of a community on the edge of Albuquerque that will create jobs and help the local and state economy might be blocked because of a few dozen agitators who could cause the county to “keep it in the ground.”
One day later, another small band from the anti-fossil-fuel movement also celebrated an almost insignificant victory that adds to the momentum. This one in California.
On January 29, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit environmental groups filed two years against two federal agencies that they claim permitted offshore fracking and other forms of high-pressure well stimulation techniques. The settlement requires public notice for any future offshore applications for fracking and acidification. Additionally, the agencies have agreed to provide what’s termed “a programmatic” environmental assessment of the potential impacts of such techniques on the coastal environment.
To read the press releases from the environmental groups, one would think that these government agencies were in cahoots with ExxonMobil and that they were sneaking around, letting the oil companies run amok. In fact, the companies who’ve applied for drilling permits, have followed a very stringent application process—under which they were approved. However, once exploratory wells were drilled, they were found not to be good candidates for hydraulic fracturing.
The settlement requires “a programmatic” environmental assessment be completed by May 28—during which time “the agencies will withhold approval of drilling permits.” Sources I spoke with, told me that this, too, was not a big deal—which would explain why ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute agreed not to oppose the settlement. In the current low-priced oil environment companies are not clamoring for new drilling targets. It is believed that once the assessment is complete, the existing requirements will be found to be appropriate and permitting can move forward.
So, if this “settlement” is much ado about nothing, why even bring it up? Because, it is an example of those “local fights;” the little “wins” that motive the “keep it in the ground” movement and encourage them for the bigger fights.
These two stories are likely just a sampling of the battles being played out in county commissions and government agencies throughout America. As in these cases, a small handful of activists are shaping policy that affects all of us and impacts the economics of our communities by, potentially, cutting funding for education and public services.
“Keep it in the ground” is the new face of environmental activism. If those who understand the role energy plays in America and our freedoms don’t engage, don’t attend meetings and send statements, and don’t vote, the policy makers have almost no choice but to think these vocal few represent the many.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit