War, Who Is It Good For? The Fossil Fuel Industry

By Amy Westervelt

Hoo boy, the Debate-Me Bros really revved up the hot take machine (pun intended) this week. Matt Yglesias, Michael Shellenberger, and a whole lotta centrist pundits were out in force carrying water for the fossil fuel industry, proclaiming U.S. fracking as the solution to Russian aggression. Their argument? Europe is reliant on Russian gas, but if they were just reliant on U.S. gas instead, that would neutralize Putin. The complete lack of self-doubt is breathtaking. Fact check? Not me, I have opinions! Really showing their whole asses on this one, let’s count the ways:

  1. Biden hasn’t really done shit to curb fracking. The fossil fuel industry keeps pushing the idea that he has, but the only thing he’s done is halt new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal land (more on that next)—and even then the courts had to force the issue.
  2. They don’t need more federal land—they’re using less than half of what they’ve already leased. Oil and gas companies have been stockpiling public land leases for years. They currently hold leases for more than 26 million acres, and according to the Bureau of Land Management are only drilling on 12.8 million of those acres. The Center for American Progress estimates the industry is currently sitting on 10 years’ worth of unused leases. The idea that adding more to that stockpile would have any effect at all on Russia’s current aggression is laughable.
  3. New leases or pipeline permits have nothing to do with the Russia-Ukraine situation. It takes a long time to put up a new wellpad or build a pipeline or LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal to export oil and gas. Nothing that gets permitted today will have any impact at all on the Russia-Ukraine situation.
  4. Fracking companies aren’t necessarily interested in changing their production plans. I’ve written about this a bunch, but the fracking industry never really made money during the shale boom—it was the ultimate Ponzi scheme, with early investors making money off of later investors and that’s about it. But they’ve learned from those mistakes and so are not necessarily jumping at the chance to increase production right now. Fracking industry leaders Pioneer Natural Resources Co., Devon Energy Corp. and Continental Resources Inc. just pledged to limit 2022 production increases to no more than 5 percent, a fraction of the 20 percent or higher annual growth rates of the pre-pandemic years. They want to make back money lost in the pandemic and maybe even finally turn a profit. So while, of course, some folks are ramping up production, the narrative that the American Petroleum Industry is pushing hard—that the industry is just dying to drill more and Biden is holding them back—is simply untrue.
  5. The world’s reliance on fossil fuels is what put Russia in the position to pull this shit in the first place. Putin is invading Ukraine because he knows he can, at the moment. Why? Because Europe is heavily dependent on Russian gas and he knew its leaders would be hesitant to risk skyrocketing prices for their citizens. As Bill McKibben wrote in The Guardian, “This is not a ‘war for oil and gas’ in the sense that too many of America’s Middle East misadventures might plausibly be described. But it is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we can’t fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas.”
  6. Fossil fuels are a threat, not a boon, to national security. As of 2021,10 percent of global deaths were attributable to abnormally cold or hot temperatures. That’s 5 million deaths a year, far more than any war being fought over oil and gas, ever. Also guess what, solar, wind, and wave energy are all domestic energy sources too, so please explain how the national security argument works for oil and gas but not those energy sources.
  7. U.S. oil companies’ relationships with Russia are also a threat to national security. Back in 2013, ExxonMobil’s Russia holdings were by far its largest—5x more than its holdings in the U.S. Then Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and the U.S. government responded with strict sanctions that not only halted a lot of the projects Exxon had planned with Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft, but also made it impossible for Exxon to include the projected oil from those projects on its books. Bad news for Exxon! That’s why as soon as Putin started lining up tanks at Ukraine’s border, the API started lobbying for weak sanctions. How exactly is it good for U.S. national security to pander to Putin? (Make sure you’re following journalist Antonia Juhasz throughout the Russian invasion, she’s got all the receipts on U.S. oil companies and Russia!)
  8. Clean energy generation would actually increase national security Forget the fossil fuel talking points. For nearly a decade now, the U.S. military—not exactly known for being a bunch of hippies—has listed climate change as a threat multiplier in its quadrennial reviews. A decade ago when I was reporting on efforts to “green” the military, generals were very pragmatic about it: soldiers routinely die on refueling missions, wars are often fought over or fueled by oil, getting off of oil means a reduction in casualties, which makes it worth doing. And the thing is, it’s not impossibly out of reach. We’re already on a path to replace fossil fuels—renewable energy is set to account for 95 percent of the increase in global power capacity through 2026. In fact, I suspect this has quite a bit to do with both Putin and the U.S. oil industry’s current posturing. The end is near, and they know it, but they won’t go quietly, they’ll use this decade to retain as much power as possible, and get as much oil and gas out of the ground for as much money as possible. That’s inevitable. The question is how much we’ll let them get away with.

I Was Today Years Old…

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

There’s mad shit I don’t know. Let’s just get that part out of the way.

So, I woke up this morning feeling extra petty and decided to go check on my favorite oil company to hate: BP. I usually go to their Twitter page, but this time, I went to their website and found this gem. Now, the text says their new Herschel Expansion in the Gulf of Mexico (not terribly far from where I live, to be exact) is an expansion of their "resilient hydrocarbons strategy." But, I’m looking at the picture and it looks just like Deepwater Horizon, and I know ain’t shit else you need to go “deepwater” for in the Gulf other than oil. But here they are talking about “hydrocarbons.”

A few embarrassing text exchanges later, I learned that… hydrocarbons are fossil fuels. It’s a fucking synonym. And it’s, like, not a secret. Fossil fuels are literally water and carbon. It’s in the name. (I know it sounds stupid, but I thought there was more in a fossil fuel, like, idk, bone??)

Why didn’t I know that? It might be because Alabama and Mississippi don’t exactly have funding for stellar school systems and most of my science teachers just phoned it in. Or because I, like many people, got traumatized out of math pretty early on, so I didn’t exactly push myself in any subject that put a heavy emphasis on numbers. It might be because, even though I spent years editing environmental policy reports, I never saw the word come up. Fossil fuels, sure. Oil, gas, coal, of course. But not hydrocarbons. I’d heard of “hydropower,” and it was usually talked about as a clean energy source, so that’s what I thought of when I saw “hydrocarbons.” I assumed it was some cleaner version of oil and gas. Apparently it’s not even a marketing term, it's just the scientific term for fossil fuels, but I have been noticing it a lot more on Twitter, and didn’t bother to look it up. But why did it take me so long to ask one of the many, many experts I know? And here we arrive at the real reason I didn’t know: my own fear of “asking a dumb question.”

It’s ironic, given how many times I’ve made the case to climate newbies that there is no such thing as a “dumb question” and that you don’t need to know all the science to understand that it’s about justice, and you should be real suss of anything that comes out of an oil company’s mouth. Furthermore, all the reasons I listed above about why I didn’t know? The fossil fuel industry (excuse me, “hydrocarbon” industry) is banking on that. They know we’ve disinvested in schools and kids don’t learn about the energy system, they know people are busy, they know no one wants to ask a dumb question. They’re also banking on people not being able to just “text an expert” like I did.

P.S. In my defense, we’ve done a damn good job at vilifying the word “fossil fuels,” but I haven’t seen anyone with signs talking about the need to get off “hydrocarbons.”  Maybe time to spread out?

Inhofe's famous snowball moment in the Senate in 2015.

Fuck Off, Inhofe

By Amy Westervelt

Only in the U.S. Senate would someone retiring at 87 years old be considered an "early retirement" but in the gerontocracy of America that's what we’re calling Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe's imminent departure. He is leaving four years before his term is up, and his seat will almost certainly pass to another Republican, but let's celebrate for just a moment that we won't be treated to Inhofe's particularly dumb brand of denialism anymore.

Inhofe has held his Senate seat since 1994 so he's had a lot of chances to push climate denial in Congress. He's of course best known for bringing a snowball onto the Senate floor in 2015 as proof that climate change isn't happening. He actually resisted the language shift from global warming to climate change because he felt like it was easier to show people that the planet wasn't warming, what with the fact that snow still exists. He's also frequently raised the alarm about "climate alarmists," argued repeatedly that the climate is just changing as it always has, and insisted that there's still room for debate on climate science and whether or not humans contribute to climate change. He even published a book a decade ago called The Greatest Hoax, and you can guess what that’s about.

What may be less known to folks outside of Oklahoma, or to non-Native people, is the extent to which Inhofe has dedicated his political career to fucking over Oklahoma's tribes. In 2005, he famously added a last-minute change to the federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) that blocked a proposal that would have allowed tribes to administer EPA programs on tribal lands. Thanks to Inhofe, that authority went to the state of Oklahoma instead. He was a huge backer of the McGirt case, which went to the Supreme Court last year and came very close to removing all land from Oklahoma's tribes. When that case failed to deliver the desired hits to tribal sovereignty, Inhofe tried to ram through legislation that would have had a similar effect.  Oh, and he voted to acquit the President who unleashed a violent mob on his own place of work.

So, while the chances of Inhofe's departure tilting the balance of the Senate towards the left are slim to none, we'll take it as a small victory that we won't be hearing from this specific clown anymore.


Your weekly roundup of climate coverage.

Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides

Wildfires will increase in intensity and number and spread to new areas, reported United Nations - The Washington Post, by Diana Leonard

UN report warns climate change could spur 50% more wildfires by 2100 | Grist, by Zoya Teirstein

Climate change is intensifying Earth's water cycle at twice the predicted rate, research shows | Climate crisis | The Guardian, by Donna Lu

Almost 15,000 'ghost flights' have left UK since pandemic began | Airline emissions | The Guardian, by Damian Carrington

The environmental costs of Russia's invasion of Ukraine | Grist, by Diana Kruzman

Antarctic Sea Ice Hits Lowest Level Since 1970s, by Angely Mercado for Earther

The hidden melting of the most important ice on Earth, explained, by Umair Irfan for Vox

Wildfires Are Blazing Through Argentina, by Angely Mercado for Earther

Chernobyl Is Not the Only Nuclear Threat Russia’s Invasion Has Sparked in Ukraine, by Michael Kodas for InsideClimate

Satellites don't lie: Methane emissions are 70% higher than reported | Grist, by Lina Tran

Vultures Are Circling the Ukraine Crisis, by Alfred McCoy for The Nation

The Climate Presidency?

EPA ability to combat climate change hangs in balance in Supreme Court case - The Washington Post, by Robert Barnes and Dino Grandoni

How the invasion of Ukraine scrambles American energy politics, by Steven Mufson for The Washington Post

This is how we defeat Putin and other petrostate autocrats, by Bill McKibben for The Guardian

One way to combat Russia? Move faster on clean energy - Los Angeles Times, by Sammy Roth

SCOTUS pick Ketanji Brown Jackson has a mixed environmental record | Grist, by Adam Mahoney for Grist

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Dakota Access Pipeline Appeal, by Mack DeGeurin for Earther

EU to unveil new energy strategy in wake of Russia-Ukraine crisis - The Washington Post, by Michael Birnbaum and Steven Mufson

US environmental enforcement activity has dropped, study shows | Reuters, by Tim Mclaughlin

White House science office to hold first-ever event on countering 'climate delayism' - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano

Republicans Respond to World-Historical Drought by Propping Up Fossil Fuels | The New Republic, by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic

Biden administration suspends right of way for Alaska mining road advanced by Trump officials - The Washington Post, by Joshua Partlow

America's largest inland port is running out of water | Grist, by Adam Mahoney

Court ruling on social cost of carbon upends Biden's climate plans, administration warns - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow

The Marines Need Billions for Climate Prep, by Angely Mercado for Earther

Climate Accountability

Fossil Fuel Industry Emitting 70% More Methane Than Official Numbers Show, by Molly Taft for Earther

Revealed: leading climate research publisher helps fuel oil and gas drilling | Climate science | The Guardian, by Amy Westervelt

World must 'restrain demand' for plastic, OECD report says | Grist, by Joseph Winters

Vultures Are Circling the Ukraine Crisis, by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic

Democrats' Gas Tax Holiday Plan May Not Be the Midterm Election Boon They Think It Is | The New Republic, by Grace Segers

The American Oil Lobby Is Having a Field Day Over Ukrainian War, by Audrey Carleton for Vice

The great greenwashing scam: PR firms face reckoning after spinning for Big Oil, by Amy Westervelt for The Guardian

Facebook Is Not Labeling Climate Denial Posts, Study Finds, by Sophia Smith Galer for Vice

How Greenhouse Gases Released by the Oil and Gas Industry Far Exceed What Regulators Think They Know - Inside Climate News, by Laura Kraegel, Mollie Jamison, and Aydali Campa

US Oil Industry Uses Ukraine Invasion to Push for More Drilling at Home - The New York Times, by Hiroko Tabuchi

Bitcoin Is Dirtier Than Ever, by Molly Taft for Earther

Chicago Mayor Slow to Act on Promises to Build Green Economy by Repurposing Polluted Industrial Sites , by Brett Chase for Inside Climate News

Tesla Fined $275,000 by EPA for Clean Air Act Violations, by Molly Taft for Earther

Fees from Pepco put rooftop solar panels out of reach, DC residents say - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow

Gov. Abbott to Blame for Billions in High Electric Prices, Former Grid CEO Says, by Molly Taft for Earther

Top companies are undermining their climate pledges with political donations, report says - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano

USPS finalizes plan to purchase mostly gas-powered delivery fleet, defying Biden and EPA climate and safety concerns - The Washington Post, by Jacob Bogage and Anna Phillips

Germany Blocks Russian Natural Gas Pipeline, by Molly Taft for Earther

Justice Is Justice Is Justice

Hot days lead to more mental health emergencies, study finds | Climate crisis | The Guardian, by Damian Carrington

Brazil mudslides: Climate change makes favelas disasters waiting to happen - The Washington Post, by Terrence McCoy

Researchers Say Science Skewed by Racism is Increasing the Threat of Global Warming to People of Color - Inside Climate News, by Bob Berwyn

African countries spending billions to cope with climate crisis, by Fiona Harvey for The Guardian

Battered and Flooded by Increasingly Severe Weather, Kentucky and Tennessee Have a Big Difference in Forecasting - Inside Climate News, by James Bruggers and Caroline Eggers

How One Native American Tribe is Battling for Control Over Flaring, by Isaac Stone Simonelli, Maya Leachman and Andrew Onodera for InsideClimate

What Do the Protectors of the 'World's Lungs' Get in Return? - The New York Times, by Ruth Maclean

Why Do Environmental Justice Advocates Oppose Carbon Markets? Look at California, They Say - Inside Climate News, by Kristoffer Tigue

Rooted In Blackness, by Rachel Cargle for Atmos

A new environmental justice tool disregards race. We put it back in. | Grist, by Naveena Sadasivam & Clayton Aldern

Justice for Leonard Peltier | Atmos, by Ruth H. Hopkins

The New Humanitarian | Why the conversation about climate change and migration needs to change, by Eric Reidy

The Power of a Name | Atmos, by Yessenia Funes

Who's in charge of fixing the environment in eastern Oklahoma? By Tristan Ahtone & Allison Herrera for Grist

Glimmers of Hope

The Case for Good News in Climate Coverage | The New Republic, by Liza Featherstone

Texas blackouts prevented with renewable energy - The Washington Post, by Kasha Patel

How two years of community protest blocked this Chicago scrapyard | Grist, by Adam Mahoney

A record-breaking offshore wind lease sale signals a new era for development | Grist, by Emily Pontecorvo

How to clear the air in the most polluted cities on Earth - Vox, by Siobhan McDonough for Vox

California wants a microplastics-free future - Grist, by Joseph Winters

A tribe in Maine is using hemp to remove 'forever chemicals' from the soil | Grist, by Lina Tran

The U.S. Proves It's Finally Ready for Offshore Wind, by Mack DeGeurin for Earther

Meet the Black-Owned Company Making Hair From Bananas | Atmos, by Deonna Anderson

Panama Enacts a Rights of Nature Law, Guaranteeing the Natural World's 'Right to Exist, Persist and Regenerate' - Inside Climate News, by Katie Surma

Can Rights of Nature Laws Make a Difference? In Ecuador, They Already Are - Inside Climate News, by Katie Surma

Climate in Culture

How climate-conscious podcaster Sophia Li lives sustainably - The Washington Post, by Sophia Li for The New York Times

PR worked for Big Oil. So can it work for climate action? | Grist, by Kate Yoder

10 steps you can take to fight climate change - The Washington Post, by the Washington Post Staff

Pollutionwatch: wood fires are bad for planet, more evidence shows | Greenhouse gas emissions | The Guardian, by Gary Fuller

China Provided Abundant Snow for the Winter Olympics, but at What Cost to the Environment? - Inside Climate News, by Cristobella Durrette

Vatican Calls for a 'Cultural Revolution' to Fight Climate Change, by Angely Mercado for Earther

Using Science and Celtic Wisdom to Save Trees (and Souls) - The New York Times, by Cara Buckley

In Baltimore, Helping Congregations Prepare for a Stormier Future - Inside Climate News, by Agya K. Aning

Plus More

In this age of climate crisis, humanitarians need to learn to love tech, by Devorah West for The New Humanitarian

We're Not Prepared for Contamination Between Worlds, by Sofia Quaglia for Earther

Florida Desperately Feeding Lettuce to Manatees to Stop Mass Starvation, by Isaac Schultz for Earther

Are microbes the future of recycling? It’s complicated, by Ula Chrobak for Grist

Cellular Call | Atmos, by Willow Defebaugh

Six Days Afloat in the Everglades - The New York Times, by Steven Hiltner

A Big Climate Warning from One of the Gulf of Maine's Smallest Marine Creatures - Inside Climate News, by Derrick Z. Jackson

A Top AFL-CIO Official Joins Greenpeace USA - The New York Times, by Noam Schieber

N. America's old pipelines seek new life moving carbon in climate push | Reuters, by Rod Nickel, Liz Hampton and Nia Williams


Only paid subscribers can comment.
Please subscribe or sign in to join the conversation.