The news these past weeks has been that oil prices are negative as demand worldwide plummets from humans everywhere staying at home and closing up industries that usually consume fuel. Transfer stations, usually able to ship out deliveries of oil to refineries and end users, instead are stuck with full tanks of once-valuable and now useless goo that needs to be stored. So tankers float and stand idly by, backing up outside major ports of call. And still the pumps flow at the source, because turning off oil pumping, apparently, diminishes the future capacity to draw oil out. Oil companies will pay people to take their oil away for now, to guarantee their ability to get every last drop out of the earth in the long run. And so crude oil will be stored not only in approved tanks, but also tankers, barges, and pipelines.
It is important to see the pipelines that will be storing oil as demand dries up. How long will the oil stay in such containers never intended for long-term, static storage?
The photo above shows Line 3, operating at half capacity in the best of times because it is known to be obsolete, running through Fond du Lac territory northwest of Duluth, Minnesota. The "replacement" project, which creates an entirely new route and additional oil capacity, has been at the center of significant controversy as the project was approved despite overwhelming public opposition. This image calls to mind the analogy given to us by Anishinaabeg guides: that, like a splinter, the earth is rejecting this damaging piece of infrastructure and forcing it up out of the ground.
Once again, the coronavirus is reinforcing the climate movement, pointing out our total ignorance of our relationship to the earth prior to this shutdown. But now, Wall Street investors align with climate activists they long ignored or opposed as naive. Diversified energy, rather than an oil psuedo-monopoly, makes good financial sense. Investing in energy diversity, through The Green New Deal, could put people back to work, and even create a small burst of demand for this oil in manufacturing, shipping, and installing the infrastructure we will need to make a just transition to clean energy. Solar and wind energy assets do not poison anything when power isn't needed - the sun still shines, the wind still blows, and the world goes on. And then, we could leave the oil in the soil for the unseen emergency scenarios, like the coronavirus, that may yet require a boost of fossil-fueled power to accomplish.
We believe that this is a moment where we can build a new world in the shell of the old, to paraphrase Peter Maurin, one of the co-founders of the Catholic Worker Movement. We believe that this is what our protesting was preparing us for - to reimagine and advocate for a world that is more just, that is sustainable. Will you join us? Ask your elected officials, your bosses, your neighbors, to prioritize walking lightly on this earth in their plans to re-open. The oil companies are betting that we won't, that life will go back to normal, ignoring the signals from the environment and the investors. They have always relied on federal subsidies, and they have always planned on increasing profits as oil runs out. If we want another reality, we need to work for it.