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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Anti-Fossil Fuel Movement Grows

Anti-Fossil Fuel Movement Grows

Don’t look now but the anti-fossil fuel movement is quickly building momentum.

Climate activists have campaigned against oil, gas, and coal for years. And while legislation in the U.S. Congress addressing climate change seems as remote as ever, outside of the beltway the anti-fossil fuel movement is building support at a breakneck pace.

Consider the series of wins that environmentalists continue to rack up.

The Keystone XL pipeline seemed destined for approval several years ago with an oil-friendly Secretary of State in Hillary Clinton and a largely indifferent President in the White House. That all changed when environmental groups led by 350.org made the project a defining issue for the Obama administration. Nearly five years after protests began, the pipeline appears close to being killed off for good.

Or look to New York, where late last year, after several years of grinding opposition, Governor Andrew Cuomo finally banned fracking indefinitely. With vast reserves of shale gas located in the Marcellus and Utica shales in large swathes of southern and western New York, the fracking industry was stunned by the defeat.

That decision was in no doubt influenced by the People’s Climate March in New York City a few months earlier, which saw an estimated 400,000 people clog up city streets, calling for action on climate change. The march has been described as the largest rally for climate action in world history. Meanwhile, polls continue to show strong support for government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including around half of Republicans.

California Governor Jerry Brown surely paid close attention to the fracking ban in New York. He is under increasing pressure to follow suit. Thousands of protestors rallied on February 7 in Oakland to demand a ban on fracking in the Golden State. Gov. Brown already has a very strong record on clean energy and environmental issues, including overseeing the roll out of a strong cap-and-trade program, continued growth in the nation’s largest solar industry, and the passage of an ambitious renewable portfolio standard. But environmentalists continue to dog him on fracking, and may yet force his hand.

Meanwhile, even in states that are friendly to drilling, the red carpet for oil and gas companies is no longer being rolled out. The city of Denton proved that fracking bans are possible even in red states like Texas. Voters approved an initiative in 2014 to block fracking within city limits, overcoming an onslaught of campaigning by the industry.

Elsewhere, Ohio Governor and rumored presidential candidate John Kasich (R) has made an aggressive push to increase taxes on oil and gas production. Having previously called the current tax regime on the industry a “complete rip off” for Ohioans, Kasich renewed his call in February 2015 for much higher taxes on oil and gas production.

Even in Pennsylvania, ground zero for the shale gas revolution, the business climate is not as friendly as it once was. Pennsylvania proved to be one of the few exceptions in an overwhelming victory for Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections, electing a Democrat in no small part because of the former excessively gas-friendly Governor Tom Corbett. The new Governor is now proposing a 5% tax on gas extraction, a level that could bring in $1 billion for education.

But evidence of a growing backlash to fossil fuels is probably most obvious with the iconic divestment campaign, which is tallying up wins and gaining attention. Calling on major financial institutions to divest their assets from fossil fuel companies, the movement is expanding worldwide.

February 13-14 was dubbed “Global Divestment Day,” and 2013 study from the University of Oxford found the fossil fuel divestment campaign growing faster than any previous divestment movement. In the past month alone The New School in New York announced that it would fully divest from fossil fuels. And Norway’s massive $850 billion sovereign wealth fund revealed that it has divested from 114 companies in recent years, aimed mostly at steering clear of coal companies, but also the Canadian tar sands.


Proof of the growing success of the divestment movement can be gleaned from the oil and gas industry itself, which launched a public relations blitz in mid-February attacking divestment. Funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the “Divestment Facts” campaign sought to undermine the rationale for divestment. The existence of such a campaign suggests that oil and gas companies are beginning to see divestment as a real threat, an idea that needs to be snuffed out before it gets too big.

To be sure, the world is still awash in fossil fuels, so much so that prices have collapsed under the weight of too much supply. Nevertheless, the anti-fossil fuel movement is making strides in pushing back the industry.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • Karen Feridun on February 15 2015 said:
    Thanks for your comments on the anti-fossil fuel movement. I just want to make it clear that Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Wolf is extremely friendly to the oil & gas industry. He has surrounded himself with industry cheerleaders like Katie McGinty and John Hanger, both of whom are high-ranking members of his administration. In fact, his Campaign for a Fresh Start was nothing more than a reiteration of Ed Rendell's call for a severance tax on fracking. Rendell, Wolf's mentor and former boss, was instrumental in calling off an EPA investigation into water contamination in Parker County, Texas. He was interceding on behalf of Range Resources. Like McGinty and Hanger, Rendell has strong ties to the industry. I worked with partners at Food & Water Watch to publish a report detailing the nearly $1.5 million Wolf took in campaign contributions from donors with industry ties. Fresh start? Hardly. Here's the report: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/Wolf_Fracking_Campaign_Contributions.pdf

    This notion that a severance tax is somehow anything but business-friendly mystifies me. Obviously, in a state where the industry has gotten every imaginable tax break, any attempt to make o&g companies pay their fair share is certainly something the industry doesn't like. But nothing shows Wolf's dedication to the drillers more than his desire to take it to the next level. He wants to institutionalize drilling and a severance tax will do just that.

    Seriously, if you're paying for education and other important programs with gas drilling dollars, would you want less drilling, fewer wells or more drilling, more wells. And if you, as governor, were actually forced to pay attention to the science on gas drilling you'd actively avoided or deal with a calamity you'd made effort to avert, would you be more inclined or less inclined to take decisive steps to end fracking if it meant having to come up with a truly sustainable solution to pay for education?

    Wolf may be the cow who doesn't want to give the milk away for free anymore, but only because he wants a committed relationship.
  • David Hrivnak on February 15 2015 said:
    I fully agree Nick. I got out of all fossil fuel stocks and fortunately jumped into solar and Tesla. I now drive an EV and power it and the house by rooftop solar. The future is hear and it is better in most every way.
  • mf on February 15 2015 said:
    there is no realistic alternative to hydrocarbons for at least several decades. The only one there is, nuclear, is being attacked by the same melons. More things change, more they stay the same. Melons will fail for the same reasons socialists failed in the past. They bring nothing but misery, and when this misery asserts itself ...
  • rockjockpa on February 16 2015 said:
    Except that the author forgot to mention that virtually no one showed up at any of the so-called rallies across the country. Most stayed home, protected from bitterly cold temperatures by the heat provided by safe, low cost, clean-burning natural gas.
  • Rodney7777 on February 22 2015 said:
    No mention of alternatives to fossil fuel. More and more it looks like solar will be coming to the fore as the replacement for fossil fuels. Right now the world output of solar electricity is 1% of total.
    That doesn't sound like much until it is seen that that number has been and will continue to double every two years. That means 128% solar electric output by 2029. The world will be awash in clean renewable local abundant cheap solar power. No moving parts in a solar panel either. For my part I ride my solar powered electric motorcycle whenever I can. Also I mow the lawn and weed whip with solar. This summer I plan to install a solar collector on my south wall to heat water in a tank in my basement that can be tapped for house heat and hot water. Also this month I am shopping for a used Nissan Leaf which I hope to keep charged with a bigger photoelectric panel set up. I am waiting for more states to allow industrial hemp as the oil from the seeds can be used for diesel fuel. Note: Volkswagen has a production car that is sold in the U S that gets 240 miles per gallon.

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