Fracking and the Global Movement Against Extractive Industries

As a crowd of Ohioans gathered at a newly constructed injection well last Saturday, Pennsylvan- ians in Lycoming County were putting their bodies on the line to prevent a drill rig from entering a frack site.  Two days later, constituents occupied the office of Brian Ellis, sponsor of the controversial legislation undermining local authority to regulate gas drilling in Pennsylvania.  The day after, over 100 residents from Athens and surrounding areas rallied to oppose fracking in Wayne National Forest.  And yesterday, activists from Mountain Justice and RAMPS blockaded coal transportation on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia.  It is clear that residents across Ohio, Appalachia, and the northeast are increasingly moving towards direct action in response to the devastation of practices like fracking and mountaintop removal coal mining, as every day it becomes clearer that our so-called “representatives” will not protect us.  As momentum builds towards a summer of robust anti-extractive action regionally, we at Ohiofracktion take this opportunity to reflect on the global impacts of extractive industries, not just in Ohio, but all over the world.

Ohioans wage a battle against fracking because we have watched the destructive impacts carried out in our own communities, have seen our friends and loved ones become inexplicably sick, and have been forced to stand aside as wells are drilled in our neighborhoods, parks, and schools. This personal witness galvanizes our movement, and puts resolve behind our actions, but it is necessary also to maintain a global perspective.

We can track similar patterns everywhere extractive forces are present: poisoned water and air, increased rates of cancer and a whole host of other illnesses, destruction of sacred and historial sites, devastated local economies, corrupted governments and regulatory agencies, and, of course, the murder of the planet.  Extractive industries depend upon environmental and economic exploitation. They operate by moving into communities that are deep enough in economic depression to welcome them regardless of the danger, or communities that they judge unable to defend themselves.  Overwhelmingly, communities targeted for extraction and other forms of environmental injustice are comprised of indigenous peoples, people of color, and the rural poor.  If a community effectively fights back, or is lifted out of desperation, industry tends to either violently repress those who resist, or simply move onto the next “convenient” location.  Thus, although we may succeed in banning fracking nation-wide, the practice would undoubtedly intensify somewhere that the industry could more easily exploit people. Nigeria, for example, has already been targeted for fracking, but not to the extent it may be were the industry barred from the United States.

Maintaining a global perspective can easily result in pessimism.  The goal of ending one type of extraction locally is a large enough task; to confront all extraction for all places seems unobtainable.  Yet it is this mentality of universal solidarity that is necessary if we are to work towards a socially and environmentally constructive future.  We must not see local eradication of extraction as the end-goal, although it is a remarkable achievement.  We recognize that across the world, extraction is often directly tied to legacies of genocide and colonialism, and must be careful not to fall into the “Not in My Backyard” mentality; if we object to experiencing the destructive impacts of the gas industry in our own homes, we should not find it acceptable for this devastation to be displaced onto others.  Instead, we must see local abolition of extraction as the first and most tangible contribution we can make as part of a global movement against the ecocidal force of the extractive industry.  We draw inspiration for our actions from groups across the United States and the world resisting the tyranny of extractive industry, including but not limited to:

  • Appalachians fighting mountaintop removal mining,
  • Lakota activists blocking construction of the tar sands pipeline,
  • Gulf Coast residents standing up against deepwater drilling and Big Oil,
  • Navajo and Hopi people resisting the tyranny of coal, uranium, and other extractive forces.

Those of us who are United States citizens and especially those with significant racial, socioeconomic, and social privilege are particularly obligated to take advantage of opportunities for anti-extractive action.  Across the world, many people trying to fight extractive industries are simply assassinated for attempting to organize.  This is not to suggest that activists in the United States never become the targets of violent state and industry repression (for just a couple examples, see: the federal government’s war on the Black Panthers and the West Virginia mine wars).  We recognize, however, that organizing is much more difficult in certain regions and for certain people than others.  In Ohio, despite the corruption and sheer incompetence of our legislature and regulatory agencies and efforts at industry intimidation, we are fortunate enough to have the ability to freely organize against fracking and, accordingly, have a responsibility to reach out and use our privilege to further anti-extractive movements both locally and globally.

Building a global anti-extraction movement is not easy, and this post is not meant to be comprehensive and authoritative; instead, we hope to continue a dialogue among participants in anti-extraction fights in Ohio and beyond about how we can utilize our skills, resources, and experiences to support other movements for freedom from extraction worldwide.  We have outlined a couple ideas as a starting point for further consideration:

1.  It is an important first step to learn more about the actions of extractive industries across the globe, as well as histories of resistance worldwide.  We can start by teaching ourselves and others about the inhumanity and brutality of practices such as indigenous expropriation in Ecuador for oil and the struggles of activists around the world such as those resisting gold mining in El Salvador. We can also educate others, make people aware that these issues exist, explain how they are unwittingly complicit in the perpetuation of exploitative extractive industries, and why they should be concerned.  Learning about these struggles will not only help us figure out what practical steps we can take towards supporting these movements politically and materially, but also will provide valuable insight into what effective resistance to extraction can look like.

2.  We must take concrete steps to build networks of mutual support between regional anti-extractive groups.  Much of the landbase constituting the Marcellus and Utica shales is also impacted by coal mining.  Those of us in Ohio can start by showing up to events like the Earth First Round River Rendezvous in Pennsylvania and the RAMPS walk-on to a mountaintop removal site this July to strengthen regional ties, connect campaigns against coal and hydrofracking, and continue the hard work of building solidarity between movements of resistance to extraction worldwide.  And we invite those of you from outside Ohio to take part in two major convergences this summer: the Don’t Frack Ohio coalition’s statehouse takeover on June 17, and a mid-summer anti-fracking action camp from July 13-17 in Youngstown.

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