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Oil Trains


In my forthcoming book on capital mobility, I’m dedicating a chapter to energy production. It details how we can follow Americans’ interest in the costs of energy production based upon whether Americans actually see energy being produced. When the Santa Barbara oil spill takes place in 1969, Americans are outraged. Same with the Exxon Valdez or BP oil spill in Louisiana. When these things happen all the time in Nigeria or Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, Americans couldn’t care less. The same goes with other forms of energy. Fights over how wind turbines will affect the views of rich people in New England say a lot about Americans’ relationship with energy and the natural world.

But the thing about energy (and food, to a lesser extent) is that unlike apparel, it can’t be produced everywhere. It is dependent upon the nature humans wish to harness. And so while we have outsourced a huge amount of our energy production and managed to source a lot of the domestic production in quite isolated places (West Virginia mountaintops, Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, Alaska, platforms in the Gulf), the nation’s continued need for energy can create resistance against the system of corporate energy production when it again appears where Americans live.

Recent oil train derailments are becoming one site of resistance (actions around earthquakes and fracking is another). The derailment in Quebec certainly got the attention of many Canadians complicit in their nation’s fossil fuel policies. It and others has also gotten the attention of American politicians, and thus Jay Rockefeller and Ron Wyden are calling for a federal evaluation of current rules regarding trains carrying oil. With the very high likelihood of the Keystone pipeline being built, the chances are that the United States will see a lot more oil spills in coming years. I don’t really believe that the Obama Administration will take Rockefeller and Wyden’s request all that seriously and two senators does not a movement make, but it’s a good sign and I suspect will be followed by a lot more questioning from politicians and resistance from locals as future American energy production unfolds.

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