The science makes clear that if we are going to avert the worst of the climate catastrophe, we must stop the expansion of oil and gas and begin a managed and fair transition to renewable energy. Despite the need to cut emissions by 50% by 2030, oil and gas corporations have $1.4 trillion dollars’ worth of new infrastructure planned for the next five years. New drilling and infrastructure that locks in future production, growth, and warming is fundamentally incompatible with both the carbon budget and time we have to achieve this. In the US, climate philanthropy and NGOs have been slow to recognize the importance of “supply side” campaigns led by frontline communities that target upstream (extraction) and midstream (transportation) activities, instead prioritizing scientific, policy, and technocratic expertise. And yet, the supply side is where oil and gas corporations invest billions in infrastructure and where they amass a great deal of their political, legal, and media power.
There are dozens of community-led campaigns against fossil fuel infrastructure in the US, and while we support as many as we can, we must make strategic choices about where to invest. We examine a project’s potential climate impact and its impacts on human health, environmental justice, places of significant cultural or ecological value, and whether a project might be a linchpin for upstream or downstream investment. We also consider existing community opposition, local political conditions, the strength of the strategy, and the capacity of involved partners. While most fossil fuel campaigns are underdogs, we look for those with viable paths to victory, symbolic significance to the entire movement, and potential to build collective power with other campaigns.
More about our criteria
When analyzing a potential campaign for investment, whether a drilling project, export terminal, or a pipeline, the size of its projected carbon impacts are a key criterion for consideration.
Impact on human health, environmental justice, and special places
All fossil fuel infrastructure projects have impacts, but some locations and routes are especially egregious in their threats to marginalized communities, health, clean water, natural diversity and beauty, and sacred and significant places.
Importance to industry
Some projects represent linchpin infrastructure for the fossil fuel industry’s financial or logistical health. Preventing these in particular can have knock-on effects in terms of blocking the lock-in of upstream and downstream infrastructure or investment. Stopping a linchpin project can create a domino effect that keeps more fossil fuels in the ground.
Community opposition and local political conditions
The strength of community opposition and the receptivity of elected officials are key factors; strong opposition has a higher opportunity of success and deserves strong support.
Strength of the Strategy and Partners
Not all site fights have a clearly articulated strategy at the time we begin to engage, but to the extent they do, we assess the strength of the strategy and the partners involved to execute. We also look for strategies that integrate our priority levers for change – those that directly target the finance, legal, communications, and political power of the industry.
A procedural, legal, or political path to victory is necessary. However, campaigns that were thought unwinnable have been won; most fossil fuel campaigns are underdogs and we support them.
Symbolic Significance and Other Intangibles
There are subjective factors of geography, timing, community demographics, the nature of the “story” to be told, company culture, and dozens of other factors that make some campaigns feel especially emblematic. As this is more art than science, we keep an open mind, knowing that investment, skill and determination can make the most unlikely campaign become a reference point for the entire movement.
Potential to collaborate across projects and leverage national strategies
Many fossil fuel infrastructure fights share obstacles and solutions. They also share the need for national movement infrastructure support, from groups that either bridge the state and local to the national actions, communications and political strategies targeting the White House, FERC, Congress, the Department of Interior, etc. The Equation Campaign therefore considers the extent to which specific and singular site fights can build collective power and benefit from also being part of larger state or regional coalition campaigns.
To date, our focus has been on the Keystone XL Pipeline (MN, SD, NE), LNG and petrochemical expansion in Texas, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through Standing Rock (ND), and the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in Minnesota. We are currently conducting research and applying our criteria to the Byhalia Pipeline (TN), the Pacific Connector Pipeline and Jordan Cove LNG terminal (OR), the Mountain Valley Pipeline (VA, WV, NC), Enbridge Line 5 (MI), PennEast (NJ), and the Permian Basin (TX, NM).
The Big Infrastructure Fights
Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline (MT, NE, ND, SD)
The mother of US pipeline campaigns, #NoKXL, has been won and lost several times. Five years after President Obama rejected it, but only hours after his own inauguration, President Biden rejected Keystone XL by Executive Order. In between those rejections, President Trump approved it on the second day of his presidency, but skillful litigation kept construction at bay the entire four years of his Administration.
Keystone XL was never just another pipeline. It was linchpin infrastructure for the tar sands industry. It was also a turning point in the US climate campaign, a cause that motivated grassroots activists, donors, tribal nations, farmers and ranchers alike. While the pipeline will not be built, it is important for the climate movement that President Biden and other high level political allies understand it as a victory. If the public narrative continues to focus on lost jobs, rather than climate justice and a sustainable future, the victory will have a negative aftermath and deter similar executive actions. If the victory becomes a political win with a positive public narrative, it will have a positive aftermath and help secure other wins.
Grantees: Indigenous Environmental Network, Pipeline Fighters Hub/Bold Alliance, NDN Collective, Brave Heart Society, Native Organizers Alliance, Dakota Rural Action, 350.org, Wiconi un Tipi Resistance Camp.
DAPL Fracked Oil Pipeline (Standing Rock, ND)
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) can carry almost 19 million gallons of toxic fracked oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois, tearing its way through traditional indigenous lands of the Sioux tribal nations, sacred sites and fragile ecosystems.
The historic mobilization at Standing Rock activated tens of thousands in the US and around the world, inspiring many of today’s youth and celebrity climate activists alike. The global movement it inspired threatened the fossil fuel industry, which responded with violence and retaliatory litigation in new and unprecedented ways. To this day, the industry refers to, and attempts to mitigate risks of “getting Standing Rocked” referring to the collective power of local and global movements that collaborate across legal, financial, political and media strategies. A combination of such tactics, (especially lawsuits and civil disobedience) temporarily halted plans under the Obama administration but when President Trump was elected, construction moved forward. In July of 2020, a federal judge ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline must shut down pending a new environmental review, but that decision was overturned on appeal. Nonetheless, environmental reviews are expected to continue and the fight is far from over. In October 2020, the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes renewed their request for an injunction to cease operation of the pipeline, creating a window of opportunity for the Biden administration to review the case.
Enbridge Line 3 Tar Sands Pipeline (MN)
Like its infamous cousin KXL, this is a major tar sands pipeline that Bill McKibben calls a “fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet,” the Athabasca tar sands. After the outgoing Trump administration fast-tracked construction in late 2020, Line 3 became a monumental struggle along the route with arrests and actions on a weekly basis, led by indigenous water protectors of the Anishinaabe nations in northern Minnesota. Misleadingly billed by the company as a replacement project, most of the route in fact follows a new corridor, and the new Line 3 would have twice the capacity of the old Line 3. The new route crosses unique wild rice growing areas that are legally protected territories of the region’s tribal nations.
Like Keystone XL and DAPL, this campaign highlights the disregard for indigenous and treaty rights on the part of pipeline companies, and, even worse, the state and federal agencies. Like the DAPL campaign at Standing Rock, tribal members are leading civil disobedience actions to delay construction, placing their bodies between the machines and their sacred lands all along the route (making health and safety adjustments for the pandemic).
President Biden withdrew the permit for Keystone XL hours after inauguration, and by the same logic of climate action and indigenous rights Line 3 should also be rejected. However, it is supported by Minnesota’s Democratic Governor, Senators, and much of the MN house delegation, likely due to active support from the construction trades. In order for the President to reject this pipeline, local resistance must escalate as the weather warms and the pandemic recedes. Advocates must demand that the White house deliver on campaign commitments to climate and environmental groups while garnering support from progressive labor unions, and skillfully communicate these demands in a coordinated fashion to the Biden team. In this regard, the #StopLine3 movement benefits from an emerging collaborative strategy advocating that the new administration revoke all of the faulty Nationwide Permit 12 “Trump Permits.”
Grantees: Honor the Earth, Giniw Collective, MN350, Friends of the Headwaters, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Center for Protest Law and Litigation, Pipeline Fighters Hub, Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, EarthRights International, Native Roots Radio.
Mountain Valley Fracked Gas Pipeline (VA, WV, and NC)
Mountain Valley Fracked Gas Pipeline (MVP) is reputed to be the last major fracked gas pipeline proposal in the eastern US. The route is 303 miles from the Utica and Marcellus shale to the Virginia-North Carolina border, with a possible 75-mile extension deep into North Carolina. The pipeline’s route involves water crossing, steep slopes and rugged terrain making it an unusually difficult engineering challenge and a threat to one of the most diverse and productive temperate forests in the world.
The project is facing financial difficulties: the cost has ballooned from $3 billion to $6 billion, only 35% of capacity is committed for purchase by utilities, and the biggest investor has tried to sell its stake.
Despite the fact that at least half of the pipeline has been laid, campaigners and attorneys opposing MVP believe the pipeline is more vulnerable than ever before. Because of previous rulings on Nationwide Permit 12, the company withdrew its attempt to obtain a single all-purpose permit and instead must get individual water crossing permits. Both federal water crossing permits and state certification are in play, with construction currently halted. The same argument that holds for DAPL and Line 3 holds for MVP: water crossing permits were wrongly granted by the Trump Administration and should be revoked. This is an argument that can be won either in the courts, or politically in the White House.
Pacific Connector/Jordan Cove Fracked Gas Pipeline and LNG Export Terminal (OR)
This epic 16-year campaign against a combination fracked gas pipeline (Pacific Connector) and LNG export terminal (Jordan Cove) is not over, but the community has the company on the ropes. The proposal is for a 229-mile pipeline, affecting traditional Klamath territories, culturally significant areas, approximately 600 landowners, and 485 rivers, streams and wetlands on its path to Coos Bay in Southern Oregon where an LNG export terminal would be built.
This is a winnable campaign because two major state permits have been denied, including Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality permits. While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project and granted eminent domain power in March 2020, in Jan 2021 it declined to override the state permit denial, as had been requested by the company Pembina. Additionally, in February 2020 the US Dept of Commerce rejected Pembina’s request to override the state’s denial of Coastal Zone Management Act permit.
Pembina still seeks to obtain, and in some cases renew, land use permits. In addition, Oregon has sent mixed messages. The Governor oversees the agencies that have denied permits but has not outright opposed the project. And mysteriously, The Port of Coos Bay, which is run by commissioners appointed by the Governor, is still pursuing a dredging project that would have allowed the large tankers needed for Jordan Cove and is not needed for any other known purpose.
In addition, despite the fact that the project is unlikely to move forward, the company retains eminent domain rights and landowners continue to have legal challenges regarding easements, similar to Keystone XL (rejected) and Atlantic Coast (withdrawn) pipelines. These lingering easement abuses are a rich topic for building opposition to eminent domain for private gain.
This is the major Pacific Northwest fossil fuel fight of 2021, with many coal, tar sands, oil and fracked gas projects in the region already stopped in their tracks by skilled and determined opposition. The coalition fighting this has woven together landowners, tribal government and persistent procedure jamming to get to this point.
Enbridge Line 5 (MI)
Enbridge’s Line 5 was constructed in 1953 and has operated under a Presidential Permit for 68 years. But between 2010-2015, investigations by the MI Dept. of Natural Resources and others uncovered damage in the form of anchor strikes, missing supports, and lost protective coating that have increased concerns about corrosion and potential leaks on underwater segments of the twinned pipeline in the fragile Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. Enbridge reached a deal in 2018 with former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to build a new tunnel to house Line 5 where it runs underwater through the Straits of Mackinac and is still seeking federal and state permits for the tunnel project.
However, the evidence of growing potential for leaks and the devastation a spill could cause led Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November 2020 to revoke the original 1953 easement, and order Enbridge to cease operations of Line 5 by May 2021. Enbridge filed suit in federal court to overturn Whitmer’s revocation, arguing only the federal PHMSA agency holds that authority, and subsequently in January 2021 announced that it plans to defy Gov. Whitmer’s order and continue operation of Line 5. This brazen statement from Enbridge came in the wake of President Biden’s revocation of the cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and has been followed up with defiant statements out of Canada from the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., Natural Resources Minister, and others, pushing that continued operation of Line 5 is “nonnegotiable.”
Byhalia Pipeline (TN)
The proposed 49-mile 24” pipeline route has a suspicious horseshoe shape, rather than a straight line. While the straight, direct route would run through relatively wealthy white communities, the horseshoe shape circumvents them, instead passing through predominantly Black communities. More research is required to confirm whether the planned route is, as it appears, due to racist siting (as opposed to water sources, as the company claims). Nevertheless, historical injustices and a passion for protecting their community have the frontlines organizing and agitating against the pipeline. This campaign is in the early stages but is getting some national attention, including an appearance by Vice President Al Gore. At least a dozen landowners have retained legal representation in the eminent domain cases.
Penn East (PA and NJ)
The proposed PennEast Pipeline — a consortium between Enbridge (formerly Spectra Energy) Southern Company, UGI Corp., New Jersey Resources, and South Jersey Industries — would transport fracked gas produced in the northeast Pennsylvania Marcellus shale to the Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission systems in New Jersey. Construction would be expected to take 7 months if permits are obtained for the project’s new chosen path forward — separating the permitting for segments in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, after permits in N.J. were rejected by state agencies.
The pipeline’s crossing near Riegelsville, N.J. would be within the Lower Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River. Near its southern terminus, the pipeline would cut through the Sourland Mountain, which contains the last contiguous forested areas in central New Jersey and has been recognized as a unique and fragile ecosystem. From its origin in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to its destination in Mercer County, New Jersey, the pipeline would cross more than 88 waterways, 44 wetlands, 30 parks, and 33 conservation easements. In New Jersey, 6 streams carrying the Category 1 designation for their exceptional ecological significance, will be crossed, some more than once.
A case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court will have significant implications for both the PennEast project and other corporations seeking to use the power of eminent domain to obtain state-owned land for their projects — such as Columbia Transmission’s similarly-stymied Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project. Previously, the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against PennEast, citing states’ sovereign immunity. In March 2021, the Biden administration affirmed the position of the Trump administration in the case, arguing that PennEast was under its authority under the Natural Gas Act to seize the state-owned property.
The ruling could affect the estimated 1,200 miles of new natural gas pipeline planned every year until 2035. Oral arguments in the case have been scheduled before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28, 2021.
Texas LNG Terminals and the Permian Basin
Confronting the development of the Permian Basin is perhaps the holy grail of US supply-side campaigns. Already producing more oil than the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Alaska’s North Slope, offshore Gulf or any other oil source, the Permian alone has carbon-budget busting potential. The Equation Campaign is exploring the development of a full campaign that targets the Permian as a whole, with strategies that recognize the extreme difficulty of confronting extraction in Texas at the source. Meanwhile, we are supporting community-led campaigns against LNG and crude export terminals that would carry oil and gas from the Permian and other sources in Texas, and our grantees have already had significant success.
In 2013, residents of Brownsville, Texas learned that three Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals were planned for construction at the Port of Brownsville. A majority Latinx, economically vulnerable community, these terminals presented a massive threat to the health and safety of local and indigenous communities in addition to industries like ecotourism and shrimping that depend on clean and vibrant coastlines. In addition to producing significant pollution, greenhouse gases, and water contamination, the three export terminals would require the development of a massive pipeline to transport the fracked gas and the corollary construction of import terminals somewhere else on the globe.
To date, not one terminal has begun construction and one (Annova LNG) has been cancelled entirely. Local organizers and members of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe, whose sacred land would be harmed in the development of the terminals, have resisted through legal strategies and finance campaigning and delayed construction and progress. Additionally, they were able to partner with communities in Cork, Ireland, where the import terminals were originally slated to be, to block their development, further obstructing the path to victory for the corporations behind these projects.
While many fossil fuel infrastructure fights will win or lose based on local conditions, they share obstacles and solutions. Our funding adds value not only by building capacity for each fight but by identifying the shared themes and weaving them together in a national campaign when possible. Therefore, we also support national movement infrastructure organizations, from groups that bridge the state and local to the national actions, groups that provide guidance on communications and political strategies targeting the White House and federal institutions like FERC, Congress, and the Department of Interior. Groups such as Fossil Free Media, Pipeline Fighters Hub, the Center for Protest Law and Litigation, Stop the Money Pipeline, and many others need to be resourced as part of this work as well.
NEPA enforcement and proper process – Nationwide Permit 12
A unified political and legal strategy to require proper application of NEPA would benefit all campaigns simultaneously. For example, the Biden Administration could decide to review all federal water crossing permits granted by the Army Corps of Engineers during the Trump Administration. That action would stall and perhaps end the DAPL fracked oil pipeline (Standing Rock, ND), the Line 3 tar sands crude pipeline (Ojibwe bands, MN), the MVP fracked gas pipeline (WV, VA and NC), and the Byhalia Pipeline in Memphis.
Most grassroots groups do not have the reach or capacity to bring their message to federal decision makers in Washington, and many decisionmakers are unaware of the intense fights going on around the country. The supply side movement needs more capacity to bring the message into the White House, the agencies, Senate and House Committees, and national media. It is also important to “win the wins;” that is, to ensure that politicians are supported and rewarded in the press and the public for good decisions that lead to an end to fossil fuels.
In order to ensure that they become part of a national conversation and raise the political stakes, individual campaigns and in some cases multiple campaigns benefit from added capacity to do media-friendly actions, especially in Washington, DC and state capitals. Supporting skilled and connected bridge organizations to amplify, connect with media and arrange meetings is key to ensuring that the demands from outside are heard inside the beltway and by those who hold decision-making power.
In 2021, the oil and gas industry’s offense against protest and dissent is ferocious given the stakes and the losses they are incurring. Water protectors and fossil fuel protestors need legal defense especially as law enforcement in some states raises the stakes on behalf of the industry. The movement also requires concerted mapping and tracking of political action in many states to fight new legislation criminalizing dissent.
Indigenous Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
Numerous fossil fuel projects take place on indigenous territories and violate treaty rights. Were these rights respected, many tribal nations would have the power to prevent damaging projects on their lands. Tribal resistance to pipelines and other projects has inspired non-tribal allies, and the indigenous water protector movement synergizes well with the grassroots climate movement.
One of the big obstacles to progress is the construction trades’ militant support for new fossil fuel projects. Progressive labor unions, who support climate action in theory, are timid in their opposition to projects even when they clearly blow past climate limits. Climate and labor have an opportunity to blunt “job-killing” criticism and advocate for a different path within the backdrop of the multi-trillion dollar American Jobs Plan.
As a community, we know exactly how to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We have the science, we have the data, we have the money, and we have the technology to shift course right now. We have everything we need to transform our future, except for one thing: the power to make it happen, quickly. We have seen how the Movement for Black Lives has led to rapid and transformational change in narrative, law and policy, and how the resistance at Standing Rock focused global attention on the myriad injustices of the fossil fuel industry, inspiring a new generation of climate and social justice activists. In the way they shift power, frontline movements can change this equation. Our Frontline EJ Fund supports those groups demanding the transformational change required, in the time science demands.