In 2019, Reasons to Be Optimistic in the Fight Against Oil and Gas

In these last few weeks of 2019, I’ve been spending time reading reports that highlight the stark contrast between the action needed to address global climate change and the current track we’re on. According to recent analysis, continuing extraction from existing, already operating oil and gas fields will push us above 1.5 degrees C warming globally. There is absolutely no room in the carbon budget for expansion from new oil and gas drilling, and yet the United States is now both the largest oil-producing and the largest gas-producing country on the planet, and North America wil account for a whopping 85% of new supply from oil and gas expansion projects over the next five years.  

In some ways, the future looks bleak -- with production plans that take us far beyond 1.5 or 2 degrees C of warming, US oil and gas expansion by itself will make it impossible for the rest of the world to manage the safe and equitable transition off of fossil fuels. In order to avert the climate crisis, we have to stop drilling for oil and gas, and we have to stop building new infrastructure to move, burn, or export these dirty fuels.

The scale of the climate crisis is absolutely alarming -- but we have a path forward that can still change our course. The Beyond Dirty Fuels team at the Sierra Club works with grassroots partners across the country to stop or delay proposed oil and gas projects across the country, and our movement is growing bigger, louder, and bolder every day. We are seeing more people engage around these issues than ever before, and the call for a halt to new infrastructure is louder than ever. 

Here are just a few examples of our victories this year against proposed fossil fuel projects:

  • In the Southeast, our legal challenges continue to block both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines. Both of these proposed fracked gas pipelines are now two years behind schedule, and both still lack multiple federal permits that they need for construction. In February, the US Supreme Court will hear a case, Cowpasture River Preservation Association, et al. v. United States Forest Service, to determine whether the US Forest Service has the authority to give a permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to run under the Appalachian Trail. And together with our partners, we continue to advocate for the protection of our water quality and endangered species that would be harmed by the construction of these pipelines. I believe that these pipelines will never be completed. 

Community members march in Richmond, VA to oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

  • We put a stop to the proposed Potomac Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania across and under the Potomac River in Maryland to a proposed toxic rockwool insulation factory in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. This victory was the result of a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that compelled a state-level administrative board to deny access to state public lands for pipeline construction, a decision that was upheld in federal court. The matter is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • In the Midwest, we’re making sure no new tar sands pipelines can be built. We’re going on more than a decade of blocking construction of Keystone XL, and in spite of the Trump administration’s efforts to restart the project, our legal advocacy has delayed construction yet again. In partnership with Indigenous allies and local partners, we have set back Enbridge’s plans to expand its Line 3 tar sands pipeline in Minnesota. Our advocacy and engagement with state decision-makers has played a key role in delaying this project, and our actions have shown the power of a growing movement against it.

Hundreds of people gather in Duluth, MN to oppose Line 3.


Keystone XL opponents march in Rapid City, SD.

  • We’ve used creative corporate campaigning to cut off financing for companies seeking to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In response to our advocacy, six global banks adopted new policies in 2019 to rule out funding for Arctic drilling.


Sierra Club and Gwich’in Steering Committee staff meet with banks in New York, NY.

  • In the Pacific Northwest, we’re building a movement to oppose proposed fracked gas projects. Opposition to two proposed projects -- the Kalama methanol plant that would produce feedstock for plastics and the Tacoma liquefied natural gas facility --  has stalled these projects and created a public narrative about the climate impacts of fracked gas. Just this week, in response to pressure from our coalition, Governor Jay Inslee issued groundbreaking new rules that would apply the most current climate science to environmental assessments and ensure that the full climate impact of proposed fossil fuel projects is taken into account. 


Activists deliver 150,000 public comments and petitions opposing fracked gas to Governor Inslee in Olympia, WA.

  • In California, we’re pushing for an end to dangerous oil drilling. In November, Governor Gavin Newsom made three significant announcements, including a moratorium on dangerous drilling practices, and a process to kick off statewide rulemaking to address health concerns from existing oil wells. This is the result of years of advocacy and organizing, and we have a huge opportunity in 2020 to make sure that California is leading the way on a managed transition from fossil fuels. 


Activists in Los Angeles, CA, tell county officials: No drilling where we’re living!

Every year we stop or delay proposed oil and gas projects is good news for our climate. Our work stopping dirty fuels infrastructure in 2019 avoids future estimated emissions of 709 million metric tons of carbon equivalent per year. That’s the equivalent to annual emissions from about 151 million cars or 182 coal plants -- preventing further pollution that would exacerbate the climate crisis. 

We are poised for even more success in 2020. This year we worked to deepen our presence in the areas most threatened by oil and gas expansion, like the Permian basin of New Mexico and Texas and areas of Appalachia endangered by fracked gas and petrochemical production. We’re adding resources and staff in these regions to help support the growing movements pushing back against the industry’s dangerous expansion plans. 


#PeopleOverPetro advocates march in Pittsburgh, PA.


Rio Grande Valley residents oppose proposed LNG facilities in Brownsville, TX.

In the face of increasingly dire climate reports, fighting back against an industry intent on expansion no matter the cost is sometimes daunting. But it’s because of all this inspiring work our team across the country is doing that I believe we still have reason to be optimistic. 

The oil and gas industry has an enormous amount of money and influence, but the movements we’re building, from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf Coast of Texas, have the power to stop them. Our victories in 2019 proved just that, and I’m looking forward to continuing and building on this work in 2020 and beyond

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