What Does Oil, Gas, and Energy Have to Do With Police Brutality In Texas?

This photo was taken by Vanessa Ramos of V&M productions at an anti-police brutality rally in Austin, TX over the summer of 2020.

This summer, the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, and the police violence that erupted onto peaceful protestors demanding justice, demonstrated that police departments do not protect everyone. Black lives continue to be attacked and murdered by the police, and discriminated against by the criminal legal system

These instances (and many more recent examples) of police brutality have raised awareness of other kinds of racist oppression that continue to plague Black communities, and how all manifestations of white supremacy are connected. Frontline activists, public health advocates, and fenceline communities continue to point out that the largest forces of power and control in our society are aligned and mutually rely on the subjugation of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. 

Back in July, a report by Little Sis highlighted the intricate relationship between environmental and racist oppression by pointing out that oil and gas companies, as well as financial institutions, are enormous backers of police foundations, increasing their already bloated budgets, and often hire police for private security details. The report asserts that the same corporations that pollute Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color support racist police forces and suppressing protests. 

Police foundations are essentially a form of corporate philanthropy, where corporations donate money that is used to arm, train, and provide other resources to police forces all across the country. Of course, they’re partnered with more than just fossil fuel companies, including America’s biggest commercial corporations like Starbucks, Amazon, and Target (and more). However, the Little Sis report shows just how deep police pockets are with oil and gas money. 

Police foundations will often say that their structure is necessary to support police departments when local government funding is lacking or insufficient - though many groups say they rarely are. Police departments receive anywhere from 20% to 45% of discretionary funds in cities across the U.S., and can use this money with little oversight. But with private money being funnelled from corporate donors through police foundations, companies can control or manage these huge budgets and financial portfolios that they contribute to. According to a 2014 report from ProPublica, foundations “can be a way for wealthy donors and corporations to influence law enforcement agencies’ priorities.” This of course includes fossil fuel companies just like Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and so on. 

This influence is especially apparent In Texas, the nation's leading state for oil and gas, energy generation, and energy consumption. The alliance between the fossil fuel industry and police manifests in suffocating Black and Brown neighborhoods with pollution and simultaneously with police presence. Enormous companies with strong presences in Texas, like Chevron, Shell, Hilcorp, and Valero back police unions. The Lil Sis’ report itself calls Chevron “the Corporate Partner of Police,” considering that Chevron is a board member of the Houston Police Foundation and sponsor of the Houston Police Department’s mounted patrol.  

In fact, funnelled corporate money is absolutely critical in the militarization of police. The Guardian reported that the Houston police foundation has purchased for the local police department a variety of equipment, including Swat equipment, sound equipment, and dogs for the K-9 unit.

And even among petrochemical companies that do not have public relationships with police, several of them are dependent on major financial institutions that have fiscal or political ties (or both) with police, including: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs. Each of these companies has a stake in the fossil fuel industry in Texas while simultaneously supporting police institutions that brutalize Black lives .

The money pipeline supporting police doesn’t stop at oil, gas, and energy production. There is also a cash trail from energy consumption and big utility companies that have deep pockets for fossil fuels. Let’s take the largest municipally-owned utility in the country, Bexar County’s own CPS Energy, for example. San Antonio-based CPS Energy is the nation’s largest municipally-owned utility, and runs an expensive, dirty coal plant that is a major pollution source affecting the air quality in Bexar County - some of the worst in the state. 

They also provide a third of San Antonio’s operating budget, making them the city’s single largest financial contributor. Where does the majority of San Antonio’s operating budget go towards? Their police. While we can’t track dollar for dollar CPS Energy’s contributions to San Antonio’s police, there is a clear connection between these major forces of control, and it is evident that police depend on this flow of money.

Permian Highway Pipeline construction in the Texas Hill Country, which has faced substantial opposition and has caused numerous complicaitons and spills
already. Protesting its construction is subject to criminilization under HB 3557. This photo was taken by Vanessa Ramos of V&M productions.

The relationship between these forces is absolutely mutual. Fossil fuel companies provide the money, police provide armed control. The fossil fuel industry has in many instances relied on the police for their defense. In many states, including Texas, the fossil fuel industry supported laws over-criminalizing pipeline protests. Last legislative session, groups like TXOGA, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, and the Texas Chemical Council were the major lobby power behind passage of HB 3557, which led to further criminalization of protests against pipelines, refineries and other so-called “critical” infrastructure.  We have seen how dehumanizing and violent police have treated pipeline protestors, especially against Indigenous communities, such as the Standing Rock water protectors who fought to protect their land, water, and sovereignty from the infamous Dakota Access pipeline.

Because of the passage of HB 3557 despite massive protests, opposition and testimony from conservation organizations, frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples , “impairing or interrupting” pipeline construction is now considered a state felony in Texas. Disrupting or protesting a pipeline’s construction is punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. And if an activist is accused of damaging a pipeline or facility, they could face a third-degree felony (on par with attempted murder), and up to 10 years in prison. Any organization found to be involved could receive a $500,000 fine.

Even an “intent” to impair construction or operation of a facility could lead to a misdemeanour charge. Anyone criminalized for this could also become liable for court costs and any actual damage or loss of production that results. In fact, the approved 2019 law was an extension of the already existing “critical infrastructure law,” which was approved in 2017 and criminalizes protests or disruptions of operations at certain oil and gas wells, pipelines, electric power plants, refineries, correctional facilities, natural gas compressor stations, concentrated animal feeding operations and many other types of facilities that have been deemed “critical” in Texas’s Government Code.  

These laws disproportionately affect Indigenous communities and other communities of color across Texas that are trying to fight against fossil fuel infrastructure. For over half a decade, communities in South Texas have been showing active and consistent opposition to a trio of LNG (fracked gas) facilities proposed for construction in the Rio Grande Valley. One of these facilities—Texas LNG—would be built on Garcia Pasture, a sacred area (and federally recognized historical archaeological site) belonging to the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, who are Indigenous to the Rio Grande Valley. (Read more about the fight against LNG in the RGV on our blog)

These destructive LNG facilities have not yet been built, largely due to constant community resistance. But local county commissioners and environmental agencies, as well as federal government agencies, may continue to ignore Indigneous and local opposition to get them built. Given what we have seen regarding police behavior towards protestors, this law threatens the lives and safety of any community or group that may want to defend their homes from ecological destruction, and could put individuals and organizations under the threat of massive fines and liability costs.

We must recognize the fossil fuel industry, the driver of the racist climate crisis, as an appendage to a large and violent body of power. The very same extractive, ecologically destructive system that sacrifices BIPOC communities to pollution, waste, and environmental+health hazards is politically and financially codependent on police institutions- which actively dehumanize and devalue Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.