Do Workers’ Lives Matter? Gas Pipeline Facility Explosion Kills 30 Workers
An enormous blast at a gas pipeline facility killed 30 workers on September 18th, 2012 in northern Mexico near the U.S. border:
MEXICO CITY (AP) – An enormous blast that killed 30 workers at a pipeline facility in northern Mexico was a big setback for the state-owned oil company, which up to this year had been reporting strides in its safety record at once accident-prone plants…
The death of 30 workers in one accident was the largest-single toll in at least a decade for the company.
Setback? It was an even bigger setback for all those killed, for their families and their communities.
Reporters focused on the possibility that farming out work to many contractors is part of the problem:
Only about one-sixth of those killed and half the 46 injured were Pemex employees. The rest worked for a half-dozen private companies doing operational and maintenance work at the [metering] station, which is next door to a larger and more flammable natural gas-processing plant.
Do Workers’ Lives Matter?
But no one seems to ask the more fundamental question: do workers’ lives matter? If they do, why don’t we concentrate our resources on moving away from “natural gas,” which is so unnatural after all, as rapidly as possible? It’s dangerously explosive — big bangs, huge fires, sudden death — from cradle to grave. Creating a sustainable future is safer, and much more labor-intensive, than fracking our future. The fossil fuel industry is notoriously capital-intensive and deadly to workers.
Two days after the lethal explosion and gas fire in Mexico took 30 workers’ lives, lifelong labor organizer Stewart Acuff, among the speakers at Shale Gas Outrage 2012, made that point onstage, calling for an end to fracking and highlighting risks to workers in the distribution chain. In Dying to Work (Huffington Post), Stewart honors the life, and grieves the unnecessary death, of a young gas worker in North Philadelphia in January 2011.
“Workers at Risk,” a news bulletin researched and released in the lead-up to Shale Gas Outrage, stands as an authoritative and footnoted snapshot of risks to workers throughout the life cycle of shale gas drilling: from slicosis due to silica sand exposure, to respiratory and other health systems impacts, including death, from chemical exposure, to deadly accidents which would be easier to avert if not for the culture of fear which punishes whistleblowers. You can download “Workers at Risk” here.
Business as Usual?
Pemex, the state-owned Mexican oil and gas company, didn’t seem to miss a beat. Before the pipeline blast and fire, they promoted shale gas. After the fire, they promoted shale gas.
On August 31st, 2012, rosy headlines like this one beamed, “Pemex looks to shale.” Pemex leaders referred to shale gas as providing a “great future” for the Mexican company. Twenty days later, 30 workers died.
In November 2012, Pemex announced plans to drill 175 shale gas wells.
However, in “Reshaping the Mexican Energy Sector,” Agathe Vigne (Mexico Business Blog) points out that Pemex seemed to back off from shale gas development in spite of this public declaration. He raises the question of what will happen — but still no reference to workers’ lives:
According to Patricia Espinosa of the Foreign Affairs Ministry (SRE), Mexico holds the world’s fourth largest recoverable shale gas resources. Will the new directions of SENER and Pemex drive the transition toward shale gas or will they bet on other alternatives?
Let’s hope for alternatives — sustainable ones, that is. Workers’ lives matter. We don’t want any more lives lost in the rush to drill, to frack, to process and distribute gas.
As this year draws to a close, with all its tragedies and all its lost opportunities to create a better future, we know one thing. Looking at the gas pipeline explosions from Mexico to West Virginia, along with fracking’s devastating impacts, the movement to resist pipelines carrying shale gas to LNG export terminals, as well as to residential markets, chemical and plastics plants — is increasing in strength. From Pennsylvania’s “Stop the Commonwealth Pipeline” struggle to “Stop the UnConstitutional Pipeline,” from the struggle against Spectra (New York City) and the Keystone XL (tar sands pipeline), to the fight to protect the Delaware River Basin from 13 major pipeline projects now threatening it, resistance to pipelines is growing.
For 2013 we want no more of this