Pumping the Drain

Something is hiding behind the plunging prices and seemingly grim future of the fossil fuel industry.

The insurance industry’s insidious support of Big Oil shows no signs of stopping in the face of the dangers of climate change.

Three years ago, Native American tribes, environmentalists, and other activists protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. On March 25th, 2020, a federal court ruled that permits for DAPL violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa) and ordered the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS). Although the ruling is a major victory for activists, the fight to revoke permits for its construction is “far from over.”

Now, in the midst of a pandemic, construction continues on the Dakota Access Pipeline, or Keystone XL, as well as the Trans Mountain Pipeline. With the necessary support of the insurance industry, employees classified as “essential workers” are going to work in rural states.

Despite the significant risk to their own industry, insurance companies are readily supporting fossil fuel industry and investing customers’ premium payments into fossil fuel stocks, as well as underwriting coal mining and replacing natural gas pipelines.

Ross Hammond, a Senior Strategist for Insure Our Future, points out that insurance companies are liable for climate related payouts. However, he continues, “Imagine a world where the same company that you purchase fire insurance from also actively insures and finances rogue teams of arsonists. Ironically that’s more or less what the insurance industry is doing when it comes to climate change impacts and underwriting fossil fuel expansion.”

For Big Oil, survival depends on insurance companies to help them shoulder the heavy burden of liability present in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Projects such as pipeline construction pose a threat to local residents and workers and will also cause serious environmental consequences. According to a statement by First Nations chiefs, the risk of an oil leak could “disastrously contaminate the main source of drinking water for the Coldwater Indian Band, and a seven-fold increase tanker traffic would raise the threat of an oil spill in sensitive habitat that lies within traditional territories of the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations.”

Several Indian reservations are at risk of exposure during this pandemic and protest the damage construction could cause.

Sii-am Hamilton, an organizer with Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en explained,

“Even if no one gets sick, when we have these pandemics, Indigenous people have a blood memory of the pain that’s been caused.”

Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux commented that, “this causes eerie memories for us [of] the infected smallpox blankets that were distributed to tribes intentionally.”

These dangers will only compound the threats of “man camps” responsible for abuses and disappearances of Indigenous women.  Various reports analyze violence and sexual assault against Indigenous women at the hands of large groups of non-Indigenous male employees of natural resource extraction and other companies.

The recent victory of DAPL protestors may seem short lived as the oil industry capitalizes on the  existing vulnerabilities of First Nations and other Native American tribes. However, other changes in the insurance industry show that those seeking employment are becoming more aware of the relationship with fossil fuel companies. Organizers have built on the momentum of the protests against DAPL and are spreading the word to enlist support.

Now that droves of protestors refuse to endanger themselves and others by protesting in public, and the news cycle is occupied by all angles of a global health crisis, advocates must act quickly to prevent devastation.


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