Gaius Publius: Big Oil Seeks Billions from U.S. Government to Protect It From…Climate Change

By , a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Cfdtrade. Follow him on Twitter , and . GP article archive . Originally published at

Map from early 2018 showing spending Congress has already approved to protect Big Oil facilities in Texas from superstorms and rising sea levels. What’s mentioned in the article is in addition to all this ().

In a masterstroke of irony — and hubris — the oil industry wants the federal government to build and pay for “a nearly 60-mile ‘spine’ of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast” to protect “the crown jewels of the petroleum industry.”

What are those crown jewels? One of the “world’s largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas’ 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity.”

The cost, of course, is in the billions. From the :

Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.

That followed Hurricane Harvey, which roared ashore last Aug. 25 and swamped Houston and parts of the coast, temporarily knocking out a quarter of the area’s oil refining capacity and causing average gasoline prices to jump 28 cents a gallon nationwide. Many Republicans argue that the Texas oil projects belong at the top of Washington’s spending list.

“Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge,” said Matt Sebesta, a Republican who as Brazoria County judge oversees a swath of Gulf Coast.

By “overall economy” Sebesta means corporate profits. Even if he talked about “jobs” (he doesn’t), he would still mean corporate profits. The industry doesn’t care at all about the “overall economy.” They only care about their own economy. If industry CEOs could hire Texans to work for a pittance instead of a wage, they would do that. If they could hire Texans to work for nothing instead of a pittance, they would do that too.

The planned infrastructure is quite extensive. Just some of the detail: “While plans are still being finalized, some dirt levees will be raised to about 17 feet high, and 6 miles of 19-foot-tall floodwalls would be built or strengthened around Port Arthur, a Texas-Louisiana border locale of pungent chemical smells and towering knots of steel pipes.”

The stink of the town is obviously due to the massive refinery structures. Note that this federal spending protects the property of non-U.S. companies as well:

The town of 55,000 includes the Saudi-controlled Motiva oil refinery, the nation’s largest, as well as refineries owned by oil giants Valero Energy Corp. and [the French company] Total S.A. There are also almost a dozen petrochemical facilities.

Of course, the entire industry is international with no interest in borders, Russian and Iranian borders excepted. In addition, all oil products are sold on international exchanges to international buyers, so the concepts of “our oil” and “our oil companies” are meaningless. Still, for those still fooled by those concepts, it’s worth pointing out that “their oil companies” will be protected by U.S. federal dollars as well as “ours.”

“Not every property can be protected”

The article notes near the beginning that communities and “delicate ecosystems” will be also protected by this project, but lower down, beyond where most people stop reading, we find this (emphasis added):

The proposals approved for funding originally called for building more protections along larger swaths of the Texas coast, but they were scaled back and now deliberately focus on refineries. …

Oil and chemical companies also pushed for more protection for surrounding communities to shield their workforces, but “not every property can be protected,” said Sheri Willey, deputy chief of project management for the Army Corps of Engineers’ upper Texas district.

“Not every property can be protected” should be emblazoned on t-shirts and coffee mugs and sold in dollar stores everywhere. It will be the one commonality when the full climate crisis hits.

When that day comes, and every day after it, the ultra-rich will use the full resources of government to only protect themselves. Because not every property can be protected.

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12 comments

  1. homeroid

    why does not someone tell the refineries to move to higher ground.
    trillions of dollars in the mid east war. They can fund their own damn wall.
    The mid east wars are for oil what more should they get. Nothing. Nothing at all and nothing ever.
    Thanks all for posting great stuff on the week off. You all are the best.

        1. pretzelattack

          excellent article! trump is doing a bangup job of convincing me he may have been the greater short term evil, with this syria family blog and this rush to eviscerate the national parks. i remain firmly convinced we were family blogged either way.

  2. The Rev Kev

    U.S. Government to the Oil Industry: “Well, we’d love to fund all these levies and seawalls but we have decades of research to prove that climate change and sea level rising is not true so we can’t justify it. The scientific papers are well known to you I believe. We were going to help North Carolina as well but they have a law of the books saying that you cannot even mention sea level rising so we could not help them either. Sorry about that.”

    1. Scott1

      I live in North Carolina and am depressed about it. “Not Conscious” is how I sometimes get clever with the initials.

  3. Ignacio

    This reminds me of Trump’s idea that the Mexicans would build the wall that should prevent their entry. Corporations are experts on passing their costs to others (clients, providers, the public in general etc.).
    A lot of the business model of all corps consists on this: lobbying, getting subsidies… “free trade” they call it.

  4. Larry

    The behavior of the oil companies is predictable. They are serving their own interests. However, refineries are still quite crucial to our economy and to peoples overall welfare. Brief fuel shortages and price spikes after Katrina were difficult enough, but I imagine they were devastating on people dealing with poverty.

    The disappointing bit is that the citizenry at large in many vulnerable locations such as the gulf coast seem to be in denial or to not care about the issue. Thus the only political will to do something comes from the companies with armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and engineers. And how many people in Texas are employed in the oil and gas industries directly or indirectly in these states? They likely vote their interests as well.

    City and town planners here in Massachusetts have been planning for sea level raises for some time:

    A poll of citizens in MA vs TX would likely explain why there might be more planning and action to protect more than industry interests.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The oil companies are counting on a pro-oil-company government to pay for the oil-company-refinery-protection seawall.

      In a perfect world the oil companies would be denied any governmental help with their seawall and would be told to pay for it all themselves. They would then be invited to pass on the cost of the seawall by raising the price of all their seawall-protected products to their customers. That seems like a just and fair way for the oil companies to get paid back for building their seawall.

      Can that be fought for politically by opponents of taxpayer funding for the oil bussiness’s seawall? Maybe.

      If not, I can think of something else to fight for. Charge the taxpayer for building a seawall around every blue-voting coastal area in America along with the seawall for the oil bussiness.
      Seawall for everyone or seawall for no one. Make the Trump Administration and the Republican officeholders come out in the open and support a seawall for Oil but NO seawall for Blue York City. Let them be seen to support that in the broad light of TV.

  5. John

    Should sea level rise by one means or another convert the gulf coast refineries from working engines of air and water pollution to rusting hulks, would the world be a better or worse place? The oil companies have scoffed at and denied their role in climate change. Let them spend some of their profits if they must have seawalls and flood gates. Starve the predators.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I agree with this comment except that I would not say “starve the predators”. I would say “deter the consumers”. Forcing the oil bussiness to pay for its own seawall around all the Gulf Coast Refineries and then freely permitting the oil bussiness to pass the entirety of that cost along to every buyer of their seawall-protected oil products would hopefully raise the price of those products enough to begin punishing their use, and begin driving erstwhile oil-consumer away from oil and toward no-oil or at least minimal-oil products and lifestyles.

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