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Stopping “A wall of crude heading our way”: Ports and the local politics of global petro-development

Authors: Benjamin Rubin*, CUNY - Graduate Center
Topics: Global Change, Urban Geography
Keywords: Fossil Fuels, Ports, Logistics, Racial Capitalism, Environmental Justice
Session Type: Paper
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This paper takes up questions of how the politics of specific and local oil infrastructure complexes in a settler context can be understood by and connected to larger climate movements. As production output from West Texas’ Permian basin is projected to quadruple in the next five years, and as 4 major pipelines totaling over 2,500 miles will come online by 2021, attention in the oil industry is turning to the new bottleneck: export capacity. This paper compares the port expansions in the Port of Houston with the Port of Corpus Christi (POCC). Residents of a beach town outside of the POCC are opposing the plans through a discourse of local ecological damage. This middle class NIMBY opposition is grounded in an environmentalism built around private property claims, many describing themselves as “second home owners.” In Houston, by contrast, port development––along with refinery growth and the construction of new ethane crackers––most directly impacts Black and Latinx residents in neighborhoods already heavily exposed to toxic pollutants. Unlike POCC, Port of Houston has a high profile as a global oil center, and activists seek to turn its port into an international site of contestation to the oil industry as a whole. How are narrative framings equating the oil industry with economic prosperity and oil growth as inevitable marshalled in such different cases? What kinds of political imagination could connect local movements to global concerns, or does opposition premised on protecting a ‘pristine nature’ inherently reinforce white settler imaginaries, foreclosing possibilities for alliances?

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