VICE heads to North Dakota fracking territory to meet the new generation of young and wealthy directional drillers who are taking part in the politically loaded and controversial method of obtaining oil.
I Confronted Donald Trump in Dubai
Donald Trump’s hair should not be.
It sits on his head like a soufflé, both airy and solid, as improbable as any building to which he’s given his name. In Dubai, I get to inspect Trump from all angles. His hair is otherworldly, but his face is more easily dissected. It’s tangerine, save two pale circles around his eyes.
Ivanka looks perfect, however. Even when her mouth is a moue of hate.
I am sitting two scant yards from Trump père et fille at a media briefing for the Trump International Golf Course, which is being built by the Emirati firm DAMAC Properties in conjunction with Donald Trump Townhouses and Villas. Trump has promised it will be the greatest golf course in the world.
Ivanka is angry because I asked a real question. In Dubai, this can land you in jail.
This May, I researched labor issues in the United Arab Emirates with a local journalist. To avoid being deported, he goes by the pseudonym Tom Blake. We interviewed construction workers building museums on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. In the richest city in the world, the workers we spoke to were little more than indentured servants. For between $150 and $300 a month, they worked 13 hours a day, six days a week. Their bosses kept their passports. They landed in the UAE owing more than a year’s salary to recruiters back home. They could be deported for striking.
In Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, they had families dependent on their wages. However brutal it was, the Gulf dream was their one shot out of poverty. They could not fuck this up.
The UAE is not uniquely guilty. Migrants throughout the world, in the US as well as the UAE, do the worst work and suffer the worst state violence. While my research focused on Abu Dhabi, poor conditions are typical throughout the Gulf. Thousands of workers could die building the World Cup stadia in Qatar. Figurative blood stains the gleaming steel of Earth’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
The day before Trump’s press conference, Tom interviewed workers building the luxury villas bearing Trump’s name. They told him they made less than $200 a month.
Crude Journalism: Chevron Bought a Newspaper to Mask Its Bad Record on Safety Abuses
Richmond is tucked into California’s western tricep, a former wine town with a population just over 100,000. Under the administration of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the town is thelargest city in the United States with a Green Party mayor. It’s also an oil town—in 1901, Standard Oil set up a tank farm, choosing the location for its easy access to San Francisco Bay. Soon after, a western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad was built in Richmond to handle the outflux of crude. Over the course of the 20th century, Standard Oil became the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL), and later, Chevron.
Throughout the 90s, the Richmond refinery was fined thousands of dollars for unsafe conditions, explosions, major fires, and chemical leaks, as the plant oozed chlorine and sulfur trioxide into Richmond’s atmosphere. In August of 2012, the Richmond refinery exploded after Chevron ignored the warning of corroding pipes from the local safety board. The disaster was linked to aging pipes, which were simply clamped instead of replaced altogether. Some 15,000 residents in the surrounding area were forced to seek medical treatment, and Chevron’s CEO, John Watson, got a $7.5 million dollar raise.
Toxic Waste in the Windy City
Last fall, black dust began to blow through residential neighborhoods on the southeast side of Chicago. Only it wasn’t really dust; it was a fine black residue that clung to everything it touched, including noses and throats. Residents eventually learned that it was an oil byproduct called petroleum coke — petcoke for short — and it was being stored in massive uncovered piles at facilities owned by the Koch brothers. VICE News’s Danny Gold traveled to Chicago to see what happens when clouds of toxic oil dust blow through the Windy City.
A young refinery worker suffering from chemical burns
Black Gold Blues: The Hazards and Horrors of the Makeshift Oil Industry in Rebel-Controlled Syria
Deir ez-Zor, Syria’s sixth-largest city, is also the country’s oil capital. For four decades, the al-Assad regime (first run by Hafez, and now by his son Bashar) struck deals with Western oil companies like Shell and Total that resulted in the extraction of as much as 27,000 barrels of black gold from the sand every day. A pittance compared with other Middle Eastern countries’ production, but it made Syria a bona fide oil-exporting nation. At least this was the case until international sanctions were imposed in 2011 in response to the regime’s crackdown on the antigovernment protests, which quickly morphed into a civil war.
Located in the middle of the desert and less than 100 miles from the Iraq border, Deir ez-Zor dominates the eastern portion of the country and has had a long, fruitful relationship with the petroleum industry: before the war, its 220,000 inhabitants often worked for oil companies as engineers, technicians, and laborers.
Downtown Deir ez-Zor is still home to many modern glass-walled buildings erected by Western firms, but in the past two years, they’ve been largely abandoned as the battles between the rebels and al-Assad’s forces, each of whom hold portions of the city, have left them pockmarked, windowless, and scarred.
When I visited Deir ez-Zor in September, there were snipers lurking on roofs as combatants exchanged fire from Kalashnikovs, mortars, and heavy machine guns below. Beyond the city limits the suburbs give way to the mostly empty desert where the oil wells are located and where the rebels—most of them hard-line jihadists, and many of them with ties to al Qaeda—are in complete control. It’s a very different place than it was prerevolution, but it is still an oil town, albeit one of an entirely new sort. Instead of multinational corporations, it’s now the Islamist rebels who are providing jobs to the locals.
Should America Double Its Exports of Coal, the World’s Dirtiest Fossil Fuel?
Somewhere outside Ferndale, Washington—after following a series of backcountry roads through rolling pastures and fertile farmland dotted with goats and llamas—I reached a sign warning: “No Trespassing, Violators Will Be Prosecuted,” that marks the presumed far outer edge of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.
If approved and built, the massive, $600 million facility will ship at least 59.5 million tons of coal per year to Asia, doubling US exports of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel. To effectively feed the beast, nine trains per day, each one-and-a-half miles long, would travel from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, over the continental divide, to this small stretch of coastline just 17 miles south of the Canadian border. Then those same trains would turn around and head back to the mines, to fill up once again—all part of an never-ending loop cutting through small towns, remote wilderness, and even big cities like Tacoma, Spokane, and Seattle, spreading coal dust all along their route. Up to 3 percent of each load escapes from the trains’s open-air tops on every westbound leg of the journey.
That’s the plan, anyway.
What lies beyond the No Trespassing sign at this particular moment, however, really depends on who you ask. Before venturing to Ferndale, I started my inquiries earlier in the week with a visit to the Washington State Department of Ecology in the state’s capital, Olympia. The DOE is currently tasked (along with the small County of Whatcom and the US Army Corps of Engineers) with producing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Gateway Pacific proposal. Plans for the terminal were first submitted in 2011 by SSA Marine, which owns the land upon which the export terminal would sit, and the DOE have been racing to produce their study.