'Keep It In The Ground' Activists Optimistic Despite Oil Boom The U.S. is producing more oil than ever, even as calls to leave all fossil fuels in the ground grow louder. Now the "keep it in the ground" movement is taking its fight to the heart of oil country.
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'Keep It In The Ground' Activists Optimistic Despite Oil Boom

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'Keep It In The Ground' Activists Optimistic Despite Oil Boom

'Keep It In The Ground' Activists Optimistic Despite Oil Boom

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The U.S. could soon be the largest oil producer in the world. It's already pumping out more than 10 million barrels of crude a day. That breaks a previous record set back in 1970. Despite this, climate change activists who oppose more fossil fuel production insist that they are making progress. Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Here's the idea underpinning the Keep It In The Ground movement. Activists figure that if they can stop pipelines from being built, it's more likely that crude will stay in the ground where it won't contribute to climate change. A key tactic is protests, like this one in Louisiana last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Shouting in French).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Shouting in French).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Shouting in French).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Shouting in French).

BRADY: They're shouting, water is life, in French. The pipeline is called the Bayou Bridge, and environmental groups sued to stop it. But if it goes ahead, protest organizer Cherri Foytlin says she's prepared to physically block construction.

CHERRI FOYTLIN: We're poor people. We don't have a lot of money like they do. So all we have is, all I have, is this old body. Right? So I'll use this old body now to do what I have to do to stop it.

BRADY: Protesters say President Trump's pro-fossil fuel agenda makes their job harder, but he also motivates the base. A day after Trump failed to mention climate change in his State of the Union speech, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders fired up a crowd of activists at George Washington University.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: What we are about is telling Donald Trump and the Koch brothers that their days are numbered. Fossil fuels' days are numbered. We are going to transform our energy system.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADY: Activists also are petitioning cities to become fossil free, and they're encouraging institutions, especially colleges, to withdraw investments in oil companies. But people in the fossil fuel business don't sound impressed.

STEVE EVERLEY: Keep It In The Ground as a movement has been a failure.

BRADY: Steve Everley is with Texans for Natural Gas and says the current boom is proof of failure. Domestic drillers have doubled oil production in the past decade, and natural gas is up by about 1/3. The country is on track to produce even more oil than Russia and Saudi Arabia.

EVERLEY: We're not going to undermine the most significant shift in global energy power in a generation to pursue a job-destroying, fringe political campaign like Keep It In The Ground.

BRADY: Still, the industry has responded to the movement with ads like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: America's pipelines bring American energy to American families.

BRADY: Seth Whitehead leads the industry-backed Energy In Depth campaign, and says stopping domestic oil and gas production makes no sense because demand continues to rise.

SETH WHITEHEAD: It's better for us to produce it here in the United States rather than imported from countries with much more lax regulations, environment regulations, in countries that are hostile towards the United States.

BRADY: The activists can point to one key victory as proof their strategy works, Canada's oil sands. Just a few years back, there were big plans to expand production. Opponents point out oil sand's crude emits more pollution because it requires more energy to produce than traditional drilling. They have successfully delayed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, says Steven Kretzmann, with Oil Change International.

STEPHEN KRETZMANN: And now because investors, because companies recognize that there is virtually no way to get a new pipeline that would get that oil to market, we're seeing people be less interested in growth in the dirtiest source of oil on the planet.

BRADY: That invigorates Keep It In The Ground activists. They're promising more campaigns, more protests, even as analysts predict the U.S. is on track to break even more oil production records. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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