Tummalapalle Uranium Mine

By: Veronica Wong, SFSU, 2017

The Tummalapalle Mine located in Andhra Pradesh, India is Uranium mine that has caused environmental, health, and economic concerns for the residents of the area. The Tummalapalle Mine is known to be one of the largest Uranium reserves in the world. [1] UCIL (Uranium Corporation of India Ltd) is the group that is heading the project.[2] India’s ultimate goal is to be an energy independent country and Uranium mining is one of the strategies of achieving that goal[3]. Along with the uranium mine, located nearby the mine in Tummalapalle is the Uranium processing plant which also is hazardous. [4]

uranium mining
Hazardous Uranium Mining Site

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Shell Oil Refinery ,Martinez

By Jin, SFSU, 2017

In 1914, Shell Oil Company built a refinery in Martinez, CA for its undeveloped land and accessibility to transportation and a body of water to help the refinery process.[1]The environment and residents of Martinez suffer as a result of negligence from Shell and, in turn, are bearing the cost of the energy system. They suffer from bad air quality, environmental damages, and other issues caused by the oil refinery. Those who benefit from the refinery include those who use the products Shell produces (gas, diesel, lubricants, plastic, and jet fuel).

Environmental Classism
The case of Shell Oil and the Martinez community is an example of environmental classism. With the lure of cheap housing in the Bay Area and public transportation being a pull factor, laborers were drawn to the area for employment without realizing how the environmental factors for the neighborhood will negatively impact their health, environment, and overall quality of living – i.e. poor air quality.

On Monday, the Shell refinery in Martinez had a small fire in the light-oil processing unit. Less than a day later, a sour aroma from the refinery prompted hazardous materials teams to investigate. Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle

Oil Colonialism
Many incidents occurred in large-scale operations due to the lack of personnel interest and negligence of Shell to maintain and upgrade the refinery. On April 2, 1996, residents witnessed plumes of smoke and flames in the sky, accompanied by loud “BOOM” from an explosion at the refinery that could be seen in Oakland, located 25 miles away.[2] At this point, such occurrences have become an unfortunate norm for Martinez. One resident described it as “nightlife” in Martinez, to park their car, grab a drink, and watch the “fireballs”. [2]

Image result for martinez shell refinery fire

In addition to resident complaints, the city of Martinez has attempted to sue Shell Oil refinery for compensation and clean up fees, but the situation remains unresolved.[3] Unfortunately, the financial benefit of having the refinery greatly outweighs the cost the Martinez community suffers at the local level. American traders who interact with foreign countries control economic processes, and the countries that export crude oil to the refinery are mainly overseas.[4]While some argue that the refinery brings in jobs and money for the economy to the local community, the local community gains very little in comparison to the gains of the Shell Company itself.

Additionally, Shell customers often don’t live near where the crude oil is processed, and therefore are unaware of the health or environmental damage caused by the refinery. Oil companies knowingly use this ignorance to ensure the public does not question the origin of the product.

This method is successful because consumers are hidden from the reality of how these products are made or produced. To be transparent, companies would be forced to uphold moral choices depending on public option towards the mistreatment and cruelty done to people and the environment. This is another example of oil colonialism because the local community is burdened by the negative effects of the refinery and reaps very little benefits.[5]

Martinez is considered a sacrifice zone for the shell oil refinery. The local community is not rich in funds, but rich in ecological debt such as health issues and environmental problems.[3] Residents surrounding the Shell refinery suffer from health issues due to incidents such as oil spills and release of chemicals from the refinery process. [5]

Even overseas communities suffer from ecological debt due to the mining that destroys habitats and releases harmful chemicals into the air and water. The environmental cost is the largest aspect to consider. Every step of the process emits harmful chemicals that cause environmental issues, and because these steps are veiled to the public or ignored, big companies give the illusion that oil and gas is plentiful, cheap to use, and results in inaction to switch to alternate fuel sources. This also means that big companies can avoid or prolong paying fees & fines that pertain to environmental damages. [6]


[1]About Shell Martinez Refinery. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.shell.us/about-us/projects-and-locations/martinez-refinery/about-shell-martinez-refinery.html

[2]Erin Hallissy, Kevin Fagan, Chronicle East Bay Bureau. (1996, April 02). Blast Ignites Fireball at Shell Refinery / No injuries in Martinez explosion. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Blast-Ignites-Fireball-at-Shell-Refinery-No-2987809.php

[3]Goldberg, T. (2017, January 30). Shell Not Revealing Full List of Gases Released in December Martinez Refinery Flares. Retrieved October 04, 2017, from https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/01/30/shell-wont-say-what-gases-its-martinez-refinery-sent-into-the-air-during-outage/

[4]Dallas. (2008, July 9). List of Gasoline Companies who DO NOT import oil from the Middle East. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1999161/posts

[5]Ferrar, M. K. (2016, April 30). Air Pollution in the Bay Area’s Refinery Corridor. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from https://www.fractracker.org/2016/04/air-pollution-refinery-corridor/

[6]Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer. (2007, May 09). Shell to pay almost $3M fine for Martinez refinery emissions. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Shell-to-pay-almost-3M-fine-for-Martinez-2574747.php

Fracking in Santa Ursula, Oaxaca MX

 Sacrificing Rural Community for National Interest
by LisaMarie Betancourt, SFSU, 2017

Natural gas exploration is rising in Mexico, recognized as the 6th most abundant country with extractable shales[1]. A lot of this expansion is happening under the radar of the rural communities that live along some of these sites. In Tuxtepec, Oaxaca a coalition of municipalities backed by the government’s PEMEX began Papaloapan B, a hydrocarbons development project meant to propel the governments expansion of fracking and maintain interests in fossil fuel energy.


Residents of Santa Ursúla, a rural village found in the greater municipality of San Juan Bautista, Oaxaca are an example of these national efforts unfolding. In an article for Inter Press Service News Agency, one activist claim’s that many of the community members aren’t aware of the effects of fracking, and do not have the background to vitally oppose PEMEX’s operations[2].

Nationalized Energy and What It Means for Mexicans on the Ground

Mexico’s PEMEX is a state run and operated gas company. PEMEX is responsible for the exploration, extraction, and commodification of the country’s resources, and uses its authority to promote “the best interest of the nation”, rendering small municipalities sacrificial for these efforts[3]. In recent history, Mexico’s gasoline and fossil fuel energy sources have experienced periods of unaffordable prices causing socioeconomic instability in small communities dependent on the resource[4]. Gas prices in Mexico reflect a nationalized energy company without the means to keep up with the growing demand of fuel.

In seeking other fuel sources domestically, Mexico expands slowly in Oaxaca and Yucatan, failing to disclose the accurate number of natural gas wells in the country while blocking the dispersal of information and possible opposition. This “sacrifice zone”, is one that by economic means would benefit the country’s production of energy and fossil fuels, while harming the people bearing the burden of the environmental degradation associated with fracking. 

Fracking threatens already scarce water resources

Many of the residents rely on subsistence agricultural to sustain life, threats to soil fertility and water are grave:

  • Fracking requires between 7.5 million- 30 million liters of water per well[5]
  • A field of 10 wells would need between 25 million- 40 million liters of water
  • Leeching of harsh toxics and chemicals contaminates water supply
  • Induced earthquakes from fractured rock
  • Negatively impacts subsistence agriculture[6].
  • May overwhelmingly impact scarce water supply

This process is unregulated, and lacks transparency.

Who is being affected?

The people of Santa Ursula are experiencing an information blackout in part from the national governments failure to disclose both the amount of exploration wells in Mexico, and the effects of hydraulic fracturing. In 2014, Mexico had only disclosed of two exploratory wells. From then, that number has suspected to have increased by 1,000. Independent researchers believe this to be incredulous, predicting that number to be much higher in reality[7].

Demographics of Santa Ursula[8]:

  • 13% of people have visited and graduated secondary school (high school equivalent)
  • 7 total households have computers with internet access
  • 38% of the inhabitants live in indigenous households

Economic processes occurring at the site of Papaloaban B, particularly for rural villages like Santa Ursula, benefit primarily the interests of national industries in Mexico. Stratified income distribution ensures rural populations bear the burden of extraction measures, and do not see the production or the wealth produced by the value of these resources[9]. With civil society lacking the necessary infrastructure and education, capacity of Santa Ursula is low.

The marginalization of these rural groups, often of indigenous descent, occurs in their disincorporation from the wealth or energy these extraction efforts produce. As reviewed by the National Commission of Indigenous Development (CDI), the southern states of Oaxaca and Yucatan are attributed as two of the most indigenously populated, unsurprisingly where fracking is expanding at alarming rates[10].

These sacrifice zones are hidden behind the cloak of nationalized energy and, under a government lacking the democratic policies to disperse information, fails to endure checks from civil society.

resource extraction
Known refineries, pipelines, and oil fields, gas processing centers, and petrochemical complexes (Source: PEMEX.com)
(Source: Texan Azteca)


[1]Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos | Participa. (2017). Gob.mx. Retrieved 18 October 2017, from https://www.gob.mx/participa/welcome

[2] Godoy, E. (2015). Fracking Expands Under the Radar on Mexican Lands | Inter Press Service. Ipsnews.net. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fracking-expands-under-the-radar-on-mexican-lands/

[3] Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos | Participa. (2017). Gob.mx. Retrieved 18 October 2017, from https://www.gob.mx/participa/welcome

[4] Heath, H. (2016). Mexico’s Indigenous Population Continues to Face High Rates of Poverty. Panoramas. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from http://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/health/mexicos-indigenous-population-continues-face-high-rates-poverty

[5] Mexico – Shale & Fracking Tracker. (2016). Velaw.com. Retrieved 16 October 2017, from http://www.velaw.com/Shale—Fracking-Tracker/Global-Fracking-Resources/Mexico/

[6] (Godoy, 2015)

[7] (Godoy, 2015)

[8] Santa Úrsula. (2017). Nuestro Mexico. Retrieved 17 October 2017, from http://www.en.nuestro-mexico.com/Oaxaca/San-Juan-Bautista-Tuxtepec/Santa-ursula/

[9] As Inequality Grows in Mexico, So Does Social Polarization. (2016). Worldpoliticsreview.com. Retrieved 4 October 2017, from https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/20957/as-inequality-grows-in-mexico-so-does-social-polarization

[10] Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas. (2017). Gob.mx. Retrieved 18 October 2017, from https://www.gob.mx/cdi/


Midnite Mine, Spokane Reservation, WA

By: Jennifer Watkins, SFSU, 2017

Midnite Mine quick history:

  • Located in Spokane Indian Reservation of Washington State.
  • The LeBret twin brothers of the Spokane tribe discovered uranium in 1954 and mining continued for nearly 30 years during the Cold War [1]
  • Dawn Mining Company had 51% ownership [2]
  • Former source of income for many tribal members who are disproportionately impoverished because of the government [3]
  • Currently close to 40 million tons of radioactive waste at Midnite Mine [4] [5]
Open uranium pit, similar to Midnite Mine

Continue reading “Midnite Mine, Spokane Reservation, WA”

Electrical Energy Poverty in Cape Town, South Africa

by Meg Ryan, Colgate University, 2016

South Africa is a country which has been the site of political, social, and environmental contention resulting from nearly a half a century of being under Apartheid regime. In recent years, South Africa has corrected for many of their political and social disparities; however, a major environmental injustice which still plagues the nation is energy poverty. Energy poverty is the inability for households to provide sufficient energy to their homes for the purposes of heating, cooking, lighting, etc.[1].

Due to the unavailability of electrical energy, much of the Black and Coloured populations  in Cape Town are forced to utilize paraffin and wood as fuel sources which can be dangerous alternatives[2]. The absence of electrical amenities in these townships has greatly exacerbated the low standards of living and has led to the rise of health hazards in an already marginalized population.

Figure 1: Electrical lines and houses in Imizamo Yethu township (Ryan, 2015)



Colonization, Apartheid, & Environmental Racism

  • The colonization of South Africa, both by the Dutch and the British, forced the indigenous black population into slavery, cultural suppression, and segregation.
  • Apartheid was formed under institutionalized racism where the non-white population was divided by ethnic group and assigned to designated ‘homelands,’ which were often resource deficient areas[3].

During these two regimes, the politics, economy, natural resources, and energy systems were entirely controlled by the white population, and it has historically been the case that municipalities and natural resources have been unequally allotted to white populations[4].
Apartheid ended in 1994, though the legacy of environmental racism and poverty still continue today.

Energy Poverty in South Africa

  • At this point in time, about six million households in South Africa remain without electricity and about 43% of the population is considered energy poor[5].


Figure 2: Household populations and electricity availability in South Africa (Sustainable Energy Africa, 2014)

As a consequence, many citizens of South Africa are left without a viable electricity source for lighting, cooking, utilizing appliances, and controlling the temperature of their homes. The alternatives that are most popularly used by low-income families include paraffin and wood biomass[6].

  • Approximately 7 million households rely on these forms of energy and the majority of these families are located close to urban areas in townships[7].

Paraffin Use

Paraffin is particularly popular because it is more readily available, portable, and fairly inexpensive with low investment in infrastructure[8].However, paraffin is dangerous for two reasons:

  1. Users are prone to explosive accidents and burns when using the product[9].
    • The paraffin is sold in used containers, often water bottles or containers which can contain gasoline residue as well as other contaminants[10]. These contaminants can drastically change the chemical composition of the paraffin and result in unpredictable behavior[11].
  2. Other particulates, such as dirt and water, do not have the explosive properties of petrol, but they do have the capacity to “(emit) partially burnt, potentially carcinogenic carbon based compounds”[12].
    • The carcinogenic particles contribute to the respiratory diseases and the effects are exacerbated because these stoves are usually kept indoors, with very little air circulation[13].
Figure 3: Discarding unsafe paraffin stoves in Johannesburg, South Africa (Henderson, 2015)

Wood Burning

Wood burning contributes to indoor air pollution which can contain carbon monoxide, benzene, and other contaminant; these particulates are even more abundant if the wood is only partially combusted [14].
In areas with poor indoor air circulation, this can be especially harmful to health, as it can cause lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases [15].

  • Globally, indoor air pollution from combusting solid biomass contributes to nearly 2 million deaths annually[16].
Figure 4: Cooking  over burning wood in Langa Township located outside of Cape Town (Ryan, 2015)

Insufficient Electricity Infrastructure

The Black and Coloured communities living in impoverished townships are receiving little to no access to Cape Town’s electric grid[17].

  • A majority of the citizens living in informal settlements are forced to siphon their electricity illegally because of the lack of assistance by the government[18].
  • Townships which do have access to electricity “experience limited technical and human resource capacity” which makes it difficult to rely on the energy source[19].

The women and children living in the townships have higher levels of risk as they traditionally spend more time at home and have higher exposure to the paraffin and wood burning hazards[20].

Figure 5: Illegal siphoning off of the electricity grid in Cape Town (Isaacs, 2016)


  • To understand the root causes of Cape Town’s energy impoverishment, we can look to Smith’s theory of uneven development which suggests that inequalities are not simply a byproduct of neglect, but rather that disadvantaged areas are actively produced through factors like colonialism and capitalism[21].

South Africa’s colonial past is a major contributor to the current uneven development, where the marginalized communities continue to lack accessible municipalities such as electricity.


  •  Mohai et al. references disproportionate impact where economic, sociopolitical, and racial factors perpetuate inequalities; it is the issue of race that closely contributes to Cape Town’s issues with energy poverty[22].

Both colonialism and Apartheid were systems which were built upon racist principles, and the consequential inequalities in wealth between white and black populations directly stems from the biased economic practices enforced by the white government. Therefore the black populations are stuck in poverty cycle where they continue to receive a disproportionate amount of the environmental and economic costs.


  • Harrison and Popke discuss the causes and effects of energy poverty and how it stems from a geographical assemblage of networked infrastructures which distribute goods unequally[23].

The lack of established infrastructure to supply the entire city of Cape Town has led to what Harrison and Popke call splintering urbanism where networked infrastructures bypass certain groups[24]. The division of resources between the townships and the wealthier center of the city is a clear example of this phenomenon as well as a clear example of the devaluing of certain identities.


  • Harrison and Popke discuss energy poverty with regard to home materiality, explaining that lower-quality houses often are poorly insulated which increases the amount of fuel needed to heat the home[25]. This inefficiency ends up costing the household more for fuel and perpetuates the energy poverty cycle.

In the townships of Cape Town because many of the homes townships are minimalist shacks made of scrap metal[26]. Therefore, due to the fact that cheap building materials are the least energy efficient, low-wage families will then more readily fall into energy poverty.

Township houses are often poorly insulated, sometimes with no ceilings, and also have poor air circulation with no chimney[27]. The lack of quality air circulation in the houses then provides another threat when alternative fuels such as paraffin and biomass are used.

Figure 6: Poorly insulated home infrastructure in Imizamo Yethu township outside of Cape Town (Ryan, 2015)

What Needs to Change?

Cape Town’s contemporary and historical challenges regarding politics, the economy, the environment, and social networks, all contribute to the perpetuation of energy poverty within the Black and Coloured township communities. In order to lessen the effects of energy poverty in Cape Town, many of these major sources of inequality need to change.

  • The wealth disparity between whites and blacks needs to be bridged so that the effects of poverty and resource deficiency are not disproportionately affecting an already marginalized community.
  • Electrical infrastructure needs to expand to include impoverished areas and supply reliable amounts of energy to the township localities.
  • Safer alternative fuels need to be easily accessible to communities that are not yet connected to the electrical grid; also home materiality needs to increase in quality.

The institutionalized nature of the inequalities in Cape Town makes the issue of energy poverty especially difficult to conquer. However, small scale changes can begin to lessen the impact of electrical energy poverty in these communities.


[1]Harrison, C. and Popke, J. 2011. ‘Because you got to have heat’: The networked assemblage of energy poverty in Eastern North Carolina. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101(4): 949-961

[2]Sustainable Energy Africa. (2014). ‘Tackling Urban Energy Poverty in South Africa’. Accessed 30 March 2016. Available http://www.sustainable.org.za/uploads/files/file72.pdf. 1- 12.

[3]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[4]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[5]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[6]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[7]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[8]Truran, G. (2009). ‘Household energy poverty and paraffin consumption in South Africa”. Paraffin Safety Association. Accessed 30 March 2016. Available http://www.hedon.info/docs/BP56_Truran.pdf.: 1-6

[9]Truran (2009)

[10]Truran (2009)

[11]Truran (2009)

[12]Truran (2009)

[13]Truran (2009)

[14]Duflo, E., Greenstone, M., Hanna, R. (2010). ‘Cooking stoves, indoor air pollution, and respiratory health in India’. J-PAL. Accessed 30 March 2016. Available https://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/cooking-stoves-indoor-air-pollution-and-respiratory-health-india

[15]Duflo (2010)

[16]Duflo (2010)

[17]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[18]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[19]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[20]Duflo (2010)

[21]Smith, N. (2000). Uneven development. In: Johnston, R.J., Gregory, D., Pratt, G., and Watts, M. 2000. The Dictionary of Human Geography, 4th edition. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford, p. 867-869

[22]Mohai, P., Pellow, D., and Roberts, J.T. (2009). Environmental justice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 34: 405-430.

[23]Harrison and Popke (2011)

[24]Harrison and Popke (2011)

[25]Harrison and Popke (2011)

[26]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)

[27]Sustainable Energy Africa (2014)