Sarah Roberts: Taranaki’s Tireless Anti-Fracking Campaigner

 

A Broken Earth

Directed by James Muir (2020)

Film Review

This is a beautifully made film about Taranaki fellow activists Sarah Roberts and David Morrison and their tireless efforts to hold Taranaki’s (mostly foreign-owned) fracking industry to account.

The film begins when the couple literally woke up one morning and discovered their dairy farm was surround by fracking wells and production stations that were discharging fracking wastes into a stream they used to water their herd. Around this time, Sarah began experiencing many of the same health complaints (headaches, nosebleeds, rashes, etc)  as many of her neighbors.

On investigation, they discovered 14 fracking wells to the front of their property, 16 to the rear, and 12 at the side. Although four wells were directly adjacent to their property line, they were never consulted, or even notified, about the well construction. After examining oil industry and Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) records, Sarah also discovered that the casings (linings) of some of the wells had been leaking for two years – without TRC carrying out any required ground water testing.

Most of the film concerns the history of the farm, which David’s father bought after returning from World War II, and the decision by both men to preserve the land surrounding the farm as a conservation estate. Until Sarah and David made the gradual  discovery that unregulated oil and gas drilling had systematically transformed one the most pristine natural landscapes on Earth into an industrial zone. The film also shows the the difficult heartbreaking decision the couple made to sell the farm David had managed for 20 years.

The film also also details the extensive research Sarah did into a failed regulatory process (by TRC, Stratford District Council, New Plymouth District Council, and South Taranaki District Council) that essentially allows oil and gas companies to regulate themselves.

As a result of this “self-regulation,” fossil fuel companies are allowed to dig fracking wells adjacent (and under – via horizontal drilling) people’s homes, schools, hospitals, etc. The end of the film features one of the first public meetings Sarah organized (in 2015) to notify local residents about oil industry plans to drill adjacent to Norfolk School.

As part of her tireless campaigning, she worked with Taranaki Energy Watch to file a lawsuit in Environment Court in 2016 to require that district councils set minimum separation distances between fracking wells and homes, schools, and hospitals. You can find information about the lawsuit at  http://www.taranakienergywatchnz.org/.

You can read the Environment Court’s preliminary findings (which are favorable) below.

You can watch the film free until July 5 at https://festival.docedge.nz/film/a-broken-earth/

Click to access 2018-NZEnvC-227-Taranaki-Energy-Watch-Incorporated-v-South-Taranaki-District-Council.pdf

 

 

Frackman: Anti-Fracking Activism in Queensland

Frackman: Anti-Fracking Activism in Queensland

Directed by Richard Todd (2015)

Film Review

This documentary concerns “accidental” anti-fracking activist Dayne Pratsky, a Queensland farmer who refused to allow Halliburton to frack for coal seam gas on his farm. When his neighbors’ kids started getting sick with headaches, rashes, and nosebleeds, he organized a grassroots campaign to pressure the government to either ban or properly regulate fracking.

What impressed me most about the film is its similarity to our experience here in Taranaki. Fracking began here about 25 years ago, though the number of wells increased exponentially when skyrocketing oil prices and new horizontal drilling technology increased its financial viability.

As in Australia, foreign oil and gas companies moved into Taranaki with no notification or consultation of local residents. Likewise, in both countries farmers agreed to one or two wells and were suddenly surrounded with 10 or more. Taranaki residents living adjacent to wells are experiencing the same nosebleeds, headaches, rashes (and cancer), as well as the smoke and benzene smell of 24/7 flaring, the deafening noise of drilling and heavy truck traffic, water contamination with toxic chemicals, and atmospheric venting of methane gas and carcinogenic benzene.

The film depicts Pratsky eventually joining forces with Drew Hutton, founder of Australia’s Lock the Gate campaign. Hutton helped us start our own Lock the Gate campaign in Taranki nine years ago. He helped Pratsky organize an inspired protest action in which scores of farmers blocked Halliburton’s access to their fracking rigs with pickup trucks.

Faced with the reality that he couldn’t expose a wife and family to the health risks of living in an industrial fracking zone, Dratsky eventually allowed Halliburton to buy him out and left his his farm.

He remains as active as ever in the anti-fracking movement and supports his former neighbors seeking similar buyouts. As in Taranaki, Queensland farms covered with fracking rigs are virtually impossible to sell on the open market.

Link to Dratsky’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/The-Frackman-Dayne-Pratzky-141386222547945/

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free on Kanopy: https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/frackman

To sign up type “Kanopy” and the name of your local library into your search engine.

The End of the Oil Age?

Petroleum and Crude Oil – the Future of Oil Production

DW (2019) – only online until April 17th

Film Review

This documentary analyzes the long term economic viability of the petroleum industry, in view of climate change, increasing competition from cheap renewable energy and shifting geopolitical allegiances.

It begins with an examination of the 2014 collapse in oil prices – with the cost of a barrel of oil dropping by over 70% between June 2014 and January 2016. Oil bottomed out at $26 a barrel in February 2016.

The filmmakers explore a number of factors keeping the oil price above $100 a barrel prior to 2014. Speculation in oil futures by big banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley seems to be the main one.

These high oil prices made the fracking boom possible. Fracking technology, whereby trapped oil and gas reserves are released by fracturing bedrock, is an extremely expensive technology. According to industry analysts, fracking is only financially viable with oil prices above $70 a barrel.

The fracking industry was a great boon to the US petroleum industry, enabling it to export oil and liquified natural gas (LNG) for the first time in decades.

The filmmakers point to two main reasons for the 2014 collapse in oil prices. The first was reduced oil demand (due to global economic slowdown) popping the speculative bubble created by the big banks. The second was Saudi Arabia’s attempt to destroy the US fracking industry by flooding the global market with oil.

This scheme seems to have backfired. While numerous small fracking operations went bust, the major oil companies had sufficient financial resources to continue fracking at a loss.

The low oil prices probably hurt Saudi Arabia more than the US, as the Saudis are extremely dependent on oil revenues to finance their national budget.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC* countries reached out to Russia to form OPEC Plus. The latter agreed to limit oil production to stabilize prices. The Saudi oil ministry fully expects Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics will also join OPEC Plus.

Meanwhile oil producing countries (except for the US under Trump) have learned an important lesson from the 2014 price shock. Both Norway (the world’s largest oil/gas producer) and Saudi Arabia are rapidly diversifying their energy industries to protect themselves from future price volatility. Most industry analysts expect other countries to follow suit. At present China, the world’s largest oil importer, is also the largest investor in renewables. This, in turn, signals a significant reduction in their future oil dependency.


*Organization of Oil Exporting Countries – current members include Algeria, Angola, Austria, Cameroon, Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia (the de factor leader), Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

 

Fracking, Rape, Prostitution and Sex Trafficking

Sex and the Oil City: Sex, Crime and Drugs: The Dark Side of North Dakota’s Oil Boom

RT (2018)

Film Review

As its title suggests, this documentary mainly concerns the escalation in domestic violence, rape, prostitution and sex trafficking that have accompanied the explosive growth in North Dakota’s fracking industry.

The state’s western fracking towns have seen a massive influx of men working 12-16 hour shifts and earning six figure salaries. Tens of thousands of them, living in “man camps,” find they outnumber local women by 100 to 1. With nowhere to spend their money, narcotics abuse and alcoholism have become enormous issues – as has violence against women. Police call-outs in one town skyrocketed from 41 a year in 2006 to 7.414 in 2014.

The video’s main protagonist is Windie Lazenko, founder of the non-profit group 4Her North Dakota. This is an advocacy group providing outreach services for women and girls who are victims of local sex trafficking. Wendie herself was held captive by local sex traffickers and pimps from age 13-16.

There was  a significant decline in North Dakota’s fracking industry when the price of oil fell in 2014. With the oil price recovery that occurred in 2018, the boom is on again.

The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

RT (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about mica mining in the Jharkhand state in India, which produces 60% of the global mica supply. In addition to its use (as glitter) in cosmetics, mica is used to manufacture joint compound (for filling and seams in drywall), drilling fluids (in fracking), plastics, synthetic textiles and as an insulator in the electronics industry.

Although mica mining is technically illegal in India (owing to serious health risks, eg lung cancer and potential mine collapse), mica “processing” is legal and immensely profitable.

Rough 20,000 children (some as young as 3) are employed in mica mining in India. Adults can earn up to $3 per day, with lower caste workers earning less. They sell the mica they mine to processing plants or to the “mica mafia,” which sells it directly to exporters.

The Growing Freshwater Crisis

Last Call at the Oasis

Directed by Jessica Yu (2012)

Film Review

This is a wide ranging documentary about the global freshwater crisis. It focuses mainly on the US, which has the largest water footprint per capital. However it also briefly addresses even more severe water issues in Australia, the Middle East and India.

The film addresses numerous issues contributing to the shortage of fresh water – climate change, causing more frequent droughts and declining snow backs (an important source of fresh water), the rapid depletion of groundwater (many US aquifers are predicted to be totally gone in 60 years), and the contamination of remaining freshwater by unregulated toxic chemical discharge, factory farm waste and fracking wastewater.

As usual the federal regulatory agencies (EPA, FDA, USDA) come off looking really badly in contrast to their European counterparts. It also comes across loud and clear that poor Americans suffer the most from contaminated drinking water – especially when government looks the other way.

The film also highlights how spoiled and entitled many Americans are in their attitudes towards water conservation.

My favorite part of the film features renowned anti-toxics activist Erin Brokovich, who continues to work tirelessly for poor communities suffering epidemics of cancer and other debilitating conditions stemming from contaminated water

Unfortunately there are no easy solutions to contaminated drinking water. Drinking bottled water isn’t one of them. As the filmmakers point out, bottled water is even more poorly regulated than tap water. Neither is desalinization, which is extremely polluting, both in terms of CO2 pollution and a nasty brine residue that’s nearly as harmful as nuclear waste to human health and the environment.

It appears that the cheapest and most environmentally friendly solution for desert areas like the Southwest and Southern California is one adopted by the city of Singapore: recycling purified waste (sewage) water. Most Americans resist this approach due to the “yuck factor.” Reportedly Los Angeles is on track to begin waste water recycling  by 2019.

The film, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed free for the next 2 weeks at the Maori TV website: Last Call at the Oasis

 

 

NZ Govt Shuts Down Offshore Oil Exploration, Onshore Exploration Outside Taranaki

According to Taranaki Daily News, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced an end to offshore oil exploration, with no new onshore permits outside Taranaki.

Ardern said the Government was “taking an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand”

As well as an immediate end to new offshore permits, some onshore will be offered to the industry for the next three years in onshore Taranaki, none of which will be on conservation land.

“This is a responsible step which provides certainty for businesses and communities that rely on fossil fuels. We’re striking the right balance for New Zealand – we’re protecting existing industry, and protecting future generations from climate change,” Ardern said.

The decision to continue to offer onshore permits was partly a concession to Labour’s coalition partners, New Zealand First, which expressly supports extractive sectors. The move is also designed to head off the risk of judicial review.

“All three of the parties in this Government are agreed that we must take this step as part of our package of measures to tackle climate change. I’m grateful for the support of New Zealand First in ensuring the transition away from fossil fuels protects jobs and helps regions equip themselves for the future. I also thank the Green Party for their continued advocacy for action on climate change.

An oil rig between Stratford and Midhurst, in Taranaki. Ardern will announce no more offshore exploration permits, and ...

ANDY JACKSON/STUFF – Oil rig between Stratford and Midhurst, in Taranaki.

Less than a month ago, Ardern created huge expectation among environmental activists by declaring the Government was “actively considering” a call to end exploration.

Since taking office, Ardern has said the Government will move towards having 100 per cent of electricity generation coming from renewable sources by 2035, while the economy will be carbon neutral by 2050.

Greenpeace said announcement was an “historic moment, and a huge win for our climate and people power”. . .

Read more: Ardern to End Offshore Oil Exploration

This is an important win in a long, difficult battle. It’s disappointing to see that Taranaki (where I live) is still treated as a sacrifice zone. Taranaki Energy Watch has an ongoing case in Environment Court to stop fracking next to our homes and schools. See Fracking: When Fossil Fuel Companies Turn Your Community into a Sacrifice Zone

Fracking: When Fossil Fuel Companies Turn Your Community into a Sacrifice Zone

Sacrifice Zone: The Story of a Real Australian Gas Crisis

Directed by David Lowe and Eve Jeffery (2018)

Film Review

Sacrifice Zone is a full length documentary about a vibrant resistance movement dedicated to shutting down fracking (for Coal Seam Gas) in a pristine rural area of New South Wales (Australia). My chief interest in the film stems from striking parallels in Taranaki, a comparable region in rural New Zealand. Here in Taranaki, which is also frequently described as a sacrifice zone, residents are also engaged in a similar battle against fracking for shale gas and oil.

Because NSW farmers have learned from the bitter experience of Queensland farmers (who have been fighting fracking for more than ten years), there has been much stronger opposition in NSW.

The other immediate parallels are the lies farmers were told by Santos (the oil/gas mining company), eg that fracking would create local jobs (the vast majority of workers are flown in from someplace else), that there would be no water or air contamination and that there would be no adverse health effects. As in Taranaki, Santos also deliberately misled farmers about the number of wells they planned to drill (one or two wells quickly turns into eight or more). I also strongly identified with the stress of living 200 meters from constant flaring and drilling and traffic noise, the absence of any fire safety planning and the reckless disposal of contaminated fracking waste into unlined pits and streams used for drinking water. The latter has led to the total decimation of formerly pristine Queensland forest land.

Like Taranaki farmers, NSW and Queensland farmers are unable to sell or insure their land once a fossil fuel company sinks a fracking well on or near their property.

For the most part, Australian farmers seem primarily concerned about the potential contamination of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), an underground lake that supplies water to the majority of Australia’s agricultural land. The GAB is fed by a complex system of aquifers that interface with the coal deposits Santos is fracking (fracturing) for gas. Environmentalists and indigenous Australians are mainly concerned that fracking will destroy the Pilliga Forest, which sacred land and contains numerous endangered species. In light of the horrendous wildfires Australia has experienced over the last several years (and the extremely flammability of the methane gas they are extracting), I find it mind blogging the NSW government is allowing open flaring at Pilliga Forest well sites.

Overall I found it extremely gratifying to see conservative Aussie farmers (who have never protested against anything) uniting with environmentalists and indigenous activists.

Taranaki activists have played a similar role to Queensland activists in persuading other New Zealand communities not to open their pristine agricultural land to foreign oil and gas companies. At present Taranaki Energy Watch is battling local government and the petroleum industry in Environment Court to keep new fracking rigs away from our homes and schools. You can find out more about our case (and donate if you feel so inclined) at our Givealittle page:Taranaki Energy Watch

Pipelinistan: Is the Novichok Psyops an Effort to Shut Down Nord Stream 2?

Politics, Power and Pipelines – Europe and Natural Gas

DW (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, due for completion by the end of 2019. The EU, the UK and the US have been working hard to shut down Nord Stream 2, and various commentators believe the current Novichok psyops is an effort to pressure Germany to back out of their agreement with Gazprom.

The Nord Stream 2 project is a partnership between Russian state-owned Gazprom and five private energy companies from Britain, Germany, France and Netherlands. It will transport natural gas directly across the Baltic Sea to Germany. The existing Nord Stream 1  pipeline system transports Russian gas to western Europe mainly via Ukraine.

Since the 2014 US-sponsored coup in Ukraine, there has been considerable conflict between Russia and Ukraine over Nord Stream 1 – involving Ukraine’s non-payment of fuel charges, their failure to maintain the pipeline and illegal diversion of gas supplies. Russia totally shut down gas supplies to Ukraine in 2009 and 2014 for non-payment, resulting in very cold winters for Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary at the other end of the pipeline.*

Two prominent Germans are part of the Nord Stream 2 consortium, former German Chancellor and Social Democratic Party leader Gerhard Schroder and former Stasi member and Putin friend Mattias Warning. The latter serves as the company’s Managing Director.

Despite their determination to become more independent of Russian gas and oil, Poland and other Eastern European states are dismayed that Nord Stream 2 will bypass them. Ukraine is distraught because it stands to lose $2 billion annually in transit fees.

The EU is trying to stop Nord Stream 2 by claiming regulatory authority, **which Russia and German dispute, as both Nord Stream 1 and 2 are external pipelines.

The US also opposes the pipeline, as it prefers both EU countries to buy its more costly fracked LNG (liquified natural gas). They have threatened economic sanctions on countries that sign new energy agreements with Russia.

The US also opposed Nord Stream 1 (completed in 1973), fearing it might lead to a closer relationship between West Germany and Russia. Former German chancellor Willy Brandt strongly championed Nord Stream 1, over US objections. He believed trade and detente*** were a preferable strategy for bringing down the Iron Curtain. It now appears he was right.

The filmmakers raise legitimate concerns about Russia investing so heavily in yet more fossil fuel pipelines (Gazprom is also building a pipeline via Turkey to Italy and Greece) in a period when the planet urgently needs to end fossil fuel use altogether.


*On March 3, 2018, Russia announced it was ending fossil fuel contracts with Ukraine altogether, raising grave concerns for countries at the other end of the pipeline. See Russia’s Gazprom to Terminate Gas Contracts with Ukraine

**Detente is a cold war term referring to the easing of strained relations.

 

Expect Resistance

This was us yesterday protesting seismic blasting in a proposed sanctuary for the endangered blue whale and Maui dolphin. The Amazon Warrior, which is exploring for deep sea oil, lets out loud seismic explosions every eight seconds that disrupt their feeding, breeding and ability to communicate.

Climate Justice Taranaki is campaigning to fight climate change by leaving the fossil fuels that remain in the ground. Fossil fuel mining (mainly in the form of fracking) has been enormously destructive to our local environment and people’s health and lives.

The protest was reported in Taranaki Daily News and on  Maori TV