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:

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free on Kanopy:

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

Debunking Large Scale Hydroelectric Dams



Directed by Todd Southgate and Tolga Temugle (2013)

Film Review

Damocracy is a documentary debunking the myth that large scale hydroelectric dams combat global warming by producing emission-free electric power. In reality, they create massive amounts of methane by flooding and killing large areas of vegetation. Because methane is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2, it takes approximately 41 years for a dam to produce any net benefit for the climate.

The film focuses on global protest movements which have formed in reaction to two specific dam projects: Ilisu on the Tigris River in Turkey and Belo Monte in Brazil.

In addition to displacing more than 35,000 rural residents, the Ilisu Dam would flood more than 300 unique Mesopotamian heritage sites. It would also aggravate water shortages in southern Iraq and Iran.

The Belo Monte dam would displace 40,000 indigenous people, virtually destroying 18 distinct ethnic cultures.

Despite strong support for the Bel Monte dam by former president Dilma Rousseff, mass popular resistance forced her government to discontinue the Bel Monte project in April 2016.

Turkish president Recep Erdogan continues construction on Turkey’s Ilisu Dam despite UN and high court rulings ordering him to desist. Ongoing local and international protests have significantly delayed the damn’s completion, originally slated for 2015.

See Corporate Watch and Iraqi civil society.


Dumpster Diving 101

Dive! Living Off America’s Waste

Directed by Jeremy Seifert (2007)

Film Review

This documentary teaches the rules and techniques of dumpster diving for food. In the Los Angeles region, dumpster divers operate by a strict code of conduct:

  1. Only take what you need.
  2. The first one there has first refusal rights to any food but is expected to share.
  3. Always leave the dumpster cleaner than how you found it.

This film examines the wasteful habit many supermarkets have of discarding perfectly good food because its arbitrary “sell-by date” has expired. According to the filmmakers, 3,000 pounds of edible food is discarded every second. Meanwhile globally one billion people go hungry.

Not only is this a tremendous waste of water (it takes 147 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat) and other natural resources, but discarded food (comprising 20% of all solid waste) in produces massive amounts of the most harmful greenhouse gas – methane.

Filmmakers noticed a significant increase in dumpster diving with the 2007 global economic crash. Yet despite the 1996 Good Samaritan Food Donation Act*, supermarkets (except for Albertson’s) have been reluctant to set up programs to donate their food waste to food banks and homeless shelters.

It’s mainly been up to voluntary grassroots organizers, such as the God Provides food bank in El Monte California to take the initiative in keeping edible supermarket food out of the dumpster.

Fortunately in the nine years since this documentary was made, more supermarkets have come on board with Fresh Rescue and similar programs.

A new law France passed in February 2016 forbids food wastage by supermarkets. Its passage spurred New Zealand supermarkets to forestall a similar ban by voluntarily implementing food donation programs. It would appear the French law has had a similar effect in the US and UK.

*The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages the donation of food to non-profit charitable organizations by exempting donor from liability related to food-borne illnesses.


This second UK film Wasted/Wanted (2014) explores the work of the charitable organization FairShare. Their volunteers are granted access to warehouses of discarded food that never reach the supermarket. They sort and deliver the food to food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In most cases, this food hasn’t reached its sell-by date and is discarded for other reasons:

  • flawed packaging
  • bar codes that don’t scan
  • damaged cartons that make the food difficult to transport
  • overproduction of supermarket brands

A New Angle on Climate Change

Atmosphere of Hope

Pirate TV (2015)

Film Review

Atmosphere of Hope is a recent talk in which Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery summarizes the prospects for limiting and reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Flannery is a new breed of environmentalist who questions the value of climate alarmism.

The upcoming COP21 conference in Paris will be very different from past climate conferences in that participating countries have already committed to specific emission reduction targets. Because these commitments have been made public (see How COP21 commitments stack up) environmentalists can already predict the effect they will have on total CO2 levels.

Thanks to the recent “decoupling” of reduced fossil fuel use and economic growth, Flannery is extremely confident that most governments will keep their commitments. While these targets are inadequate to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade (and preserving civilization as we know it), Flannery is extremely confident that new carbon capture technologies will make up the shortfall.

Successfully Decoupling Fossil Fuels and Economic Growth

The main argument our political leaders give against reducing fossil fuel consumption is the negative effect on economic growth. Thanks to a big drop in the cost of renewable energy (and a big increase in energy efficiency), this argument no longer holds water. Between 2013 and 2014 there was no increase in global fossil fuel consumption (causing an oil glut that dropped prices to $40 a barrel). Yet the global economy continued to grow, thanks to the substitution of cheap renewable energy for fossil fuels.

Flannery also believes that “wavy energy” technology also played a big role in this decoupling. “Wavy energy” refers to a distributed grid technology (developed in Germany) that compensates for the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy – at any given moment some place in Germany is generating some form of renewable energy.

The Role of Carbon Capture Technologies

For me the most interesting part of the talk was the discussion of all the new carbon capture technologies being developed. Flannery divides geoengineering technologies into two categories. The first, which he refers to as “second way, “involves blocking sunlight by injecting sulfur based chemicals into the stratosphere. In his view, this is highly dangerous due to the risk of climate rebound effects (to say nothing of the health effects of the chemicals).

In contrast, “third way geoengineering” technologies remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it. There are further subdivided into biological (natural) and chemical (industrial) based technologies. The latter require external energy input, which means they only reduce CO2 concentrations if they employ renewable energy.

Examples of biological third way technologies include
• Reforestation
• Biochar (charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere)
• Wood waste based plastics
• Carbon farming – Australia rewards farmers for replacing annual grasses and crops with perennial varieties that store carbon.

Examples of chemical third way technologies include
• Carbon negative concrete which absorbs CO2 over its lifetime
• Crushed serpentinites – minerals that capture CO2 as they weather and can be used for beaches, playgrounds, smoke stacks and carbon negative roof paint.
• CO2 based plastics
• CO2 based carbon fiber (used in the Boeing dream liner and carbon fiber cars) – would be cheaper than current carbon fiber, aluminum or steal
• A South Korean technology that employs used coffee grounds to capture methane.
• Chiller boxes in Antarctica – powered by wind energy, they would cause CO2 to solidify and fall as snow and then bury it under regular snow.

The Approaching Mass Extinction

under a green sky

Under a Green Sky

By Peter D. Ward Ph.D

Smithsonian Books 2008

Book Review

Under a Green Sky is a compilation of the research linking mass extinction events with prehistoric episodes of global warming caused by high atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. Ward explores the likelihood that current, unprecedented increases in both greenhouse gasses will likely cause a man-made mass extinction within the next 200 years.

The Asteroid that Wiped Out the Dinosaurs

The dinosaurs were wiped out by a mass extinction 144 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous era. Most evidence suggests it was triggered by a massive asteroid striking the Earth. This collision produced massive quantities of dust that blanketed the earth, significantly reducing the solar radiation reaching the surface of the Earth. This, in turn, led a planet with a universally tropical climate to experience a decade or more of freezing temperatures. Most of Earth’s plant species were killed off, along with the animal life that relied on them.

Accord to Ward, the fossil evidence suggests that this K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) extinction was only one of multiple extinction events occurring in the presence of adverse living conditions that couldn’t support complex plant and animal life. Fossil remains suggest that smaller extinction events occurred every 26 million years, mostly triggered by massive increases in volcanic activity, leading to high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane.

Under a Green Sky details Ward’s role in the excavations that support this conclusion, as well as the scientific methodology used to determine prehistoric CO2 levels, e.g. the size of plant soma* and differential ratios of carbon and oxygen isotopes.

What the Next Mass Extinction Will Look Like

The book concludes by outlining the mass extinction event Ward predicts for the 22nd century if atmospheric CO2 and methane levels continue to increase at their current rate. Based on past extinction events, this is the scenario he predicts:

1) A decrease in equator/polar temperature differences leads to total disruption of the thermohalene conveyer currents** responsible for oxygenating the ocean depths. Cold oxygenated water is steadily replaced with warm oxygen-poor water.
2) Sulfur-eating bacteria proliferate in the anoxic water (termed a Canfield Ocean) and release toxic hydrogen sulfide (the rotten egg smell associated with thermal hot springs).
3) Hydrogen sulfide rises into the upper atmosphere where it destroys s down the ozone layer protecting us from solar ultraviolet radiation. A massive increase in UV radiation kills off the phytoplankton, the ultimate food source of all ocean swelling animals.
4) A combination of intense heat and toxic hydrogen sulfide kills off many land based higher plants and animals.
5) The ocean turns purple, due to green and purple sulfur-eating bacteria. The sky turns green, owing to the proliferation of yellow dust from drought-stricken continents in the mid-latitudes.

Ward calculates that Antarctica’s ice sheet will have totally melted by 2200 and Greenland’s by 2300. By 2050, a steady rise in sea levels will have flooded all the world’s coastal cities, as well as all the deltas that presently contribute to global food production. Millions of people will die from famine (due to drastically reduced agricultural yields), extreme weather events and resource wars.

*The soma are tiny organs in plant leaves that capture sunlight to combine CO2 and water to produce plant sugars. They become more numerous as atmospheric CO2 concentrations increase.
**Plant fossils contain varying concentrations of carbon-13 and carbon-14 isotopes and oxygen-16 and oxygen-18 isotopes (the number varies according to the number of neutrons in the atom’s nucleus) depending on the relative atmospheric concentration of CO2 and oxygen when the plant was alive.
***Thermohaline circulation is an ocean conveyor belt that moves a massive current of water around the globe, from northern oceans to southern oceans, and back again. See Ocean Conveyer Belt

Those Fracking Lies

snake oil

Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future 

Richard Heinberg (Post Carbon Institute, 2013)

Book Review

Snake Oil is all about the economics of fracking. Also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking refers to using pressurized water and chemicals to release oil or natural gas trapped in underground rock formations. Heinberg’s new book describes the behind-the-scenes role of Goldman Sachs and other investment banks in driving the present fracking boom.

Technology to extract oil and gas deposits trapped in rock formations was first developed in 1866. Because the process is extremely capital intensive, fracking for oil only became economically sustainable in when the price of oil tripled a decade ago. In the case of natural gas, it took the elimination of price controls and federal tax credits to make fracking financially feasible.

How Fracking Loses Money
According to Heinberg, fossil fuel companies are losing money on fracking. The recent boom has led to a surplus of natural gas. This, in turn, has driven the price down, forcing the oil/gas industry to sell it for less than they spend to get it out of the ground. Because only a small fraction of shale gas can be extracted cost effectively, production declines by an average of 80-90% over the first 36 months. Industry data indicates it costs between $10-20 million to operate a fracking rig that will produce $6-15 million worth of natural gas in the well’s lifetime.

Obviously you can’t tell investors that fracking for natural gas is a money-losing proposition. Investors only want to hear that fracking is the miracle solution to America’s dependence on dirty coal and foreign oil. Thus oil/gas companies, the banks that finance them, the federal agencies that regulate them and Obama himself all parrot the hype that fracking will supply cheap natural gas to fuel US power plants for the next 100 years. According to Heinberg, this wildly optimistic prediction was calculated by extrapolating the best production rates of the best fracking sites over the 20,000 or so existing rigs. The problem with this methodology is that it fails to allow for rapid depletion rates or the fact that the best wells are already tapped out.

This pressure to meet financial targets forces the companies to sink more and more wells. Thirty-five to fifty percent of existing wells (7,200 wells) must be replaced every year “just to pay off the bankers.”

Fracking Based Derivatives
The only way companies can stay in business is by selling assets and financial products. This includes unused oil and gas leases* they acquired cheaply in the 1990s, company shares, derivatives and credit default swaps. The investment banks themselves have created their own fracking-based derivative called volumetric production payments (VPPS). The banks bundle them and sell them to gullible pension fund managers, just like they did toxic mortgages before the 2008 crash.

The billions they’re losing explains why the industry is so keen to start exporting fracked gas as Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to China, Japan and India. These countries are happy to pay $15 per million BTUs, nearly four times the domestic price of $4. A growing export market will quickly drive up US prices.

Environmental Consequences of Fracking
Meanwhile the explosion of fracking rigs across the landscape is causing massive environmental damage and eating up scarce dollars we should be investing in renewable energy. Owing to strong public opposition, fracking is banned or strictly regulated in most of Europe. As a result, Europeans are far more likely to invest energy dollars in renewables. In 2012, Germany obtained 23% of their electricity from renewable sources, Denmark 41% and Portugal 45%

Snake Oil debunks the widely promoted myth is that that burning natural gas to produce electricity creates less greenhouse gasses than burning coal. If you count all the methane (a greenhouse gas 20-100 times more potent than CO2) released during fracking, using fracked natural gas to fuel power plants produces 20-100% more greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

The massive amount of freshwater consumed by tens of thousands of fracking wells is also a major concern, especially in drought-stricken regions. The water take for a single well pad cluster can exceed 60 million gallons. The Halliburton Loophole, championed by Dick Cheney, amended the Clean Water Act in 2005 to remove the requirement that oil and gas companies disclose the toxic chemicals they use in fracking. This is especially concerning given recent studies documenting serious health problems in people and livestock adjacent to fracking sites.**

In 2011, the EPA made the determination that fracking waste is too radioactive (from exposure to underground cesium and uranium) to be processed in municipal waste facilities. Thus most of it held in large evaporation pools or re-injected into old wells. A recent US Geological Service study has linked deep well re-injection to a rash of earthquakes in regions that rarely experience them. In 2011 central Oklahoma experienced a fracking-related 5.7 earthquake that destroyed 14 homes and a highway and injured two people.

Other Unconventional Production Methods
Snake Oil also debunks the flimsy economic hype used to promote other methods of unconventional oil and gas production (e.g. oil fracking, deep sea oil drilling, tar sands, etc), as well as examining what the inevitable transition to renewable energy will look like. Because renewable energy will never be as cheap as fossil fuels, some modification will be necessary in our current energy intensive lifestyle.

 *An oil or gas lease is a contract by which a landowner authorizes exploration for and production of oil and on his land, usually in return for royalties from the sale of the oil or gas.
**According to Al Jazeera, a jury has just awarded a Texas family $3 million for fracking related health problems.


Originally published in Dissident Voice