Oil and Gas Mining: The Devastating Effect on Communities

Sustainable Deception (Deception Durable)

Directed by Michelle Moore and William Ray (2017)

Film Review

Sustainable Deception is a bilingual documentary about the devastating effects of oil and gas mining at opposite ends of Canada. What I found most interesting about the film were the uncanny similarities with our experience with fracking here in Taranaki.

The French segments of the film cover the town of Sept Iles in Quebec and the English segments the massive tar sands project in Alberta. French and English segments are placed back to pack to highlight the parallels between the two regions:

  • Despite constant promises of jobs and prosperity, all the oil and gas revenue exits local communities, leaving them with a net decrease in income and struggling to pay for increased infrastructure costs.
  • Environmental destruction from oil and gas mining converts pristine forest landscapes into industrial brown sites, pollutes waterways and destroys organic farms, fishing and other local businesses. It also increases local cancer rates.
  • Fluctuating global commodity prices lead to boom and bust cycles, fueling higher rates of homelessness, hunger, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Oil and gas companies subsidize a succession of corrupt right wing governments who systematically deny local residents any input into planning decisions around oil and gas and other mining.
  • Despite treaty obligations, indigenous communities are never consulting regarding decisions to allow mining (likewise there is no consultation with local Maori here in Taranaki.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the film was a commentary by an Alberta activist about the need to transition from “extractive economies” that only benefit a handful of people to “value added” economies that rely on a diversity of businesses. Here in New Zealand, the Green Party is calling for a transition from an extractive economy – based on dairy, oil and gas – to a value added economy based on a renewable energy and information technology.

The most concerning part of the film was at the end, where one of the anti-mining activists is elected mayor of Sept Iles and talks openly about the enormous pressure the oil and gas industry (and the banks that finance them) put on elected officials. When they don’t get their way, these economic powerhouses have the capacity to generate economic instability that can bankrupt a small community.

Science Guy Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown

The Five Changes of Climate Grief

National Geographic (2015)

Film Review

The Five Changes of Climate Grief is a humorous documentary in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a psychiatrist and Bill Nye the Science Guy plays himself as the latter grapples with climate denial (not the kind Exxon pays for but the personal kind all of us experience).

The main premise of the film is that all of us experience some degree of grief in confronting the enormity of the climate crisis. Thus all of us must work through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – as we collectively struggle to find a solution.

The video has some great footage of the ecological devastation caused by Canadian tar sands mining and processing , as well as beach front properties on the Florida coast that are already uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.

I was delighted to see the filmmakers expose carbon trading for the corrupt corporate-driven scam it is.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see that most states (including Oklahoma and Alaska) have plans in place to achieve 100% fossil-free energy production by 2050.

Parts of the documentary I objected to were the heavy promotion of electric vehicles (we can only produce sufficient renewable electricity for very wealthy people to own them) and the promotion of Guy McPherson as an expert in climate science. Recently McPherson, whose science background is in ecology, natural resources and evolutionary biology, has been making claims that catastrophic climate feedback loops will cause human extinction within the next six months.

Global Civil Disobedience

Disobedience: the Courage to Break Free

By Kelly Nykes (2016)

Film Review

Disobedience is about the global movement (on six continents) to shut down the fossil fuel industry. The primary aim of the Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement is to end fossil fuel mining and shut down gas-fired power plants.

A major premise of the documentary is that the COP21 climate conference in December 2015 was a public relations stunt. Climate activists believe it accomplished virtually nothing towards preventing catastrophic climate change for two main reasons: 1) the national emissions targets agreed are purely voluntary and unenforceable and 2) despite agreeing to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the treaty’s carbon budget will result in 3.5 degrees warming.

President Lyndon Johnson was the first to warn the world, in 1965, of the link between heavy fossil fuel combustion, CO2 emissions and global warming. Ten years later, Exxon began planning for global warming by making their drilling rigs “climate proof.” In 1989, they switched tactics by co-founding the Climate Coalition and hiring a public relations firm (the same one that promoted the health benefits of smoking) to launch the climate denial movement.

Filmmakers include coverage from mass civil disobedience actions to shut down coal fired power plants in the Philippines and Turkey, tar sands production and export in Alberta and British Columbia and an open pit coal mine in Germany. Given that Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy production,* I was extremely surprised to learn they burn more lignite* *coal than any other country, including China and India.

The film also features footage from the Seattle blockade of a Shell Arctic oil exploration rig – which helped persuade Shell to abandon their plans to drill the Arctic for oil.

For the most part, these actions succeed by increasing the cost of doing business – especially now when low oil and gas prices are already denting profits.


*On  May 16 Germany got nearly all its power from renewable energy.

**Lignite is often referred to as brown or “dirty” coal due to the high level of particulate and heavy metal pollution it produces.

 

 

Obama’s Double Dealing on Canadian Tar Sands

keystone

The Other Keystone: The Alberta Clipper, the Pipeline No One Is Talking About

According to In These Times, while climate activists were celebrating Obama’s November 15, 2015 rejection of the Keystone pipeline, Canadian oil giant Enbridge was already transporting 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude – with State Department approval – along an alternative pipeline network extending from Alberta to Gulf of Mexico refineries.

Enbridge already has State Department approval, granted in 2007, to tranship a maximum of 450,000 barrels a day across the Canadian border via a pipeline known as the Alberta Clipper or Line 67. .

State Department Approves Illegal Switchero

In 2013 Enbridge made application to double Alberta Clipper capacity. When this generated massive public protest, they performed what In These Times describes as an “illegal switchero.”

Instead of relying on Line 67 to transport 800,000 BPD of crude oil across the border, they have been diverting the crude to another existing pipeline called Line 3. This segment transports the oil across the border before it’s ultimately transferred back to Line 67 in Minnesota.

Enbridge describes the project as a “maintenance-driven replacement” of Line 3, which stretches from Edmonton to Superior. As part of this replacement, Enbridge constructed four totally new pipeline interconnections between Line 67 and its new “replacement” Line 3: two at the company’s Gretna, Manitoba station in Canada, and two more in the United States just south of the border.
The State Department ultimately acceded to these changes without requiring new permits or environmental review.

Activists Lose in Court

In November 2014, a coalition of tribal and environmental groups filed suit against the State Department, claiming that it had violated federal preservation and environmental laws and calling for an injunction on the bypass project until it went through the full permitting process. Tar sands oil is the most environmentally damaging form of oil. Enbridge is already responsible for more than 800 pipeline spills, which are linked to major health problems in affected communities.

On December 9, 2015 the federal judge ruled in favor of Enbridge and the State Department, arguing that the State Department’s decision is not subject to judicial review.

Obama’s Gift to Enbridge Stockholders

Ken Rumelt, staff attorney at Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, says that Enbridge’s endgame has always been clear: even though projects have been proposed piecemeal, they constitute one large network capable of ramping up transport of Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast.

Enbridge has a number of other pipeline projects either already in existence or in the works, which form links in this network. When the rest of the Line 3 replacement goes online in 2017, it will open up a new corridor for tar sands oil to flow in through the Upper Midwest.

Then there’s Line 61, a huge, 42-inch pipeline built in 2007 that runs from Superior to Flanagan, Ill, The final links in this tar sands chain have been around for some time. Two pipelines will run nearly 800,000 BPD from Flanagan to Cushing, Oklahoma., where they link up with Enbridge’s 500-mile long Seaway pipeline and its 850,000 BPD capacity “twin.” These pipelines extend all the way to the Gulf Coast.

Two days before Obama’s Keystone rejection, Enbridge announced plans to build import and export facilities at the Gulf of Mexico region. With Congress and President Obama having lifted the United States’ 40-year ban on oil exports in December, Enbridge is now perfectly positioned to export tar sands oil through the Gulf.

Read more here

Photo credit: chesapeakeclimate (Bill McKibben) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (Creative Commons licenses)], via Wikimedia Commons

One Sure Fire Way to Stop Fracking

Corridors of Resistance: Stopping Oil and Gas Pipelines

By Leah Temper

Film Review

Corridors of Resistance is about the inspiring Unisto’ot’en campaign in northwest British Columbia to block the intrusion of oil and gas companies on their territory. This has to be the most effective grassroots challenge I’ve seen to the supposedly unchallengeable oil and gas industry.

Although the Unisto’ot’en never ceded their territory by treaty, British Columbia and the former Harper government illegally granted seven oil and gas companies concessions for ten pipelines. The purpose of the pipelines is to carry tar sands condensate, fracked natural gas and liquefied natural gas to Pacific seaports.

The right of Unisto’ot’en to occupy their unceded traditional lands was recognized by the Canadian high court in 1997.

The Canadian indigenous group isn’t merely protecting their land rights. They also have major concerns about the health and environmental effects of fracking and tar sands mining. Studies show people living adjacent to these activities are dying of cancer and losing livestock owing to air and water contamination. Likewise a pipeline spill or leak could wipe out the salmon and animals they hunt, which would be catastrophic to their survival.

The Unisto’ot’en also worry about Canada’s excessive reliance on fossil fuels and the threat it poses to climate stability.

Many “colonized” (ie city dwelling) Unisto’ot’en, as well as European supporters, are moving back to their traditional land to help maintain the blockade.

My favorite part is the scenes in which Unist’ot’en women confront oil and gas workers who attempt to enter their territory and turn them away.

America’s Favorite Billionaires

The Koch Brothers Exposed

Robert Greenwald (2014)

Film Review

The Koch Brothers Exposed examines the myriad of ways America’s favorite billionaires are using their inherited wealth to make themselves the dominant players in the US political system.

Their father Fred Koch made his fortune in the 1920s by helping Stalin establish the Soviet oil industry. On his death, Charles and David Koch used their inheritance to found Koch industries, the second largest privately* held corporation in the US. It has holdings in oil and gas, coal, paper products, plastic and consumer goods.

Koch Industries is notorious for breaking environmental laws (and other crimes, such as stealing 2 million barrels of oil from Indian reservations**). They have paid millions in fines in seven states for criminal pollution. Thanks to their generous campaign donation, George W Bush reduced the 97 counts in one federal indictment to one count – lowering their fine from $370 to $20 million.

Their Georgia Pacific plant in Crossett Louisiana, which discharges toxic chemicals to natural streams (illegal under the Clean Water Act), is responsible for more than a dozen cancer deaths. Yet instead of stopping the toxic discharges and cleaning up the streams, the Koch brothers bribe Republican politicians (through campaign donations and other perks) to weaken and discredit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the entity responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act.

Determined to roll back the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the minimum wage, labor rights, electoral financing reform, environmental protection laws and federal and state workplace safety laws, the brothers have spent more than $80 million creating and funding conservative and libertarian think tanks and Astroturf organizations – such as Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party. They are also the primary funders, along with Exxon, of the climate denial movement.

They provided the financial backing in the Citizens United case***, in addition to sponsoring the attendance of two Supreme Court justices at an Americans for Prosperity conference. The prior involvement of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in this Koch brothers group posed a clear conflict of interest. Both had an ethical and legal obligation to recuse themselves. Obviously they didn’t.

The Koch brothers are also major funders and backers of Canada’s tar sands industry and the Keystone pipeline, as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The latter writes model legislation for state legislators to use in creating vote suppression, labor rights and workplace safety legislation, as well as laws promoting anti-immigrant campaigns and prison privatization.

Meanwhile the Koch Foundation uses educational grants to over 150 cash-strapped colleges and universities to influence their educational policies. The grants are always conditional, ie dependent on hiring professors who share the Koch brothers conservative philosophy.


*A privately owned corporation is one in which partners provide the capital and share the profits, as opposed to publicly owned corporations in which shareholders provide the capital and share in the profits.
**Charles and David’s younger brother Bill blew the whistle on this operation in 1999.
***Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a constitutional law case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations and labor unions. According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, a major agenda behind the decision was to retroactively decriminalize extensive past donations the Koch brothers had already made to Republican campaigns – in other words to keep them out of jail.

Resist or Die

END:CIV Resist or Die

2011, directed by Franklin Lopez

Film Review

According to the promo, END:CIV “examines our culture’s systemic addiction to violence and environmental exploitation.”

The title is drawn from Pac Man, an arcade came that first came out in 1980. In one of the world’s first video games, the player guides Pac Man, a small faceless mouth, through a maze while he devours Pac Dots and tries to escape blob monsters. The first three minutes of END:CIV superimpose a Pac Man game over images of old growth clear cuts, belching smokestacks, factory hog farms, wild fires, hurricanes and the US military’s ruthless killing machine. The sequence ends as a gigantic “GAME OVER” flashes across the screen.

The film is based on the Endgame, the best selling two volume book Derrick Jensen published in 2006. In Endgame, Jensen argues that mankind urgently needs to bring down “civilization” before it destroys the planet. He bases his case on twenty basic premises he lists at the beginning of both volumes. The film END:CIV examines four of them.

Premise 1 – industrialized civilization has never been and will never be sustainable, mainly because it’s based on non-renewable resources.

The film, like Jensen’s book, traces the rise of cities, which by necessity steal resources from distant regions and eventually denude the entire landscape of those resources. After making the case that the corporate elite are mindlessly and voraciously consuming an ever increasing amount of energy, land, water and other resources, the filmmaker reminds us that we live on a finite planet. He then argues that corporations will most likely continue this greedy consumption until everything is used up – or until we stop them.

Premise 2 – A major focus of industrialized civilization has been to destroy indigenous communities by force – because they don’t willingly allow the confiscation of their natural and mineral resources. A corollary of Premise 2 is that without its heavy reliance on violence, industrial civilization would collapse.

In an cameo from a public forum, Jensen explains that much of violence is invisible and a matter of conditioning. He gives the example of the cop who will pull a gun and drag you to jail if you don’t pay your rent or satisfy your hunger by eating off grocery shelves. Yet we are all indoctrinated to believe that people must pay for the right to exist on this planet.

The film goes on to criticize the main message put out by the nonprofit environmental movement: that people can remedy pervasive violence, resource theft and exploitation by making politically correct purchases.

In the view of Jensen and other activists featured in the film, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Forest Ethics and similar “eco-bureaucracies” have essentially sold out by making preservation of the global economy more important than saving the planet.

This section is also highly critical of the dogmatic opposition of the environmental movement towards violent resistance. Jensen does a great send up of the movie Star Wars. In his version, the rebels don’t destroy Darth Vader by blowing up the death star. Instead they promote eco-tours and Fair Trade products from endangered planets and send waves of compassion and loving kindness towards Darth Vader, while locking themselves down on his ship. They also vote to condemn and exclude the renegades who propose to blow up the death star – for allowing themselves to be contaminated by Darth Vader’s culture of violence.

Premise 3 – the culture (of industrialized society) as a whole and most of its inhabitants are insane.

The section points out that, contrary to popular belief, no combination of fossil or alternative fuels will allow us to continue our current “happy motoring” society. It focuses on Alberta’s insane tar sands project, the most environmentally destructive enterprise in history.

Premise 4 – from the beginning, the culture of civilization has been a culture of occupation.

The film ends with a brief overview of the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the final scene, Jensen poses the provocative and disarming question:

“If your homeland was invaded by aliens who cut down the forests, poisoned the water and air and contaminated your food supply, at what point would you resist?”