July Film: To the Ends of the Earth
When: Wednesday, July 11, 7:00-8:30 pm Where: Peacock Hall
(2016), 82 minutes
Sustainable Rossmoor will show TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH — a new film about extreme oil extraction deep under the Arctic, from the Alberta tar sands, and from oil shale under at the Colorado River headwaters. This award-winning film is narrated by Emma Thompson and details the environmental problems resulting from the use of extreme oil extraction technologies. It also reveals the struggles of concerned citizens living at the destructive frontiers beyond traditional energy, and interviews those who fight for a different future with environmentally sensitive energy solutions.
In 2005, something unexpected happened, the growth of the traditional fossil fuel energy market stopped. The age of extreme energy was born. Unconventional energy extraction is defined by both the geology and the geography of a resource. All forms are technically difficult, energy intensive (requiring more energy to harvest than traditional methods), expensive, and pose serious environmental risks.
The film bears witness to humanity’s descent further down the “resource pyramid.” At the top of the pyramid, energy is easy to find and cheap, and it requires minimal labor and has the highest capital and energy return on investment (EROI), as in the case of Saudi oil. In the middle of the pyramid, resources are more difficult and costly to extract, as is the case for mining the Alberta tar sands or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. “Drill, baby, drill” has become “mine, baby, mine,” “steam, baby, steam,” and “frack, baby, frack.” At the bottom of the pyramid, there are energy resources such as Utah’s and Colorado’s oil shale, the economic feasibility of which, despite billions in investments, remains uncertain. Extreme energy is much less profitable, and there are diminishing returns on investment.
After 10 years of rather intensive global development,
unconventional resources now comprise 42% of the planet’s energy mix.
In the words of interviewee and author Richard Heinberg, “Given that 95% of all economic transactions in our globalized economy bear the footprint of fossil fuels, does this spell the end of economic growth for our civilization?” We meet the people uniquely positioned to watch this global crossroads unfold, and who are fighting for something different.
The first site of extreme extraction revealed in the film is under the ice . . . at the ends of the earth – the Arctic Sea. The United States Geological Survey has given a 50% probability that there are 90 billion barrels of oil under the Arctic; that’s about 3 years of global energy consumption. With the decline in the price of oil, there has been a decrease in commercial interest, except for those nearby countries whose economies are heavily oil-dependent: Russia, Norway, and Canada. International companies including Chevron and Exxon-Mobile have multiple contracts in the Arctic with these countries.
In Arctic waters, oil exploration starts with seismic testing; large air guns send blasts aimed at the bottom of the ocean to determine the presence of oil. “Aside from nuclear explosions, these are the loudest man-made sounds. These shocks that happen every 12 seconds around the clock for months at a time, can be heard from 3,000 km away —basically over 1/2 of the Atlantic,” reports marine biologist Lindy Weilgart. She has been studying the effects of underwater sounds on whales, dolphins, narwalls, and other sea-life.
We meet the mayor of an Inuit village in Canada’s high Arctic (on Baffin Island) who is concerned that seismic testing for oil in the ocean is blowing out the eardrums of the seals and narwhals that the Inuit hunt to survive. There have been significant die-offs of these animals who are unable to find air holes in the ice or hunt for food when their own sonar systems are compromised. The Inuit people have taken the Canadian government to court for granting permits for seismic testing.
Next, the film tells the story of bitumen and the Albert tar sands oil industry. The Canadian film director, David Lavallee, has experienced first-hand the tragedies of Tar Sands mining. The production of oil there, consumes huge amounts of water and power – more than exists in Alberta. They must frack for natural gas and dam rivers in neighboring provinces for the resources needed to process the dirty tar sands, polluting the territories multi-fold and changing river life forever. It has halted economic growth in the provinces. A new nuclear power plant is planned in Saskatchewan to keep up the pace.
The Alberta Tar Sands are the major source of oil used in the US and is the second largest source of energy production worldwide. It is economically unsustainable.
We learn more about EROI, energy return on investment, by following the money and doing the math. The cost of energy investment to harvest oil more than doubled between 2005 to 2013 at the Tar Sands. This does not include the cost of water, or the dumping of tailings, the destruction of farmland, and so on.
We also learn that the world economy is built on investments dependent on expanding economies. As energy becomes more expensive, an economy built on fossil fuel energies will grind to a halt at some point. It cannot continue expanding. This will happen while there’s plenty of oil still in the ground, but much of the world’s earth, air, and water is fouled beyond repair. We learn about the concept of Degrowth — the slowing of the consumer society that will happen either by design or by disaster.
Burning oil shale, a rock that ignites, is an even more expensive source of energy. It is the resource that exists under the Grand Canyon and similar sites. It’s earned the label “extremely unconventional energy.” It has never shown a net profit.
As is true of every form of extreme extraction, environmental damage is necessary.
As of 2013, 15 million people in the United States lived within 1 mile of a frack well. The number has increased markedly since then. Many million children attend school near frack wells. Typically, after 2 years, the well’s natural gas (methane) production decreases and it is no longer profitable. New wells are then drilled. All wells invariably leak. The methane can be seen from outer space, with the US fracking operations being the worst. Fracking is also extremely thirsty for water, and highly polluting of it. First Nations have been joined by others to fight pipelines, water permits, and port expansions. Natural gas was once heralded as a cleaner source of energy than coal.
The greenhouse footprint of natural gas is two to three times worse the coal
due to methane release into the atmosphere.
Switching to 100% renewable energy will not be enough. For the world to become sustainable, we’ll need to consume less. The film clarifies the economic effects — not just of energy and its extraction, but of growth and also degrowth. We might want to consider slowing of the consumer society by design rather than by disaster.
Watch the 2 minute trailer: http://endsofearthfilm.com/