Fracking: Our Experience Is Not An Abstraction

Fracking: Our Experience Is Not An Abstraction

Reporting from amidst fields of fracking wells in Colorado, Trinity La Fay writes about the conscious experience of being in relationship to the place she lives, and the disconnect between people and land needed to maintain the destruction.

Experience Is Not An Abstraction

by Trinity La Fey

On the Colorado Rising website, the maps of oil and gas rigs light up the area just above where I live, past my friend’s house halfway up the state, all the way up and out along the plain in a great sweep.  Like some demented statistical X, the active wells appear in a sea of blue dots: the abandoned wells.  Combined, they swarm completely around the jagged Rocky Mountains, a rising, desperate sea of exploitation.

I remember when the word fracking was used as a supplemental television curse.  The way that they said it seemed perfect, as if they understood that it was a primary contributing source of the doom.  The story was about a people who, ejected from a poisonous Earth, had colonized in space only to be pursued repeatedly by a predatory cybernetic race. A race they had created. I think stories are important.  So does Joseph Campbell, but, as Mary Daly quotes him regarding child victims of sati (the Hindu practice of burning widows alive in the funeral pyres of their late husbands):

“In spite of these signs of suffering and even panic in the actual moment of the pain of suffocation, we should certainly not think the mental state and experience of these individuals after any model of our own more or less imaginable reactions to such a fate, for these sacrifices were not properly individuals at all.”

While I have visions of flickering relatives keening at the river’s edge, smell burning hair, feel the air being sucked from my lungs: he does not imagine their stories are relevant to his experiences.

So, harrumph.

Scrolling out on the Drilling site, I see that we, at least, have the resistance of Mountain Range.

Texas; Oklahoma; Louisiana; Mississippi; Kansas; Michigan; the border between North Dakota and Montana. Just about every square inch from Cleveland, Ohio to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Charleston, West Virginia: like fire, the red dots blend.  The names of places are all but erased behind them.  I cannot see Arkansas written, but I know it is there.  From Pennsylvania’s border with New York; all the way down California; all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico to the ice of the Beaufort Sea.

From the Great Lakes down to the Rio Grande; like a ring of fire around the coast of South America, like accidents waiting to happen from the Gulf of Oman to the Barents Sea; like sinking islands from the Arabian Sea to the Yellow Sea to the Tasman Sea. From the North to the South Pacific: companies know no boundaries.

The beneficiaries of these companies, the responsible, I wonder if they learn these names.

I wonder if they are all unreachably psychopathic, or stupid, or if it matters.  The dead squirrel on the road; the stoodup friend; the barren landscape full of ghosts: to their experience, it does not matter if it was cruelty or carelessness.

Besides making it possible to set aflame the now undrinkable water that results from such enterprise, whose footage abounds online, Elementa, Science of the Anthropocene, hosts a special collection forum of “Oil and Natural Gas Development: Air Quality, Climate Science and Policy” wherein an article by Chelsea R Thompson, Jacques Hueber and Detlev Helmig, entitled Influence of oil and gas emissions on ambient atmospheric non-methane hydrocarbons in residential areas of Northeastern Colorado discusses ozone levels and calls it abstract.

Like Paul R. EhrlichPaul R. Ehrlich and Carl Sagan in The Cold and The Dark: The World After Nuclear War, everyone agrees that this is not working.  Unlike that pivotal conference, however, modern realizations are lost in a desperate sea of distractions.  Here is what The Cold and The Dark said abstractly:

“- survivors would face starvation [as] global disruption of the biosphere could ensue. In any event, there would be severe consequences, even in the areas not affected directly, because of the interdependence of the world economy. In either case the extinction of a large fraction of the Earth’s animals, plants, and microorganisms seems possible. The population size of Homo sapiens conceivably could be reduced to prehistoric levels or below, and extinction of the human species itself cannot be excluded.”

Boundaries are underrated.

According to me. Lots of people like to travel; I’m not into it.  I have fallen in love with every landscape I’ve seen, but then, I didn’t get to know them.  I live in a hard place that I know very well.  Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson have a wonderful conversation during which they speak about the necessity of listening to the Others that are places to care for and live with them, and also the joy of being of a place: the intimacy that comes from noticing what cannot be observed in passing.  It can be argued that Amber is ancient light that has been stored and that Jet is ancient darkness.  Like Saga, they keep our stories.  Shale; Oil; Gas; Tar: these exhumed ancestors seem to bellow as they burn that we wake sleeping titans at our peril.  Or, as the article put it:

“The findings presented here suggest that oil and gas emissions have a large-scale regional impact on ambient [non methane hydrocarbons] levels, thereby impacting a large population of [-] residents, and representing a large area source of ozone precursors. The short-chain alkanes exhibit strong correlations with propane in Erie/Longmont, Platteville, and within Denver, supporting the conclusion of widespread impact of [oil and natural gas] emissions.”

They recommend further monitoring.

Trinity La Fey is a smith of many crafts, has been a small business creatrix since 2020; published author; appeared in protests since 2003, poetry performances since 2001; officiated public ceremony since 1999; and participated in theatrical performances since she could get people to sit still in front of her.

References and/or Suggested Reading:

Featured image: fracking in progress by Joshua Doubek, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

My Message to the Western World: Your Civilization is Killing Life on Earth

My Message to the Western World: Your Civilization is Killing Life on Earth

We Indigenous people are fighting to save the Amazon, but the whole planet is in trouble because you do not respect it

by Nemonte Nenquimo / Originally published in The Guardian, Oct. 12 2020

Featured image: Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo shows evidence of crude oil contamination in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. Photograph: Mitch Anderson / Amazon Frontlines 

Dear presidents of the nine Amazonian countries and to all world leaders that share responsibility for the plundering of our rainforest,

My name is Nemonte Nenquimo. I am a Waorani woman, a mother, and a leader of my people. The Amazon rainforest is my home. I am writing you this letter because the fires are raging still. Because the corporations are spilling oil in our rivers. Because the miners are stealing gold (as they have been for 500 years), and leaving behind open pits and toxins. Because the land grabbers are cutting down primary forest so that the cattle can graze, plantations can be grown and the white man can eat. Because our elders are dying from coronavirus, while you are planning your next moves to cut up our lands to stimulate an economy that has never benefited us. Because, as Indigenous peoples, we are fighting to protect what we love – our way of life, our rivers, the animals, our forests, life on Earth – and it’s time that you listened to us.

In each of our many hundreds of different languages across the Amazon, we have a word for you – the outsider, the stranger. In my language, WaoTededo, that word is “cowori”. And it doesn’t need to be a bad word. But you have made it so. For us, the word has come to mean (and in a terrible way, your society has come to represent): the white man that knows too little for the power that he wields, and the damage that he causes.

You are probably not used to an Indigenous woman calling you ignorant and, less so, on a platform such as this. But for Indigenous peoples it is clear: the less you know about something, the less value it has to you, and the easier it is to destroy. And by easy, I mean: guiltlessly, remorselessly, foolishly, even righteously. And this is exactly what you are doing to us as Indigenous peoples, to our rainforest territories, and ultimately to our planet’s climate.

It took us thousands of years to get to know the Amazon rainforest. To understand her ways, her secrets, to learn how to survive and thrive with her. And for my people, the Waorani, we have only known you for 70 years (we were “contacted” in the 1950s by American evangelical missionaries), but we are fast learners, and you are not as complex as the rainforest.

When you say that the oil companies have marvellous new technologies that can sip the oil from beneath our lands like hummingbirds sip nectar from a flower, we know that you are lying because we live downriver from the spills. When you say that the Amazon is not burning, we do not need satellite images to prove you wrong; we are choking on the smoke of the fruit orchards that our ancestors planted centuries ago.

When you say that you are urgently looking for climate solutions, yet continue to build a world economy based on extraction and pollution, we know you are lying because we are the closest to the land, and the first to hear her cries.

I never had the chance to go to university, and become a doctor, or a lawyer, a politician, or a scientist. My elders are my teachers. The forest is my teacher. And I have learned enough (and I speak shoulder to shoulder with my Indigenous brothers and sisters across the world) to know that you have lost your way, and that you are in trouble (though you don’t fully understand it yet) and that your trouble is a threat to every form of life on Earth.

You forced your civilisation upon us and now look where we are: global pandemic, climate crisis, species extinction and, driving it all, widespread spiritual poverty. In all these years of taking, taking, taking from our lands, you have not had the courage, or the curiosity, or the respect to get to know us. To understand how we see, and think, and feel, and what we know about life on this Earth.

I won’t be able to teach you in this letter, either. But what I can say is that it has to do with thousands and thousands of years of love for this forest, for this place. Love in the deepest sense, as reverence. This forest has taught us how to walk lightly, and because we have listened, learned and defended her, she has given us everything: water, clean air, nourishment, shelter, medicines, happiness, meaning. And you are taking all this away, not just from us, but from everyone on the planet, and from future generations.

It is the early morning in the Amazon, just before first light: a time that is meant for us to share our dreams, our most potent thoughts. And so I say to all of you: the Earth does not expect you to save her, she expects you to respect her. And we, as Indigenous peoples, expect the same.

Nemonte Nenquimo is cofounder of the Indigenous-led nonprofit organisation Ceibo Alliance, the first female president of the Waorani organisation of Pastaza province and one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world.

90 corporations responsible for 66% of climate change emissions

By Suzanne Goldenberg / The Guardian

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.

The analysis, which was welcomed by the former vice-president Al Gore as a “crucial step forward” found that the vast majority of the firms were in the business of producing oil, gas or coal, found the analysis, which has been published in the journal Climatic Change.

“There are thousands of oil, gas and coal producers in the world,” climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado said. “But the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”

Half of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years – well past the date when governments and corporations became aware that rising greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal and oil were causing dangerous climate change.

Many of the same companies are also sitting on substantial reserves of fossil fuel which – if they are burned – puts the world at even greater risk of dangerous climate change.

Climate change experts said the data set was the most ambitious effort so far to hold individual carbon producers, rather than governments, to account.

The United Nations climate change panel, the IPCC, warned in September that at current rates the world stood within 30 years of exhausting its “carbon budget” – the amount of carbon dioxide it could emit without going into the danger zone above 2C warming. The former US vice-president and environmental champion, Al Gore, said the new carbon accounting could re-set the debate about allocating blame for the climate crisis.

Leaders meeting in Warsaw for the UN climate talks this week clashed repeatedly over which countries bore the burden for solving the climate crisis – historic emitters such as America or Europe or the rising economies of India and China.

Gore in his comments said the analysis underlined that it should not fall to governments alone to act on climate change.

“This study is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the evolution of the climate crisis. The public and private sectors alike must do what is necessary to stop global warming,” Gore told the Guardian. “Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution.”

Between them, the 90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751 to 2010, amounting to about 914 gigatonne CO2 emissions, according to the research. All but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.

The list of 90 companies included 50 investor-owned firms – mainly oil companies with widely recognised names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP , and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton.

Some 31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom and Norway’s Statoil.

Nine were government run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland, the host of this week’s talks.

Experts familiar with Heede’s research and the politics of climate change said they hoped the analysis could help break the deadlock in international climate talks.

“It seemed like maybe this could break the logjam,” said Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard. “There are all kinds of countries that have produced a tremendous amount of historical emissions that we do not normally talk about. We do not normally talk about Mexico or Poland or Venezuela. So then it’s not just rich v poor, it is also producers v consumers, and resource rich v resource poor.”

Michael Mann, the climate scientist, said he hoped the list would bring greater scrutiny to oil and coal companies’ deployment of their remaining reserves. “What I think could be a game changer here is the potential for clearly fingerprinting the sources of those future emissions,” he said. “It increases the accountability for fossil fuel burning. You can’t burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it.”

Others were less optimistic that a more comprehensive accounting of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions would make it easier to achieve the emissions reductions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

John Ashton, who served as UK’s chief climate change negotiator for six years, suggested that the findings reaffirmed the central role of fossil fuel producing entities in the economy.

“The challenge we face is to move in the space of not much more than a generation from a carbon-intensive energy system to a carbonneutral energy system. If we don’t do that we stand no chance of keeping climate change within the 2C threshold,” Ashton said.

“By highlighting the way in which a relatively small number of large companies are at the heart of the current carbon-intensive growth model, this report highlights that fundamental challenge.”

Meanwhile, Oreskes, who has written extensively about corporate-funded climate denial, noted that several of the top companies on the list had funded the climate denial movement.

“For me one of the most interesting things to think about was the overlap of large scale producers and the funding of disinformation campaigns, and how that has delayed action,” she said.

The data represents eight years of exhaustive research into carbon emissions over time, as well as the ownership history of the major emitters.

The companies’ operations spanned the globe, with company headquarters in 43 different countries. “These entities extract resources from every oil, natural gas and coal province in the world, and process the fuels into marketable products that are sold to consumers on every nation on Earth,” Heede writes in the paper.

The largest of the investor-owned companies were responsible for an outsized share of emissions. Nearly 30% of emissions were produced just by the top 20 companies, the research found.

By Heede’s calculation, government-run oil and coal companies in the former Soviet Union produced more greenhouse gas emissions than any other entity – just under 8.9% of the total produced over time. China came a close second with its government-run entities accounting for 8.6% of total global emissions.

ChevronTexaco was the leading emitter among investor-owned companies, causing 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to date, with Exxon not far behind at 3.2%. In third place, BP caused 2.5% of global emissions to date.

The historic emissions record was constructed using public records and data from the US department of energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Centre, and took account of emissions all along the supply chain.

The centre put global industrial emissions since 1751 at 1,450 gigatonnes.

From The Guardian:

Ecuador’s highest court upholds $9 billion fine against Chevron for ecocide and genocide

Ecuador’s highest court upholds $9 billion fine against Chevron for ecocide and genocide

By Amazon Watch

In a major setback for Chevron, the Ecuadorian National Court issued its long-awaited decision in favor of a $9 billion pollution judgment against Chevron upholding and affirming lower court rulings. The court’s decision is final.

In its 222-page opinion, the supreme court affirmed earlier decisions by a Lago Agrio court and the appellate court for $9 billion but rejected the additional $9 billion in punitive damages previously imposed for not apologizing, given that provision is not explicitly permitted in Ecuadorian law. The supreme court also lamented the plaintiffs waiting 20 years for justice and attributed this largely to delaying tactics by Chevron. This ruling constitutes a landmark case for corporate responsibility.

“This is an extraordinary, unprecedented triumph for indigenous and local communities over one of the world’s worst polluters,” said Donald Moncayo, a representative from the Amazon Defense Coalition for 30,000 Ecuadorian rainforest villagers and plaintiffs, who was in New York to testify in a retaliatory lawsuit filed by Chevron against lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Ecuador case.

Meanwhile, at the trial in New York, Judge Kaplan repeatedly assisted Chevron in intimidating and attacking key Ecuadorian witnesses and the defendant’s legal team.

In the retaliatory RICO lawsuit, Moncayo was subjected to a lengthy cross-examination by Chevron, after which Judge Kaplan ordered him to turn over a copy of his hard drive to the court.

Christopher Gowen, a legal ethics professor at American University Washington College of Law, was present in court and commented, “Watching an American judge threaten a foreigner in an American court with criminal penalties without the advice of counsel on a highly questionable court order defies everything our justice system stands for.”

“Ecuador’s supreme court has given careful consideration to each of Chevron’s conspiratorial claims, and has rejected them one-by-one,” said Han Shan, spokesperson for legal team representing the Ecuadorian Villagers. “While the company’s complaints have found a sympathetic ear in Judge Kaplan’s courtroom, the fact remains that Chevron has been found liable by the court it fought to have the case heard by, and that decision has now been upheld at the highest level.”

“We witnessed outrageous abuse of power by the very pro-Chevron Judge Kaplan and there was nearly no mainstream media and no cameras to capture it,” said Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch. “This can only have a chilling effect on the willingness of witnesses in human rights cases to come forth to provide facts and pertinent information in an impartial setting where they are not going to feel threatened.”

The Ecuadorians and their supporters have called for an end to Chevron’s retaliatory lawsuit and the ongoing “rigged show trial” before Judge Kaplan, who has displayed outright hostility to the Ecuadorians’ legal efforts to demand a cleanup. Judge Kaplan has also made repeated disparaging on the record comments about Ecuador’s judicial system.

Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, forcing the communities to pursue the oil giant’s assets around the world through enforcement actions currently underway in Brazil, Argentina and Canada.

Texaco operated in Ecuador until 1992, and Chevron absorbed the company in 2001, assuming all of its predecessor’s assets and liabilities. Chevron has admitted to dumping nearly 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams relied upon by thousands of people for drinking, bathing, and fishing. The company also abandoned hundreds of unlined, open waste pits filled with crude, sludge, and oil drilling chemicals throughout the inhabited rainforest region. Multiple independent health studies have shown an epidemic of oil-related birth defects, cancers, and other illness.

From Amazon Watch:

Activists shut down first US tar sands mine project

Activists shut down first US tar sands mine project

By Christopher Smart / The Salt Lake Tribune

Several environmental groups protesting tar sands development in the Book Cliffs region of southeast Utah stopped work Monday on a road that will serve a strip mine to be operated by Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands.

Celia Alario, a spokeswoman for Canyon Country Rising Tide and Peaceful Uprising, said dozens of protesters had peacefully stopped road building on Seep Ridge Road and also interrupted mining operations at the East Tavaputs Plateau site. Protesters surrounded heavy equipment and, in some cases, chained themselves to it, she said.

No one was arrested or cited, said Uintah County Chief Deputy Sheriff John Laursen. He confirmed that 50 to 60 protesters halted road work and, for a time, closed the county road.

“Mostly we just wanted to make sure no one got hurt,” Laursen said.

The CEO of U.S. Oil Sands said his company is not building the road. It does, however, have a small test mine at the site but is not now producing oil. In a telephone interview, Cameron Todd said the oil sands mining operation is scheduled to ramp up in 2014.

The protest came after a week-long training camp that brought environmentalists to Utah from around the region for instruction in nonviolent, civil disobedience, according to a statement released by the organizations.

“The devastating consequence of dirty energy extraction knows no borders,” said Emily Stock, a Grand County resident and organizer with Canyon Country Rising Tide. “We stand together to protect and defend the rights of all communities, human and non-human.”

The U.S. Oil Sands CEO said he would not respond to the environmentalists’ claims.

“There is a [county] road contractor that is using our site as a staging area,” Todd explained. “I feel sorry for the contractor.”

Uintah County had long planned improvements on Seep Ridge Road, said Cheri McCurdy, executive director of the county’s Transportation Special Service District.

Public hearings on the Environmental Assessment were held in May 2009. The BLM gave approval for the road expansion in 2011. The road will serve the general public, ranchers, recreationists and energy companies, she said.

U.S. Oil Sands has received all the required regulatory permits to mine for tar sands in the region, according to a spokeswoman for the Utah School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which is leasing the land to the Canadian interest.

“They are generating money for public schools,” said Deena Loyola. “That’s our legislative mandate.”

Currently, tar sands from mining operations in Alberta, Canada, are being refined in Salt Lake City by Chevron Corp.

Members of the environmental coalition have not planned any activities for the remainder of the week, Alario said. But they do expect to organize future protests on the East Tavaputs Plateau, and other energy extraction sites.

From The Salt Lake Tribune: