Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Dirty Oil" and "Pipe Dreams" lay out the case against a US switch to Canadian tar sands oil

Today, I attended a session of the 2012 DC Environmental Film Festival (link) at the Carnegie Institution for Science. This was the “Tar Sands Program” presented with the National Resources Defense Council (link).
There were two films directed by Leslie Iwerks.  The feature came first, “Dirty Oil”, 73 min., from 2009, narrated by Neve Campbell.  The film described the gigantic Athabasca oil tar sand dig in northeastern Alberta, strip mining of an area almost that of Florida.  The mining is shallow and there is no “mountaintop removal”. But the potential for environmental damage is enormous.

Nevertheless, young technicians make $100000 a year to live in the latest boomtown, Fort McMurray. For way up north in a Canadian prairie province, the climate looked warm and dry.  The machinery looks like it came out of Star Wars. 

American already “imports” more oil from Canada than the Middle East, the film says. The tar sands project is seen as a way to prevent another Arab oil embargo or Iran crisis. But tar sands mining releases enormous carbon dioxide itself.

Toward the end, the film covered the effect of Canadian oil on the Great Lakes region, as there are more refining jobs, especially in Illinois and Indiana.

One episode showed a doctor in Alberta being railroaded for whistleblowing.

A Canadian official living in Calgary computes his own carbon footprint, and warns that individuals will have to become more aware of their own dependence on oil.

Here’s the website (Babelgum Pictures) for “Dirty Oil”, link

The second film is “Pipe Dreams”, (2011, about 40 minutes, narrated by Daryl Hannah) about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would supplement the original Keystone pipeline. But the XL Pipeline would go through some sensitive areas, especially the Sand Hills on Nebraska, over the Ogallala Aquifer. Trans-Canada tried to force ranchers to sign easements more or less blind, and threatened then with eminent domain suits.  Even though Obama turned down the license of XL early this year, Trans Canada is still continuing to litigate against ranchers.
The film says that the first Keystone project has had 12 leaks, one of which, in North Dakota, was discovered by a rancher and not by the pipeline technology. 

Both films left the impression that future and current oil projects should shut down, and that Americans should go cold turkey until they can depend entirely on renewable resources.

Afterwards, there was a panel discussion with a Native Canadian, a member of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and a Nebraska rancher.   I whimsically asked if we all face having a public “carbon footprint” score like our FICO score. (See this reference).  That could have enormous ramifications for the debate on “social capital” and put enormous pressure on less “socialized” individuals (me) to accept more intrusion from others into their lives. 

The moderator said that a number of people had been arrested at demonstrations against the Keystone XL Pipeline in August.  A quick poll showed about 40 people in the audience (of about 200) standing to indicate they had been arrested at the protest. There had occurred a "hands around the White House" in October.  

 Many audience members were concerned about fracking, which is booming suddenly in Ohio. There was alarm that tar sands, oil shale and fracking projects would occur all over the world.  This population is very determined that the public give up oil.  The moderator felt that the public as a whole had been slow to connect  "dirty oil" to climate change, but said people are starting to connect the dots.  The GOP is really oblivious. 

Note: the domain name "dceff" for the film festival has nothing to do with "eff", Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.  

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