A climate discussion that focuses solely on carbon emissions gives the impression that the climate measures envisaged by governments will soon really hurt the fossil fuel industry. But focusing solely on CO2 is a choice that the industry itself has made as the lesser of two evils. International carbon trading can be corrupted to create yet another source of profit, and it is a perfect distraction from the other downsides of fossil fuels, which continue to destroy habitats and livelihoods unabated.
Fossil fuels such as crude oil or natural gas are not simply “discovered,” then extracted by a cute little drilling rig and miraculously transported directly to the petrol pump or our heating tank. There is no good “oil fairy,” only a huge and complex infrastructure, and it is anything but “clean” in every section.
Let us look at the three other destructive aspects of the oil industry that should never be forgotten in any discussion of greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, nitrous oxide N2O, and fluorinated gases).
The problems created by fossil fuels already begin with the search parties – and their financing. The “discovery” of deposits may sound noble and pioneering, but it is a huge business in itself, one in which oil companies and banks, but above all governments, invest billions. The governments of the G20, for example, spend an estimated 88 billion dollars a year on subsidising the exploration of oil deposits. *(1)
“Investing” is the right term for the energy and financial corporations, because they will recoup many times their expenses as profits. But for governments and taxpayers, “investing in fossil fuels” means the opposite: governments give the corporations tax money that they never see again, and what the fossil giants then “recoup” in profits comes directly from the pockets of the little people, of course.
No matter. The main thing is to drive up the gross national product and economic growth, because that is the religion in disguise of our time.
After “investment,” “exploration” is the next euphemism. Already the seismic exploration of new oil and gas fields under the seabed reveals all the brutality and nefariousness of our extractivist economy:
“Pneumatic guns (air guns) and explosives create low frequency sounds (beneath 100Hz) to provide single pulses or continuous sweeps of energy which generate seismic waves to probe deep into the seabed. Air guns with up to 250 decibels are about one thousand times louder than a ship engine, and tear everything in their vicinity to tatters. In the Arctic, seismic exploration for oil and gas is nonstop. And if a site tests positive the arrival of the oil rig will bring permanent noise pollution to the marine populations.” (Hageneder 2021, Healthy Planet) https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-healthy-planet
Only military sonar, which leads to mass strandings of whales and dolphins, has a more drastic impact.
The constant noise from oil rigs, supply ships and oil tankers is torture for countless marine creatures, most of which have very sensitive hearing. Seals, for example, are at times virtually deafened by noisy shipping lanes. In addition, the whiskers of seals are tactile sensors that help the animals to “see,” dive and hunt even in the dark. Their whiskers vibrate at frequencies of 100-300 Hz, a frequency band that is nowadays heavily drowned out by the engine noise of ships and oil rigs.
Destruction of habitat and livelihoods
Then comes the next phase, “extraction” (at least this term is honest). As I said, it doesn’t work with a cute little rig like in the Lucky Luke comic. The mega-machine of our extractivist economy is rolling along as if colonising a newly discovered planet. First, the respective local government agencies – in countries of the global south often also the army and/or criminal clearance squads hired through shell companies – are allowed to drive out the locals and destroy the flora and fauna.
Then the actual seizure begins. Perhaps no one has described this more vividly than Alex Perry in his literary opus about Mozambique (the once idyllic country on the east coast of Africa, opposite Madagascar). The province of Cabo Delgado in the north of the country was characterised by hundreds of kilometres of forest, beaches and mud-hut villages barely connected to the world. Then came the turning point:
“But in 2010, a group of Texas prospectors announced that they had found one of the world’s largest natural-gas fields just offshore, and in 2019, TotalEnergies, the French oil and gas giant, and Exxon-Mobil unveiled plans to spend a respective $20 billion and $30 billion developing it, making Palma the location of the single biggest foreign investment in Africa. The project would happen in two phases. First, 16,370 acres on the Afungi peninsula, south of Palma, were to be cleared of farms and villages, then enclosed in two parallel 12-foot-tall fences, inside of which contractors built a port, an airport, a street grid, a power station, and a water plant, along with an ER, a cafeteria, a bar, a gym, and hundreds of en suite cabins for Total’s managers, arranged in rows, connected by covered walkways, and strung with streetlights. Next, huge tracts outside Afungi would be transformed into half a dozen giant workers’ camps—thousands of four-bed cabins, plus communal washrooms and mess halls—to sleep a labor force of 15,000.”
“In a place with one paved road, one cell tower, a market, a few basic clinics, almost no electricity, and a handful of backpacker hostels, that meant building a whole new town from scratch.”
All over the country, contractors, transporters and most roughnecks saw the “project” as a golden goose. 50 billion dollars for “development” in a poor country unleashed a hell of competition, bribery and social strife. Dear readers, do not believe for a moment that the age of colonialism and slavery ever ended.
“But the resource curse also lives on today in deals between extractive industries and many of the world’s most repressive and corrupt regimes, under which corporations pay billions to governments, or individual ministers, to tap a land’s natural wealth but reward the people who live above it with $200-a-month laborer and security jobs, if anything at all.”
Resistance among the local population has been taken over by a militant Islamist group. Interestingly, the English Wikipedia entry on Cabo Delgado only mentions terrorism by “Islamist extremists,” but does not say a word about the oil industry there.
Read Alex Perry’s full article here. *(2) https://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/exploration-survival/attack-amarula-hotel-palma-mozambique-africa/?utm_source=pocket-newtab-global-en-GB
The manifold and serious contamination of the ecosphere of our planet begins not only with the combustion, but already with the “extraction” of crude oil and natural gas. But apart from the super-disasters – like BP’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico more recently – which are pretty much the only ones that ever make the headlines, we hardly ever hear about these local and regional catastrophes.
The number of accidents and leaks in the extraction, transport and processing of fossil fuels is gigantic. And not only in the Soviet Union, as Western media repeatedly emphasised programmatically during the Cold War, but also in the motherland of the oil mania, the USA.
According to Statista, there were over 43,000 “incidents” on US pipelines in 2020, *(3) Reuters talks of $4 billion dollars in damages and 122 deaths (in that order) over 11 years (2010–2021), *(4) and the Center for Biological Diversity reveals that in the US since 1986 “pipeline spills have averaged 76,000 barrels per year, or more than 3 million gallons. This is equivalent to 200 barrels per day. ” *(5) (200 barrels is over 32,000 litres.)
No wonder the protests against the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline have so adamantly persevered for years. But wait, what am I saying?!? The Standing Rock protests *(6) have hardly been reported in the media of some countries (e.g. Germany)! You might have to look at the Guardian or certain American media. *(7)
Video: Americas Dangerous Pipelines
Animated video on reported pipeline accidents in the USA 1986–2013
And this is what is happening on homeground! Far away, where no one is looking, things are much worse, e.g. in Nigeria. The Institute for Security Studies sums it up: “The Niger Delta in southern Nigeria is one of the most polluted places on Earth. Decades of spillages from over 50 years of oil operations continue to erode local communities’ health, well-being, and livelihoods.” *(8) Data shows that “of the almost 6,000 confirmed crude oil spillages recorded in these states since 2006, 32% occurred after 2016. “
While much of this is due to militant groups and organised crime, this civil chaos has only emerged after Big Oil destroyed the social, environmental and economic fabric of the region. Finally, the time has begun when corporations are held accountable for ecocide (more about this in Part 1). On 29 January 2021, the Court of Appeal in The Hague ruled that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary had violated human and environmental rights and was responsible for the consequences of two oil spills in Nigeria. *(9) A1
Another example from hell is Kuwait. When the Iraqi invasion set oil wells on fire, it took expert teams months to put them out again. The initial plume of smoke stretched for 800 miles. 11 million barrels of crude oil poured into the Persian Gulf and created a slick nine miles long. Nearly 300 oil lakes formed on the desert floor. And now, 30 years later, Kuwait is still at a loss as to who should clean up the 19 million cubic metres of contaminated sand. *(10)
And even when volatile substances are safely and quietly stored in refineries or tanks and outside crisis areas, the supposedly well-sealed containers are leaking and allowing vast amounts of methane, a gas that is over 80 times more harmful to the climate than CO2, to escape. The New York Times has published an astonishing picture report on this. *(11)
Another issue is radioactivity. Year after year, the fossil industry unleashes more radioactive contamination than nuclear power.
Petroleum and its products and wastes are among the significant sources of naturally occurring radioactive substances that are brought up from the depths with them. Fracking of underground shale rock in particular leaves a radioactive mess. *(12)
Most oil wells produce far more of a toxic salty liquid called brine than actual oil or gas, up to ten times more. And brine is radioactive to varying degrees. Workers in the industry are often not told about the radioactive danger and suffer from cancer or ulcers and skin lesions sooner rather than later in their lives. *(13)
To stem the tidal wave of toxic waste, much of the brine is injected into the earth through injection wells. The rest is deliberately spread on the country’s roads. The industry pawns off radioactive brine to ignorant rural townships, who use the salty solution as a de-icer in winter and to bind dust on dirt roads in summer. It is even spread regularly to roads bordering cornfields, cow pastures or maple syrup trees. *(14)
Other radioactive wastes that the fossil industry generates permanently include drill cuttings, flowback water, pipe scale, sludges, sediments, and filters.
Even the finished products, before and during combustion, are not always free of radioactivity. But health authorities see no danger for consumers from the low radiation levels. Or are the limits set so high, as in mobile phone technology, that they serve industry rather than people’s health? Because, after all, economic growth is the goal to which everything else must be subordinated.
Just how ruthless our extractivist economy and the “free markets” can become and how this now threatens democracy and even the future of humanity, is explored in Part 5.
The fight to take back our planet
Part 2: The fossil fuel industry’s mind-bending strategies (continued)
Part 5: Fossil giants, free trade, and war
Part 6: How the Far Right network rules (not just) the climate debate
Part 7: The shocking extent of the Far Right influence network
Part 8: Climate crisis, corona and conspiracy theories
Part 9: How conspiracy theories only serve one master
Part 10: The “Great Reset” and totalitarianism vs the real green revolution
Fred Hageneder is author of the book “Healthy Planet – Global Meltdown or Global Healing.” https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-healthy-planet