In my new film, To the Ends of the Earth, I document the current scramble for extreme energy, also known as unconventional sources of oil and gas, and their environmental, economic, and social impact.
To complete this documentary, I’ve spent the past three years travelling far and wide. I visited the Arctic Circle, on Baffin Island, to investigate the effects of oil exploration on marine mammals and the Inuit people. I also travelled to some of the most remote parts of northern B.C. and the Midwest of the United States, to tell the stories of people on the front lines of the battle against fracking for gas.
When you’re making a film like this, you often have to take physical risks to get a shot, and deal with security forces working for industry. Whether there’s a law against it or not, these companies often don’t want the scrutiny that comes with their operations and facilities being captured on film.
I learned this lesson the hard way while filming the Burnaby Mountain protests against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline last fall.
During the height of the protests, I decided to use my drone camera to film the Kinder Morgan Westridge Marine Terminal, at the foot of Burnaby Mountain. Kinder Morgan staff called in my licence plate and the next day I had an RCMP national security anti-terrorism unit show up at my door.
I wasn’t home, but they left a card and the next day we had a phone call, which I recorded.
“What you are doing could be seen as a precursor to terrorist behavior,” the officer said to me. I countered this startling statement with a question: Had there ever been an eco-terrorist attack in Canadian history that had resulted in loss of life or property damage? He replied with an example from the 1980s, a group called the “Squamish Five”. I found it amusing that he had to go back to the 1980s, when I was young, to find a compelling example.
The fact that the specter of “eco-terrorism” haunts our governments and big corporations tells you something about the current era.
In the film I feature an economist’s tool known as the resource pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, energy is easy to find, cheap to get, doesn’t require a lot of labour and energy—but as you move down the pyramid everything becomes more difficult, more costly, and it’s a sign that you need to begin some sort of transition.
This transition has been geological—we have moved from free-flowing conventional oil to the heavy, dirty stuff like bitumen—but it has also been social. With this descent down the resource pyramid has come conflict and resistance against oil projects never before seen in North American history. Deborah Rogers, a financial analyst specializing in unconventional oil and gas that I interviewed in Texas, quantifies the costs of this to the industry: “Since 2011 we estimated that pipeline delays due to activism cost the industry about $19 billion.” Far from being an easily dismissed fringe element in society, “Blockadia”, to use Naomi Klein’s term (she appears in my film) is a force to be reckoned with.
On Burnaby Mountain, we saw a hint of the moral and political power of Blockadia. That kind of popular protest is a great threat to these big corporations profiting off of extreme energy. Obviously they consider a filmmaker documenting it all to be a real threat.
The scariest thing is that this happened back in November 2014, when Bill C-51 was still just a crazed Conservative idea, a bill in the early stages of its development, not yet tabled in the House of Commons. What will happen when it is in full force? Will the act of civil disobedience, or even the act of filmmaking, become an act of high treason?
Democracy: that’s a concept we can all get behind. I hope we can all get behind the idea before it slips out of our grasp in Canada today.