Dystopian Flames Update for 2020
Updated: Jul 26
What follows are photographs of the photography, jewellery, and zine exhibit called "Dystopian Flames" that ran at my public library for the months of February and May 2019.
One of the main reasons I did the exhibit was to raise public awareness and to force action on the part of government to end the toxic and deadly practise of open oil flaring. I wrote a complementary zine about this that you can read later in this article.
In the display, I wanted to show the juxtaposition of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness that are coinciding on the prairies. I was back in my home area of southeast Saskatchewan in June 2020, and the situation was even more extreme.
Two of the neighbours I wrote about in the zine have died since it was published. The wife of my Dad's childhood friend, who battled cancer for many years, passed away last year. This was followed by our neighbour who had battery operated for a large part of his life. He had a kidney transplant about a year ago but died this June.
I write about the subjects I write about, as ugly and horrifying as they often are, for this reason. There are real people, people who are loved and cherished, being badly affected by these practises. People's health is being damaged, and their lives are being cut short by the toxic and slap-dash practises of the oil industry, as well as many other industries-run-amok on this planet. It has to stop, and corporate criminals must be held accountable for their practises.
There are now five open oil flares within a kilometre radius of where my mother was living and dozens of pumpjacks within a two kilometre radius. Two of the oil flares were directly across the road from her house, visible from her living room window. I've updated the photographs to include these (unfortunate) new developments. The photographs are from three different sites surrounding my family's property.
The Dystopian Flames Library Exhibit - May 2019
Jewellery, zines, and photography can be seen at the Etsy shop.
Planet of concrete challenges, Saturn, is within orb of a conjunction to Hell-ruler Pluto in Capricorn throughout 2020. The exact conjunction between these two bodies occurred a single time on January 12, 2020 at 22 degrees Capricorn. We all know the situation that was planned and carried out to coincide with that one. However, the current media obsession with illness outbreaks around the world is diverting attention from many other emergency situations on this planet. With Saturn and Pluto, now both retrograde in late Capricorn, traveling through the zodiac in conjunction in 2019 and 2020, we are being confronted in our concrete lives and realities with all that has been suppressed, manipulated, lied about, and buried (Pluto) within business, corporations, finance, government, and institutions (Capricorn). Things have been coming to a head on multiple fronts throughout 2019 and 2020 under the slow-burn effects of the Saturn-Pluto conjunction, and the toxicity and violence inherent in many of the structures and hierarchical pyramid-schemes of power on Planet Earth cannot be denied.
Saturn relates to what is real, what is concrete, what is tangible, and as it steps further into the murky, netherworld regions of Pluto, we are faced with real, concrete, and tangible confrontations with some of the hellish scenarios that have been manufactured for us on this planet. These confrontations require some type of effort on our parts in order to liberate ourselves from their weight.
Whatever Plutonic threads are being plucked in your life, I encourage you to follow them to their roots and address them, working toward concrete solutions both in your own personal life and within human society at large. The personal is transpersonal and vice versa.
Saturn conjunct Pluto in Capricorn requires that we work, step-by-step, for our liberation from the many manufactured and manipulated Hell-scenarios currently running amok. It requires that we demand something better, something more honest, something wholly legitimate, and that we do so from right where we stand. Our efforts toward liberation from the muck and the murk are not futile (far from it!), despite what we may have been conditioned to think.
- DYSTOPIAN FLAMES: The True Cost of Oil Production on the Canadian Prairies -
by Willow from Willow's Web Astrology - a 24-page pocket-sized zine on open oil flaring and the release of toxic by-products from oil production, going on across the Canadian prairies
- includes a photojournalism spread from oil sites in southeast Saskatchewan $4.00 plus postage
Please contact me at willowsweb [at] hushmail.com to order, or it is available at the Etsy shop.
All Willow's Web Astrology 'zines can be found here.
These are photographs of open oil flares, well sites, and pumpjacks on and around my parents’ ranch in southeast Saskatchewan. They depict a scene that is very common to see on the prairies. Tens of thousands of open oil flares exist on the Canadian prairies, burning off and releasing toxic by-products of oil production into the surrounding environments, including benzene and other hydrocarbons and heavy metals. Other gases, particularly hydrogen sulfide (H2S), are released from the well sites themselves often in concentrations many times higher than allowable government limits. There is also radioactivity being released from oil well sites. Many well sites and flares are short distances from people’s homes, as there is very little regulation regarding where these can go or how many can exist in a certain area. In many cases, as in southeast Saskatchewan, multiple well sites and flares are clustered into small areas.
I was reprimanded by a battery operator while taking these photographs of a flare on the oil lease. I could tell he was considering confiscating my camera...
I grew up living amidst oil activity. The foul smell of the gases around the well sites was considered something that was normal to live around. We laughed about it as kids when being driven past a particularly rank oil battery or flare.
In recent years, oil drilling has gone on at a frenzied pace in my home area. The first open oil flare on my parents' ranch went in less than a mile south of their house, and it was like a punch to the gut to see this blazing, toxic orange flame on the grassy landscape. It was alien, dystopian, post-apocalyptic looking.
Within seven years, there were three more flares surrounding my parents’ home and a couple dozen pumpjacks. Two of these flares are directly across the road from my parents’ house and can be seen from their living room window.
The quiet of the prairie is no longer. The hellish squeal and moan of pumpjacks is omnipresent.
One of the most deadly gases being released from the oil well sites themselves is hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
Multiple independent audits of wells in the area have shown horrifically high releases, many times higher than allowable government limits.
As reported by the University of Regina journalism school (from which I am a graduate), in a 2015 audit of 43 oil wells in Saskatchewan, poisonous H2S gas was found being released at an average of 30,000 ppm.
The allowable limit for H2S releases is 10 ppm.
The lethal level is considered to be 1,000 ppm.
The highest level of H2S gas found being released in that audit was 150,000 ppm.
The Saskatchewan government claims it has found no regulatory breaches by the oil industry that need to be followed up on by them.
H2S is only one of the toxic by-products being released at well sites. When H2S is burned off in a flare, other toxic substances are released, such as sulfur dioxide. A single flare can release dozens of toxic by-products, including benzene and other hydrocarbons, dioxins, and heavy metals. There is no monitoring of these.
Open oil flares and the releases from well sites have been linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including cancer, autoimmune disorders, heavy metals poisoning, respiratory damage, chemical sensitivity, miscarriages, birth defects, and livestock deaths. Headaches, nausea, and vomiting are commonly experienced after exposure to the gases.
And people live like this. Every day.
They’re getting sick and dying from this.
All around these flares and well sites, in the sparsely-populated surrounding areas, there has developed a cancer cluster as well as an increased incidence of autoimmune disorders and other health problems. Very few neighbouring ranches or farms have not been visited by some devastating health problem at one time or another. As little girls, my sister and I played with another little girl who grew up on a neighbouring ranch. We rode our bikes or walked down the gravel road to her place to play Barbies or to play with new kittens. She developed leukemia when she was 18 years old, received chemotherapy, moved away, and has been cancer-free since. My Dad's childhood friend and his wife lived about ten kilometres from us. His friend's wife developed cancer and has battled it for almost two decades. His friend was diagnosed with cancer more recently, prior to them retiring and moving to town. Another rancher and his wife live a few kilometres to the east, close to a huge flare near the highway. His wife was diagnosed with cancer a number of years ago and has had bouts of chemotherapy since. He suffered from a disorder that involved vertigo and, at times, had a difficult time doing his work.
That man's brother also lives nearby, a rancher and now-retired battery operator. He drove a circuit five days a week as a battery operator, visiting and monitoring multiple oil sites each day. He suffers from arthritis, inflammation likely caused or exacerbated by the chemicals and gases he was exposed to on the job, and is now in kidney failure. My mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia thirty years ago, an autoimmune disorder causing pain, chronic fatigue, and equilibrium problems, among others, and she has suffered with it ever since. She is one of many people in and around the area with fibromyalgia or inflammation/autoimmune disorders like it. The medical establishment, the oil industry, and anyone benefiting from those things would argue there's no connection. That it's all just a bit of bad luck. But I know better.
People are scared to speak out. They’re scared to question the activities of the oil industry. The oil industry provides most of the “good-paying jobs” in a working class area that is struggling mightily to survive and to preserve its way of life.
Surface or mineral rights or an oil job provide the income that often means the difference between a decently comfortable life and constant, grinding financial hardship.
Many people in the area maintain their farming and ranching cultures, the life that runs through their blood, a life on the land, with income from the oil industry.
People are scared. So they live like this.
They gamble their health away.
They risk a shortened life.
They look the other way.
And the government does the same, filling its coffers with oil profits.
The oil industry could pipe these gases underground and capture them. In many cases, the gases could then be used for other purposes. But this would cost the oil industry money. It would require infrastructure. Maybe some new technology. So the current rule is that capturing these toxic gases has to be economically viable for the oil companies. Otherwise, they can use open oil flaring.
The true cost of oil production is being passed on to the people in this way and to the animals that live and graze around these flares and oil sites. They shoulder the burden for the oil industry with their own ill health and shortened lifespans.
The dangers of oil pipelines are much-discussed these days. There is much less public outrage and knowledge about the direct threat to human and animal health caused by open oil and natural gas flaring and un-monitored releases from well sites.
Please Support a Ban on Open Oil and Natural Gas Flaring
Please Support Increased Monitoring of Releases From Existing Well Sites
A documentary by the University of Regina journalism school, my alma mater:
Willow’s Web Astrology YouTube videos: