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Delaware Just Sued 30 Fossil Fuel Companies and the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate ‘Denial and Disinformation’

Delaware Just Sued 30 Fossil Fuel Companies and the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate ‘Denial and Disinformation’

Flood damage from Hurricane Irene at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.

Delaware, the home state of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, announced on Thursday, September 10 that it is taking dozens of major oil and gas companies including BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil to court over the rising costs of climate impacts such as sea level rise and coastal flooding.

Like other U.S. states and municipalities suing the fossil fuel industry, Delaware says that the industry knew half a century ago about the likely climate impacts resulting from the use of its products, but instead of warning the public or changing their business model, the fossil fuel companies engaged in campaigns to attack climate science and downplay the risks of burning coal, oil, and gas in order to stave off policy responses.

Delawareans are already paying for the malfeasance of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a press release. “Exxon, Chevron, and other mega-corporations knew exactly what kind of sacrifices the world would make to support their profits, and they deceived the public for decades. Now we are staring down a crisis at our shores, and taxpayers are once again footing the bill for damage to our roads, our beaches, our environment, and our economy. We are seeking accountability from some of the world’s most powerful businesses to pay for the mess they’ve made.”

The lawsuit, filed September 10 in Delaware Superior Court, a state court, seeks monetary damages to help pay for costs the state is already incurring and that are expected to mount as climate impacts worsen.

As noted in Delaware’s complaint, the state has the lowest average elevation of any state in the country and more than 22,000 residents are currently threatened by coastal flooding.

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Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies

Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies

Tiny House Warriors rally near Blue River, BC

Late one night this past April, four people on off-road vehicles drove into a small, Indigenous village near the town of Blue River in British Columbia, Canada. It was dark and the vehicles drove through deep snow, smashing through wooden signs and barriers that guarded the village of tiny houses, erected in the path of a long-distance oil pipeline that runs from Alberta to the Pacific Coast.

The attackers punched and kicked a man, shouting profanity and racial slurs. One of them stole a truck and used it to mow down a display of red dresses, hung as a memorial to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, who are disproportionally affected by violence. The driver then crashed the truck into one of the houses.

The small houses were built by Secwepemc and Ktunaxa people, who built them to assert their rights over unceded Indigenous land, through which an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is slated to carry diluted tar sands oil. Members of the village believe the attack was related to their opposition to the pipeline.

Confrontation between the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and a variety of Indigenous and environmental groups is heating up, precisely because the new pipeline is now moving forward with construction after years of legal battles.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau purchased the Trans Mountain system from Kinder Morgan in 2018 in order to keep the expansion alive. Texas-based Kinder Morgan was about to scrap the project, but Canada bought it for C$4.5 billion and vowed to see a second, “twin,” pipeline built alongside the existing line. The expansion would triple the system’s capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day, allowing Alberta’s tar sands to expand to overseas markets.

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As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom

As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Today, the shale boom of the 2010’s is officially bust, battered not only by the US’s outsized failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks and an oil price war in which foreign producers proved their ability to steer oil prices, but also a wave of multi-billion dollar write-downs by oil giants — write-downs that predated both the price war and the pandemic and resulted from the industry’s perpetual struggles to generate profits from shale drilling and fracking regardless of the price of oil.

Last Friday, just 103 active drilling rigs dotted Texas, according to data from Baker Hughes. That’s down from 403 drilling rigs as 2020 began and the state’s peak this decade of 930. Just 251 active oil and gas rigs could be found across the entire United States, the lowest number recorded since Baker Hughes began tracking the rig count back in 1940.

In late February, the nighttime horizons around Midland and Odessa were still dotted with brightly burning oil well flares, dozens of flickering licks of flame that cast an uncertain light across the mesquite and cotton fields of west Texas. Mancamps and hotels already appeared partially emptied out, even while a constant flow of truck traffic streamed along the desert highways.
Empty worker housing at FTSI in Odessa, Texas. May 27, 2020. Credit: ©2020 Justin Hamel

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Trump’s Golden Era of Energy Is Turning to Lead

Trump’s Golden Era of Energy Is Turning to Lead

 A drilling rig on a former ranch outside of Barstow, Texas, in the Permian Basin

It was just over a year ago that President Trump announced, “The golden era of American energy is now underway,” saying that his policies focused on exploiting oil, gas, and coal were “unleashing energy dominance.” 

What a difference a year makes. On July 10, the Financial Times ran an article with a headline that asked, “Is the party finally over for U.S. oil and gas?” And there is no doubt that it has been quite a party for the last decade. At least, for the fracking executives who have enriched themselves while losing hundreds of billions of dollars investors gave them to produce oil and gas. Meanwhile, profits never materialized.

Lately, prospects for the broader fossil fuel industry look more like lead than gold.

For starters, the oil and gas industry in America is facing an era of losses, bankruptcies, canceled projects, and declining demand. It is highly likely that history will show that this point in time was the beginning of the golden era of renewable energy and the decline of the fossil fuel industry. 

Fracked Shale Oil and Gas Industry Failing

President Trump’s 2016 campaign was backed heavily by the oil and gas industry, with strong support from fracking CEOs like Continental Resources’ Harold Hamm. The story of record American oil production due to fracking was even being touted by President Obama, who rightfully took credit for the fracking boom that occurred on his watch. That’s despite President Trump recently taking credit for it as well. 

But as we have documented over the last two years at DeSmog, the fracked oil industry has been a financial failure for more than the past decade. The industry produced record amounts of oil and gas but lost huge sums of money in the process. And now even industry leaders are admitting the U.S. oil industry has already peaked, a little more than a year after President Trump declared the beginning of the “golden era.” 

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Bankers and Investors Finding Fracking Industry’s Underlying Models Prove Overly Optimistic

Bankers and Investors Finding Fracking Industry’s Underlying Models Prove Overly Optimistic

Dozens of drilling rigs are stacked at the Patterson-UTI yard in Midland, Texas after the oil price went negative on April 20, 2020. Midland, Texas. May 27, 2020.

Warren Buffet has a famous quote about investing: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” 

When it comes to his $10 billion investment in Occidental Petroleum, Buffett will need to take that one to heart now that other investors have sued Occidental for the merger financed in part by Buffet’s stake, alleging that the amount of debt required for Occidental to merge with Anadarko left the company “precariously exposed” if oil prices went lower. They cited the billions that Buffett invested in the deal as compounding this risk. 

The fracking industry doesn’t care that you’re a world-famous investment sage: It destroys all capital. 

Even in 2019, when Buffett was investing in Occidental, we knew that the fracking industry had been losing hundreds of billions of dollars the past decade. However, with the industry’s staggering debt load, lack of ability to continue borrowing, and drops in oil demand due to the pandemic, the tide is now truly going out to reveal the fracking industry’s failing financial performance. That receding cover has also revealed that the industry has broken one of the most basic tenets of financing for oil and gas production: reserve based lending. 

Reserve based lending involves a firm estimating how much oil it has in the ground, and then assigning those reserves a value based on the most recent price of oil. A bank then lends the company money based on a percentage of this value. For lenders this has historically been a low-risk arrangement, because if a firm defaults on the loan, the bank can simply take possession of its oil field. So it has long been among the most reliable methods for smaller oil and gas companies to get financing. 

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DC Is the Latest to Sue Exxon and Big Oil for Climate Disinformation Campaigns

DC Is the Latest to Sue Exxon and Big Oil for Climate Disinformation Campaigns

DC Attorney General Karl Racine

Washington, D.C. is suing the four largest investor-owned oil and gas companies — BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell — for allegedly misleading consumers about climate change, including historically undermining climate science and even now using deceptive advertising about the companies’ role in leading solutions to the climate crisis.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced the consumer fraud lawsuit on Thursday, June 25. The lawsuit claims that the four oil majors violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act by engaging in misleading acts and practices around the marketing, promotion, and sale of fossil fuel products, which produce globe-warming pollution. The D.C. lawsuit alleges that these companies knew since at least the 1950s about the harmful consequences of burning fossil fuels and that they engaged in a campaign to deceive the public about those risks.

“For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits,” said Attorney General Racine. “The defendants violated the District’s consumer protection law by concealing the fact that using fossil fuels threatens the health of District residents and the environment. [The Office of Attorney General] filed this suit to end these disinformation campaigns and to hold these companies accountable for their deceptive practices.”

In particular, the D.C. Attorney General’s Office called out the oil industry’s use of fake grassroots groups, such as the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, which started out as a front group for tobacco giant Philip Morris in 1993. This group had transitioned to become the Advancement of Sound Science Center in 1997 and was run out of the home of climate science denier Steve Milloy, who most recently worked in public relations for coal company Murray Energy.  The group has now been phased out of existence.

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From Hurricane Maria to COVID, Gas Lobbyist-turned-Trump Energy Lawyer Uses Crises as ‘Opportunity’

From Hurricane Maria to COVID, Gas Lobbyist-turned-Trump Energy Lawyer Uses Crises as ‘Opportunity’

Bill Cooper being sworn in by Rick Perry

Among a string of recent environmental rollbacks, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) aims to vastly narrow the scope of environmental reviews for those applying for liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits. The proposal has been guided by Bill Cooper, a former oil and gas industry lobbyist who’s now a top lawyer for the DOE.

On May 1, the DOE issued a proposal to limit environmental reviews for LNG export permit proposals so that the review applies to only the export process itself — literally “occurring at or after the point of export.” The rule would take off the table for consideration lifecycle greenhouse gas analyses, broader looks at both build-outs of pipelines and power plants attached to the export proposals, and other potential environmental impacts.

It comes as many larger forces up the pressure on LNG projects: The oil and gas industry is facing financial crisis, exports of fracked gas to the global market are steeply waning, and the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic nosedive are marching on in the United States.

The DOE’s Bill Cooper, an oil and gas attorney by background with a long history of navigating the industry through crises both inside and outside of the federal government, signed off on the regulatory proposal.

Now DOE General Counsel, Cooper has proven instrumental in creating today’s U.S. regulatory regime both for fracking for natural gas and exporting it. This attempted rule change is just the latest chapter in that story. For Cooper, crisis has consistently served as an opportunity to implement regulatory change to favor the oil and gas industry.

As DeSmog has reported, Cooper played a critical role in getting regulatory exemption language now known as the “Halliburton Loophole” inserted into the 2005 energy bill

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Big Oil Fears Keystone XL Ruling Means End of Easy Pipeline Permits

Big Oil Fears Keystone XL Ruling Means End of Easy Pipeline Permits

Keystone XL pipeline construction in Texas in 2012

On April 15, Judge Brian Morris nullified water-crossing permits in Montana that were granted for the Keystone XL, a major setback for the long-embattled tar sands oil pipeline. The ruling came just days after Keystone XL owner TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, obtained billions of dollars in subsidies from the Alberta government as global oil prices plummeted.

The oil and gas industry has taken notice. Seemingly just a ruling on Keystone XL — the subject of opposition by the climate movement for the past decade — the ruling could have far broader implications for the future of building water-crossing pipelines and utility lines.

In his decision, Judge Morris cited a potential violation of the Endangered Species Act when he ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a deeper analysis of potential impacts to protected species. Morris required the Corps to demonstrate whether or not it could construct the pipeline without harming endangered species, such as the Pallid Sturgeon or the American burying beetle. Instead, the Army Corps “failed to consider relevant expert analysis and failed to articulate a rational connection between the facts it found and the choice it made,” Morris ruled, when the Corps gave Keystone XL the initial green light.

The original July 2019 complaint in that case — filed by Northern Plains Resource Council, Bold Alliance, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Center for Biological Diversity — also argued that the Army Corps had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in using an obscure regulatory lever to fast-track the review process.

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The Syrian Job: Uncovering the Oil Industry’s Radioactive Secret

The Syrian Job: Uncovering the Oil Industry’s Radioactive Secret

oil pump and radioactive warning

Cancerous lesions have developed across Keith MacDonald’s body and his son is dead from leukemia. His life has disintegrated, and in his eyes fault lies with the third richest company on earth. It is headquartered in the Netherlands, incorporated in the United Kingdom, and is an entity (thanks to the Parliamentary Pension Fund) that every single British MP has a stake in — Royal Dutch Shell.

The story of how MacDonald got here is a tale of adventure and tragedy fit for a Hollywood thriller, only it is real. Even with many unknowns, MacDonald’s case unearths a shocking part of the world’s most powerful industry that somehow has remained hidden for generations.

MacDonald was born on a military base in Scotland in 1951. When he was three years-old, his older brother was killed in a tragic cliff accident—the boy chased a stray football over the edge and fell 100-feet to his death. “My mother couldn’t deal with the stress and became obsessed with my wellbeing,” says MacDonald. “Safety, safety, safety, all of my life. It was almost claustrophobic. I became the family rebel and left home.”


Image: Photos of Keith MacDonald and his brother and mother (left), and their graves (right)

His oilfield story begins in the early 1970s. MacDonald was a rock and roll roadie, setting up equipment for Santana, Elton John, and Rod Stewart — “I was making good money, having a ball.” One autumn day in 1975, he hitched a ride to Birmingham with a friend who had an interview for a job inspecting oil and gas pipelines. The recruitment manager for British Industrial X-Ray wore a shirt and tie, looked MacDonald over and with a string of words that would change the course of his life, offered him a job.

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New Satellite Data Reveals Dangerous Methane Emissions in Permian Region

New Satellite Data Reveals Dangerous Methane Emissions in Permian Region

New research based on satellite data confirms that the oil and gas industry in the Permian region of Texas and New Mexico is leaking record amounts of methane. The new research published in the journal Science Advances found that methane emissions in the Permian Basin were equivalent to 3.7 percent of the total methane produced by the oil and gas industry there.

In December DeSmog reported on the work of Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University, who has been studying the methane emissions of the oil and gas industry. Howarth’s latest research estimated that 3.4 percent of all natural gas produced from shale in the U.S. is leaked throughout the production cycle, which appears to be confirmed by this new research.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and makes up approximately 90 percent of what is known as natural gas. It’s a major contributor to global warming.

The oil and gas industry has long tried to sell the idea of natural gas, which is, again, primarily methane, as a clean energyclimate solution. However, with a leakage rate of 3.7 percent, natural gas is actually worse for the climate than coal.

Advertisements for natural gas from the industry trade group the American Petroleum Institute have claimed, “Thanks to natural gas, the U.S. is leading the way in reducing emissions.”

This new satellite data confirms that simply isn’t the case. When the methane leaks from oil and gas production are taken into account, natural gas is unquestionably a dirty fossil fuel.

This new research also helps explain why methane emissions rose at such a high rate in 2019.

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‘We Need Water Before Oil’: Kenyan Communities Scarred by Chinese Oil Exploration

‘We Need Water Before Oil’: Kenyan Communities Scarred by Chinese Oil Exploration

A herder walks a Merti road

The repeated honking of a speeding Tawakul shuttle announces the return of travellers to Merti from distant towns at dusk. It also marks the close of another searing and slow day in this part of northern Kenya.

Idling villagers’ faces are suddenly lit by the prospect of seeing their families as they rush to meet the late arrivals, stirring this sleepy shopping centre into activity.

Wako Ade, a local motorbike taxi rider nods towards a reunited couple as the dusty vehicle empties its passengers at the bus terminal and says with frustration: “We are tired of this life. The bus is our only connection with Kenya through Isiolo town. I think the rest of the country forgot us.”

It wasn’t always like this.

About a decade ago, all eyes were on this weather-beaten and marginalized part of the country. Ade remembers seeing visitors from as far as the capital city, Nairobi, flocking to the town, positioning themselves for prospective business. For good reason: Merti was about to strike oil.

But it never materialised.

Destruction

In 2008, the China Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) announced it had identified 15 wells which showed strong signs of holding oil and gas deposits. But by January 2011, CNOOC had left, leaving the community with damaged land and $2 million worth of shattered hopes.

“There was excitement everywhere. We began preparing for an economic turnaround that has eluded us since Kenya gained independence,” recalled 75-year-old Dika Bidu from Dadach Basa village, which sits 12km away from CNOOC’s Bhogal rig.

As a village decision maker, the government told Bidu of the new health facilities, schools, piped water and tarmac roads that would be built to improve the lives of the people there.

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Oil, Gas, Petrochemical Financial Woes Predate Pandemic — And Will Continue After, Despite Bailouts, Report Finds

Oil, Gas, Petrochemical Financial Woes Predate Pandemic — And Will Continue After, Despite Bailouts, Report Finds

empty streets

The oil, gas, and petrochemical industries have taken a massive financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) concludes, but its financial troubles preexisted the emergence of the novel coronavirus and are likely to extend far into the future, past the end to measures aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.

“Oil and gas are among the industries hardest hit by the current economic crisis, with leading companies losing an average of 45 percent of their value since the start of 2020,” the report finds. “These declines touch on nearly every facet of the oil and gas sector’s business, including the petrochemical sector that has been touted in recent years as the primary driver of the industry’s future growth.”

That’s to some degree because of the abrupt plunge in demand for oil resulting from shelter-in-place and quarantine measures that, as of early April, applied to over 3 billion of the world’s 7.8 billion people — including 90 percent of the United States. And the United States uses an outsize amount of gasoline — in 2017, the U.S. consumed one fifth of the gasoline used globally, the report notes. Nearly 70 percent of petroleum products are consumed for transportation, the report adds — meaning that the impact on demand resulting from quarantines is enormous.

But, before the pandemic, oil, gas, and petrochemical firms “showed clear signs of systemic weakness,” CIEL’s report says, listing factors like the industries’ poor stock market performance, high levels of debt, competition from cheaper renewable energy, slowing growth in demand for plastics, and growing awareness among investors of the impacts that action to slow climate change will have on the sector.

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Is the U.S. Fracking Boom Based on Fraud?

Is the U.S. Fracking Boom Based on Fraud?

typewriter reading 'fraud'

In a 2016 interview with Fraud Magazine, former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow explained what he thought made him so successful while at the former energy corporation that’s now infamous for financial scandal.

“I think my ability to do structured financing, to finance things off-balance sheet and to find ways to manipulate financial statements — there’s no nice way to say it. Like I said at the conference, I was good at finding loopholes.”

As Fastow explained, in finance, the difference between a loophole and fraud isn’t always easy to identify. And that may be something the U.S. fracking industry is working to its advantage.

Fastow, the convicted fraudster, does admit that what they did at Enron misled investors. “We created something that was monstrously misleading, but any one of those deals alone wasn’t necessarily considered fraudulent,” he said.

Fast-forward to today and a different part of the energy industry: The U.S. shale oil and gas industry has lost more than a quarter trillion dollars since 2007, while being sold to investors as an economic boom, even at oil prices much lower than those of recent years. Does that financial mismatch seem misleading? Or perhaps, familiar?

In an unexpected twist, Fastow now gives talks to the energy industry on ethical leadership.

Sounding the Alarm

Bethany McLean was the first reporter to question whether Enron was a financially sound company in a 2001 article for Fortune magazine. McLean went on to co-author the book The Smartest Guys in the Room, which documented the fall of Enron due to its fraudulent practices, including the ones Fastow engineered.

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Peak Permian Oil Production May Arrive Much Sooner Than Expected

Peak Permian Oil Production May Arrive Much Sooner Than Expected

Ad in Houston Airport mentioning declining Permian oilfields

In mid-January, Adam Waterous, who operates the private equity firm Waterous Energy Fund, made a prediction about the crown jewel of the U.S. shale oil industry, the Permian shale play that straddles Texas and New Mexico.

“We think we are at or near peak Permian,” Waterous told Bloomberg. “The North American oil market has been grossly overcapitalized, which is not sustainable.”

Bloomberg reporter Simon Casey goes on to qualify that “[p]redicting peak Permian output for 2020 isn’t a mainstream view.” However, evidence is piling up that the U.S. shale industry may indeed be close to peaking as it runs out of the two things required to continue increasing oil production: money and what’s known as “tier one acreage.”

Tier one acreage is the term for the areas that produce the most oil per well. It’s also known as “sweet spots,” “core acreage,” or “good rock.”

The idea of the U.S. shale revolution peaking long before either the broader oil and gas industry or the Energy Information Administration expects isn’t a popular one. And the idea was even less popular when DeSmog started detailing why it was likely all the way back in October 2018, and even when the Wall Street Journal made the case a year later.

Today, as more and more Permian oil companies go bankrupt and wells in the nation’s most prolific oil patch turn out less and less, one early warning nows seems especially prescient. In 2018, Paal Kibsgaard, the CEO of Schlumberger — one of the largest oil services providers — cautioned about declining well productivity in the Permian Basin, pointing to increasing “child wells” and to the boom-gone-bust Texas oilfield, the Eagle Ford Shale. 

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To Many’s Dismay, Permian Produces More Gas and Condensate Instead of Oil and Profits

To Many’s Dismay, Permian Produces More Gas and Condensate Instead of Oil and Profits

aerial view of West Texas oil fields

As oil prices plummet, oil bankruptcies mount, and investors shun the shale industry, America’s top oil field — the Permian shale that straddles Texas and New Mexico — faces many new challenges that make profits appear more elusive than ever for the financially failing shale oil industry.

Many of those problems can be traced to two issues for the Permian Basin: The quality of its oil and the sheer volume of natural gas coming from its oil wells.

The latter issue comes as natural gas fetches record low prices in both U.S. and global markets. Prices for natural gas in Texas are often negative — meaning oil producers have to pay someone to take their natural gas, or, without any infrastructure to capture and process it, they burn (flare) or vent (directly release) the gas.

As DeSmog has detailed, much of the best oil-producing shale in the Permian already has been drilled and fracked over the past decade. And so operators have moved on to drill in less productive areas, one of which is the Delaware sub-basin of the Permian. Taking a close look at the Delaware Basin highlights many of the current challenges facing Permian oil producers.

Delaware Basin Producing More Gas Along With the Oil

The Delaware Basin is where most of the new oil production is coming out of the Permian. As a Bloomberg Wire story reported in December, “in recent years investments have shifted to the Delaware, where output is much gassier than in the historic Midland portion of the Permian.”

The last thing a Permian oil producer wants is to have natural gas coming out of the ground with the oil because, as Bloomberg notes, this persistent “nuisance” is “undercutting profits for explorers.” That’s a generous assessment because many explorers have no profits to undercut, only losses to grow.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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