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Planktos II: The Intervention
Podcast hosted by Alex Smith
Sunday, September 16, 2007
[As prepared before air. Items in [square brackets] were cut due to time limits.]
Today we're going to continue our investigation of Planktos Corp. This company plans to farm ocean algae, stimulating them with iron dust, to capture carbon dioxide from the air. If successful, the company would sell carbon offset credits to polluting companies, and individuals.
Last week we ran a full-length interview with the chief visionary and CEO, Russell George. If you haven't heard it - go ahead and download last week's Show, from our website at ecoshock.org. Russ is an inspiring speaker about reforestation on land, and restoring phytoplankton at sea.
It all hinges on the company's ship, the Weatherbird II, currently docked in Florida.
Will it sail to dump 100 tons of iron dust into the far Pacific? Will a combination of environmental groups and government agencies act to stop it?
In a press release, and in our last interview, Russell George claimed that he had some support from Greenpeace. We go now to Dr. David Santillo, at the Greenpeace Lab, in Exeter UK - to discuss the science behind this Planktos seeding business.
[SANTILLO INTERVIEW Dr. David Santillo of the Greenpeace International Science Unit, in Exeter UK, explains why Greenpeace opposes the plan by Planktos Corp to develop algae growth as a way to make carbon credits, as a commercial venture. He says there are so many scientific unknowns, and no way to measure whether the carbon captured will actually stay in the ocean, or for how long.]
We've looked at the science, but now, my friends, it is time to get down to business. Don't run away from these tedious facts, because they reveal a fascinating cast of characters, I promise.
According to corporate filings, the current Planktos Corp. began life on December 10th, 1998 as eWorld Travel Corp. In 2002, it was renamed GYK Ventures, Inc, in July 2005, to Diatom Corporation. In 2007, Diatom was renamed Planktos Corp.
While company names, and large blocks of stock, were thrashing this year, Russell George popped up in a string of media photo-ops, and promotions, while courting environmental groups.
Despite all the good publicity, in newspapers and network TV, Planktos stockholders watched their value plummet. From a high of $2.56 a share, by September 7th, the stock was worth 84 cents a share, at most, sometimes as low as 50 cents.
On their website, Business Week says:
"The goals of PLKT [Planktos] insiders are closely aligned with those of shareholders, because insiders own a greater percentage of this company, than at any other company in the Commercial Services and Supplies industry."
That's quite a record! Insiders own more of this company, than any other in these listings, out of countless companies.
[THE PANAMA CONNECTION]
And then we have the Panama connection. Planktos Corp was formed from Diatom Corp. But who owned Diatom? According to an SEC filing, February 12th, 2007, the largest single owner of Diatom stock was Gabriela Sameniego, of Panama City, Panama. In February, "Gabriela" owned 23 million shares of Diatom, or 42 percent of common stock.
Lots of new Planktos stock was created, splitting from about 54 million shares, to nearly 81 million. [On May 29th of 2007, the board of directors approved increasing total Planktos shares to 250 million, at some later date.]
Another large block of stock, almost 7 percent of the company, was held by another Panamanian company, named Investment Track Group. In 2004, that was listed as a "Shelf" company. Someone bought it off the shelf.
[Corporate records show yet another Panamanian company, put $141,000 into Solar Energy Ltd., the parent company.]
Do these Central American shadows represent Mr. Skalbania, or a Panamanian millionaire? Who is trading offshore, hidden?
Let's get some real expertise.
[David Baines interview - David Baines is a respected columnist for the Vancouver Sun newspaper in Canada. He has a long history of uncovering suspicious and fraudulent activity, on the old Vancouver Stock exchange, and now on the "Over the Counter Bulletin Board" trading system used by penny stock promoters, including Planktos and its sister company, D2Fusion. David outlines several "red flags" about Planktos. An announced carbon credit purchase by a Vancouver Hotel turns out to be owned by Nelson Skalbania's wife. Mr. Skalbania has controlling interest in Planktos, and a long history of bankruptcies, stockholders who have lost big money, and even a criminal conviction for Breach of Trust. The inside picture from someone who has tracked Skalbania, and similar stock promotions, for years.]
You are listening to Radio Ecoshock, I'm Alex Smith, and we're checking out the carbon offset market, with the new venture called "Planktos Corp."
[SKALBANIA TO THE RESCUE]
A newspaper profile of Nelson Skalbania, the largest stockholder of Planktos, lists his many failed business ventures, and the famous sports teams he owned. In the Globe and Mail newspaper, on November 17th, 2003, we find this quote:
"'"He is the kind of guy that you go to, when you have some crazy idea, and a sliver, or a hair chance, of getting it financed,' said Wolfgang Richter, a Victoria developer ..."
When it comes to environmental solutions, Skalbania has been the go-to-guy, for a number of fringe ideas. It's not just nuclear fusion for the home market, or plankton planting. There was Hydro-Air Technologies, championed by Dr. Melvin Prueitt. They hoped to develop commercially viable electrical power, using the energy from water evaporation. No prototype was developed, and research was abandoned.
[Source: Form 10QSB for SOLAR ENERGY LTD, 18-May-2007,
Solar has a 30% interest in Renewable Energy Limited. This time the scientist was Dr. Reed Jensen. He proposed using solar light to grab carbon dioxide out of the air, turning it into electricity. Imagine! Endless electricity out of the air, with just the sun as a power source. Sadly, the project was also abandoned by Solar Energy Ltd - they are no longer involved.
Do we see a pattern here? In each case, a champion of a fantastic new invention, that will save the environment, makes all kinds of press releases, looks like a company, builds stock momentum, and then fades away, with no commercial product. Just like D2Fusion, so far.
The optimist would say Mr. Skalbania has a soft heart for dreamers. He is willing to find financing, to try almost anything, to solve the world's problems, while making money. The cynic would see a repeating pattern of green promises, company promotion, stock sales, and then, no product, or revenues. Some call that technique a "pump and dump."
[But don't you secretly hope, that a venture capitalist, somewhere, is trying every fringe option, in case something works?]
We can't spend a lot of time on D2Fusion, the sister company to Planktos, other than as a guide to our confidence in Russell George, and his crew. [Russ George is CEO of both companies.]
In the late 1980's, Russell George stumbled upon one of his life passions - the idea of making endless energy, from the fusion of atoms.
You may have heard of fusion energy, as a multi-million dollar project of big governments, requiring very special materials, to withstand heat as hot as the sun itself.
But in 1989, two scientists claimed they created fusion energy, in a simple lab, at room temperature. This was called Cold Fusion. The two scientists, Fleischmann and Pons, were discredited, when their results could not be duplicated [easily]. This debate continues, and there are still claims the experiment can be done.
A series of attempts to develop Cold Fusion continued. George was invited to watch experiments by scientists, became enchanted by the possibilities, and apparently taught himself about the field. George formed a fusion research company as early as 1992, and then went into partnership with another experimenter, Roger Stringham.
SEC filings for D2Fusion state that Russell George is "a recognized expert in advanced nuclear physics." In fact, he has no formal training in physics at all. Although some early D2Fusion web pages, called him "Dr. George", his four year degree is in biology. Yet, Russ George is quite intelligent, he has presented papers at seminars. Important inventions can happen outside universities.
[Source "expert" SEC Form 8-K, Planktos Corp March 18, 2007]
George and his company continue to state "Mr. George's successful experimental prototypes have been tested at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Stanford Research Institute."
However, Russ George has a persistent critic online, the editor of a newsletter on Fusion Energy, called "New Energy Times" - one Steve Krivit. Distrusting claims made by D2Fusion, Krivit has checked on the company. Krivit says the truth has been stretched, sometimes to the breaking point. In particular, he found that neither the Los Alamos National Laboratory, nor Stanford Research Institute, acknowledge successful fusion testing by Russell George.
In issue #16 of the New Energy Times, Krivit writes:
"According to SRI International, that claim doesn't hold water.
"The information in this SEC 10K filing is not accurate," Ellie Javadi, corporate and marketing communications director, wrote. "The filing incorrectly implies that SRI International has endorsed Mr. George's work and/or prototype. SRI has not endorsed Mr. George's work or his prototype."
The word from Los Alamos National Laboratory isn't any better.
"It may be more of a matter of semantics,” Todd A. Hanson, senior adviser for science communications, said, "because Mr. George did test at least one prototype in the city of Los Alamos, just not at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"According to Dale Tuggle, a Los Alamos scientist who has indeed worked as a consultant for Mr. George, they did test a prototype of George's at a private laboratory in Los Alamos. The tests were done by current or retired Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and, I gather, were inconclusive. I am quite certain our laboratory, as a public entity, would not and could not officially endorse Mr. George's work and/or prototype, irregardless of its merit or functionality."
Those quotes were gathered by Steve Krivit, writing in New Energy Times. You can dive further down this particular rabbit hole, at newnergytimes.com. Look for Steve Krivit's new feature, "The Wizard of Half Moon Bay" in the September 10th issue. It is practically the unauthorized biography of Russell George, and his ventures.
[Or find it on page 28 of this .pdf version of the newsletter:
Russell George created a series of different companies, with names like "E-Quest Technologies," "Saturna," and "Portal Energies," that traded among themselves.
Then, he met Nelson Skalbania, the master of the game.
Russ George also created a medical foundation, the "IgA Nephropathy Foundation," in the late 1990's. Russ has this rare kidney disease.
The website, at iganfoundation.org, says 20 to 30 percent of people with IgAN eventually require dialysis, and a kidney transplant. Others go on with few symptoms.
The Foundation, which is legally registered, aims mainly to provide a website of information on alternative treatments. For the first few years, it was recognized as an important source. The site went offline for a while, but reappeared in 2004, and apparently hasn't been updated much since.
The Foundation continues to ask for donations. It used to accept old cars and jewelry, but has been upgraded to requests for cash, stocks, real estate, and bequests. Send them all to the Foundation's address: Pier #36 at Half Moon Bay, California. Russ George's boat.
Planktos has moved well beyond the days of Russ George and a laptop. The company claims 24 employees, and has photos and bios for some of them, on its website.
The nuclear fusion crowd provides some Planktos people. One member of the scientific Advisory Group for Planktos, is Dr. Scott Chubb.
[He is a contributing author of a 2002 report to the US Navy, recommending research spending on Cold Fusion. [TECHNICAL REPORT 1862, February 2002,
Thermal and Nuclear Aspects of the Pd/D2O System - http://www.d2fusion.com/education/navy_report.html]
Dr. Chubb, an employee of the US Naval Research Laboratory, is known for his work on fusion energy, but not on plankton, or trees.
And then we have the web-warrior, hired by both companies, one David Kubiak. Kubiak is currently the director of communications for both Planktos and D2Fusion. You will find him almost everywhere Planktos is mentioned online - in discussion groups, blog comments, and press releases. He hunts for critics, and answers back.
[It was only after several posts defending Planktos, on RealScience.org - that Kubiak was outed, and admitted he worked for the company.]
Kubiak lived in Japan, married there, and claims he taught mass media at Risumekikan University. It was in Japan, at a Nuclear Fusion experiment, that he met Russ George.
On Kubiak's return to the United States, he listed himself as director of "Big Medicine." The "Medicine" is an overthrow of the business world. Astounded by the all-encompassing corporate culture he witnessed in Japan, Kubiak returned to promote non-violent revolution, against corporate control. He's still at it, as an organizer of a conference of Alternative Media vs. the Corporate Coup, scheduled for January 25th, 2008, at Santa Cruz California.
Personally, I agree with Kubiak on the threat of corporate dominance. We may wish him well, but plotting the overthrow of the capitalist system is a strange mix, with his efforts to promote penny stocks, in two venture companies.
Like Russell George, Kubiak has a couple of personas.
David Kubiak became a passionate 911 Truther, organized conferences, and ran for State Senate as a Green "911 Truth" candidate, in Maine. In 2004, Kubiak became the Executive Director of 911Truthout.org.
He continues to list himself as an international campaign advisor for the 911 Truth movement. I wonder how David manages the conflict between the global warming deniers, that now dominate the 911movement, like Leuren Moret, or Alex Jones - and his employment with Planktos, selling carbon credits.
Kubiak is still at it. His latest press release was just September 6th, 2007, detailing a Zogby Poll, showing 51% of Americans want Congress to probe Bush and Cheney on 911. I'm surprised it's so low.
Meanwhile, Nico Haupt, a 911 die-hard, attacked Kubiak as an establishment plant. Nico thinks Kubiak is too close to government, specifically due to his work with Russell George, and various government weapons labs. Could someone with access to Los Alamos, lead an anti-government movement? Why did Kubiak, as head of the 911 Truth organization, tell the New York Times the attacks were NOT an inside job?
Almost comically, Haupt wonders whether a secret fusion energy was used, to bring down the World Trade Centre.
[Find the accusations at www.veronicachapman.com/nyc911/Jones-Kubiak.htm and Kubiak's response (Sept 5 2005 entry) at 911conspiracy.blogspot.com ]
[When asked if he still worked with Russ George, the friend of government testing labs, Kubiak responded in 2005:
"I am not only still in touch with him, I am working with him to make two projects happen, that would help end global warming, and terminate the rule of energy corporations, and dependence on fossil fuel. All this activity is documented in some detail at [planktos.com] http://planktosinc.com and [d2fusion.com] http://d2fusion.com.
Russ's unpaid lectures, to the above [government] organizations, were about his cold fusion work, and essentially warned them, that this new phenomenon would not only change the world of physics, it would unrecognizably alter their political, economic, and security environments, as well. He was rarely, if ever, invited back."]
[Yes, that's it. Our ideas are so big. The system can't handle the truth. That's why we don't get invited back.]
Then, Kubiak promises the big one: fusion energy for all.
"By 2010 cold fusion reactors, the size of a dishwasher, will offer every household in the industrial world a clean, cheap, and totally decentralized source of heating, and electrical power."
Maybe this is one of the big announcements, from D2Fusion, Russ George promised in our interview last week? Just three years from now, all problems solved.
Meanwhile, despite continuing promotion, company filings show D2Fusion doesn't have the money it needs to go ahead.
""Our plan of operation for D2Fusion will require $2,000,000 in funding over the next 12 months, which funding is not currently available. We will continue to fund limited research and development of D2Fusion's LENR technology, as funding becomes available..."
[SOLAR ENERGY LTD, SOURCE: 10QSB May 18, 2007]
So, unless another big money daddy comes along, D2Fusion looks like it is in storage mode. It was "sold" this summer to another dormant-looking company, Enwin Resources. Well actually, just like the earlier attempted sale of D2Fusion to "Shadow Marketing" - this is a provisional sale. Enwin Resources gets D2Fusion, if it can come up with $2 million. Enwin's deal to loan operating money to D2Fusion, is signed not by Russ George, but by Nelson Skalbania.,
Who will take on this stock market dream, now? No product. No revenue. But Russ George is still super enthusiastic about the company.
[Source: 10-QSB August 21, 2007]
Meanwhile, the same SEC document clearly shows that Solar Energy Ltd controls 53.78 percent of the outstanding shares of Planktos, currently holding 45 million shares. No doubt about it, whoever controls Solar Energy Ltd, controls Planktos, and that is, by all accounts, Nelson Skalbania.
I'm sure you just heard more about nuclear fusion, and the penny stock market, than you ever expected from an environment show. The point is, these are the assembled characters we are supposed to trust - to really capture the carbon we create in our personal lives, and institutions. These are, as one blogger puts it, the new "Climateer Investors."
Meanwhile, the company's ship has not yet sailed. Planktos announced the Weatherbird II would sail in February, then in June. By September, it's still in a yard in Florida.
Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Society kept his main ship in the Galapagos area, just to fend off any iron dumping attempts by Planktos. Watson has been known to ram other ships. But Sea Shepherd says they are leaving, and some doubt whether the Weatherbird will ever go on it's voyage. Yet, according to the company website, some of the young, shiny-faced crew are already living onboard, awaiting departure.
It's become a bit of a drama.
Last week we gave Russell George over 50 minutes to describe and explain his project. Now I'm going to give a mere 9 minutes to one of his strongest critics, Pat Mooney of the ETC environment group.
[PAT MOONEY][The ETC group, 30 years old, working mainly on international issues but based in Ottawa, Canada, says it advised the US EPA on the Planktos plan to dump up to 100 tons of iron into the sea. The ETC group release several press releases, and a report "Dumping on Gaia" - all very critical of venture capitalism using the ocean ecosystem to make a profit.]
At the end of most Planktos SEC filings, we will find the following disclaimer,
A number of statements contained in this page are forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended. These forward-looking statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties, including the sufficiency of existing capital resources, uncertainties related to the development of Planktos' business plan, and the ability to secure additional sources of financing. The actual results that Planktos, Corp. may achieve, could differ materially from any forward-looking statements, due to such risks and uncertainties..."
As I cautioned Russ George in our interview, he and his companies are loaded with "forward looking statements." George told a crowd of environmentally-friendly folks, at the Chicago Green Festival, that his company had already taken care of the carbon generated by coming to the Festival. George claims he "greened" a whole meeting in Monaco, a restaurant in California, and more, just by dispensing carbon credits. In fact, he hadn't captured an atom of carbon at that point. No trees planted in Hungary, no plankton fed.
He's been handing out these carbon dispensation for years, at least since creating the Planktos Foundation in 2002. He did dump some red paint pigment off the back of Neil Young's yacht, the "Ragland." Does that count?
The whole project is a forward-looking statement. I don't doubt that Russell George fervently believes the ocean and atmosphere are in serious trouble. Nor does he doubt, that HE will be recognized, as the person who pioneered plant-driven carbon-capture, AND solved the energy problem. He can see it all as done, even while he struggles to raise the money, to make it happen, and to make his fortune.
The money hasn't come for D2Fusion. Planktos is struggling with low stock prices, and plenty of critics. With Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund actively fighting the Planktos seeding experiment, it's doubtful big Green carbon funds in Europe, where the market is, will go along with Planktos.
[Here is a .pdf file of Greenpeace's protest to the London Dumping Convention against Planktos.]
The irony is, this ardent self-promoter has raised important issues. I think Russ George will be remembered in history. He may become a carbon billionaire, or go bankrupt. But consider this:
Russ George appears to have invented the idea of a commercially feasible, permanent forest. One planted not for future harvesting, but to capture carbon.
His plans to reforest Hungary, in their National Parks, is a very good idea.
Ditto his scheme to replenish the forest glory of Haida Guai, the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia. We should cheer him on, and, like the Vatican, accept these as legitimate carbon credits, if actually planted. Governments should be reforesting, but they are not. So let this company do it.
Second, Russ George brought the plight of ocean algae to the public stage. Lots of folks are ready to save whales, or even fish. But who is looking at the disastrous crash at the bottom of the food chain? Nobody, it seems, but this green entrepreneur, can get major media talking about this developing crisis in the sea.
Russell has thrown another looming problem in our faces: control of the ocean environment. Right now, as his Weatherbird wildcatting proves, it is a wild West out there. Fishers and whalers, of all nations, go out and steal what they want from the Sea, until it is all gone. The Sea has no government. No one to protect it, - from us. Given our true dependence on the oceans, this weakness could be fatal to humanity.
I really mean that.
On the other hand, I wonder if governments are wrong for the sea. All they do is industrialize, privatize, and corporatize, anything they touch.
I can picture the Earth in a strange gyration, the climate shifting uncontrollably. Who knows, but a single entrepreneur, like Russell George, might dash out with a solution - that governments and bureaucrats are just too slow, and corrupt, to undertake? History is full of such examples. The pirates who made nations. We don't know who will really find a way, to remove hot carbon from the air. It may just be a fringe inventor, who dares all.
Is it Russell George? Should we give him a chance, just to find out? Or, is he a false prophet?
I worry about the Planktos algae venture for three reasons:
First: I oppose the idea, that anyone can just sail out, to unilaterally change the ocean. Whether they do it for money, or love of the sea, is not the point.
Let's suppose, deep in New Jersey, a lab scientist named "John", complete with white coat, develops a new super plankton, dubbed "Plankton-B." With designer genetics, it will flourish in any ocean, everywhere. John realizes, without a doubt, that he has solved the problem of declining plankton, and maybe global warming, too. He dedicates himself to reproducing his new algae.
John's bosses are not supportive. Environmentalists complain. The government wants to regulate it. But John is not deterred. He buys a boat, sets out to the Atlantic, raising PLANKTON-B in barrels. Then, he pours them overboard.
Within months, the ocean develops giant pools of stagnant moss. Plankton-B has taken over the ecosystem.
I can hear Russ protesting this analogy. Obviously, the Planktos iron feeding project is nothing like a bio-engineered monster. Iron dust is natural. Likely, little harm would come from the first voyage of the Weatherbird II. Other similar experiments have been done - by the joint action of major governments, and real ocean scientists.
But the PRINCIPLE, Russ, is exactly the same. Someone, less caring than you, but just as passionate, and sure of his cause, can go ahead and enact their plan, by your example. This is what the Friends of Earth meant in their press release, - their objection to using the ocean as a private, for profit, petri dish.
Individuals, and small companies, with no oversight, should not be allowed to dabble with the ecosystem of the sea, to make money. That endangers everyone.
Second, just the idea of carbon offsets lets us keep on polluting. I'm not worried about my SUV gas guzzler, because I've paid Russell George, and some algae, a few bucks to soak up my soot. Why bother ending coal? Or saving power? You get the picture.
Then we have the fatal problem, of verification. As David Santillo, our Greenpeace scientist said, there is no system of verification, to know the carbon remained in the ocean. We can guess, we can extrapolate from measurements, but no human technology, so far, can really know whether a ton of carbon dioxide, allegedly grabbed by Planktos algae, really stayed in the Sea. The science we have is too vague, we lack certainty.
Worse, Russell George has a record of manipulating appearances. Some of his claims don't stand up to close scrutiny, to fact-checking. And the controlling stockholder of Planktos, has already been criminally convicted of Breach of Trust. None of this promises confidence to the carbon buyer.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, company names, and stocks, are thrashing around, with hidden characters, offshore trading, and questionable promotion. No transparency. It smells fishy.
How can Russell George come back from the first trial of the Weatherbird II, and say it failed? He risks losing millions of dollars in carbon credits. Already on the financial edge, George might lose his company, and his reputation. Surely, we already know, as Russell George seems to assume, that he will return claiming huge amounts of carbon dioxide were captured.
Failure, in a scientific experiment, is the most common result. But stock sales are not built on failure. Most companies deny bad news, and some fudge their results, until they go down with the ship. Huge companies do it, and little companies do it.
Is this really research, or venture capitalism on the loose, in a new and under-regulated market? Selling to our fears of global warming.
I don't think we can buy our way out. We must stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. That is Nature's ultimatum, and She is the final judge.
This is Alex Smith.
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