Gasland: Coming to a Shale Deposit Near You
by Geoff Kelly
Filmmaker Josh Fox talks about Gasland at the documentary’s regional premiere on Saturday
It’s little wonder that executives, lobbyists, and public relations firms working for the natural gas industry are so determined to undermine and vilify the documentary Gasland and its creator, Josh Fox. It seems impossible to watch this film and not come away a determined opponent of hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas extraction technique that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently included in its strategic plan for state forest management.
Impossible, that is, unless your paycheck depends on the continuing growth of the natural gas extraction industry. Perhaps not even then.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a mining technique whereby wells are bored thousands of feet into gas-rich shale deposits, such as the Marcellus Shale deposit, which stretches from West Virginia through most of Pennsylvania, up into Western New York and along the state’s Southern Tier. The drillers then pump millions of gallons of chemically laden water and sand into the hole. The pressure created by the water causes the shale to fracture, freeing natural gas, which then flows through the well to the surface.
The problem, opponents say, is that hydraulic fracturing—also called hydrofracking or simply fracking—has contaminated drinking water, both with natural gas and the hundreds of often dangerous chemicals used in the fracking liquid, much of which is never recovered but instead mixes with water underground or sits in surface pools and seeps into the water table.
Josh Fox was introduced to fracking when he received a letter from a natural gas company offering a lease agreement to drill on his family’s land in Milanville, Pennsylvania, which sits on a tributary to the Delaware River in the Delaware Water Gap. With video camera in hand, he set off to learn as much as he could about the process and its consequences.
He can find no one in the natural gas industry who will talk to him, so he talks instead to residents of other communities atop the Marcellus Shale where gas wells have already been drilled and fracked. His first stop is Dimock, Pennsylvania, where to his astonishment—and to yours, I promise, when you watch the film—the residents are able to light their tap water on fire.
Fox’s exploration of the issue takes him (and apparently some extra cameras by this point) to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Texas, states where fracking for natural gas has been happening for many years. Everywhere he goes, he meets people whose health, water, and livelihoods have been damaged by the gas companies. They all make powerful spokespeople for the proposition that unregulated fracking is dangerous and that the natural gas industry and its shills are immoral.
So does Fox himself, whose understated, sometimes humorous, and engaging narration makes him a central character in the film, as has become common among documentarians, especially among those practicing advocacy. The camera work is interesting and the film is beautiful to look at, and the soundtrack, which occasionally comprises Fox’s own banjo playing, hums along nicely, too. Seldom are such bitter lessons so palatably served.
With the exception of the remarkably candid John Hanger, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, few officials and absolutely no industry representatives agreed to speak with Fox on camera. Only at the end of the film, when Fox records Congressional hearings on the subject, do we hear the flacks argue that fracking is perfectly safe. By that point we’ve heard an hour and half of testimony that says it’s not. The flacks didn’t stand a chance.
Fox will be in town on Saturday, October 30, at the local premiere of Gasland. The screening takes place at Buffalo State College’s Bulger Communications Center at 7pm. Also in attendance will be State Senator Antoine Thompson, chair of the State Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee. The screening is free and open to the public.
—geoff kellyblog comments powered by Disqus
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