What’s in your drinking water? If the natural gas companies intent on drilling in the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from West Virginia to Ohio to Pennsylvania and up into New York state have their way, a sickening cocktail of carcinogens and neurotoxins may one day flow through the pipes that supply your drinking water, bath water, the water you wash your clothes in, and the water your animals drink.
HBO’s new documentary Gasland, written and directed by Josh Fox and produced by Trish Adlesic, is an eye-opening documentary that explores the dangers of natural gas drilling on the environment. Despite reassurances from the unregulated fossil fuel industry that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) — which was made exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water acts during the last Bush administration — causes no threat to the environment, Fox found significant evidence to the contrary.
He was inspired to begin investigating after receiving a letter informing him that he could lease the land under his family home to a gas-drilling company. The area they were targeting — the Marcellus Shale — includes the reservoirs that supply fresh water to 15.6 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Speaking with scientists and landowners whose water had gone from clean to chemical-filled, who were able to actually light the water coming into their sinks on fire, who developed serious and painful medical conditions, and whose pets and livestock were affected after drilling, Fox makes a convincing case that fracking poses serious threats to our water and air.
Documented in the film, the outrages mount up: poisoned creeks; toxic plumes enveloping homes and schools; the transfer of public lands to private hands for drilling (the vast Jonah gas fields stand at the foothills of Yellowstone National Park); environmental protection agencies made impotent through slashed budgets; no oversight, no inspectors, no regulations to monitor the despoilers; the transformation of beautiful countryside into a waste pit.
Despite multiple attempts, Fox was unable to get the heads of Halliburton, Conoco-Phillips, Kerr-McGee, Cabot Oil & Gas, and other giant corporations involved in fracking to agree to be interviewed. Fortunately, they were unable to shirk a call to testify before the United States Congress, and Fox got it on tape.
If there are any heroes in this story, they are people like EPA whistleblower Weston Wilson along with activists and legislators who are working to raise awareness, change laws to protect Americans’ health (a “Frack Act” is making its way through Congress), and combat the denials and obfuscations promulgated by the industry’s multi-million-dollar lobby.
But regular citizens also need to get involved. In the words of a Nebraska farmer Fox interviewed, “We need to stand up… speak with a unified voice… and stand up to these assholes.”
Gasland debuts on HBO at 9pm June 21.
Gasland is a difficult film to watch. Not only is the subject matter alarming and disheartening, but the camera work is atrocious — jerky and frequently out of focus. Nonetheless, Fox is a natural documentarian in the Michael Moore style, and this writer hopes that he earns enough from the film — which won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival — to buy a steadicam and experienced operator.
Gasland the Movie
HBO Documentary Home
National Resources Defense Council pdf
“Smart Moves on Drilling in New York” — The New York Times