Gasland (Director: Josh Fox): When dir­ector Josh Fox receives a let­ter from a gas com­pany offer­ing him $100,000 to drill on his prop­erty, he’s sorely temp­ted. Until he starts hear­ing stor­ies about com­bust­ible tap water and unex­plained health prob­lems from oth­ers who have allowed the nat­ural gas industry to exploit their land. Setting out on a per­sonal quest to find answers, Fox travels from his home in rural Pennsylvania to Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana to see the res­ults in places where this sort of drilling, called hydraulic frac­tur­ing (or “frack­ing”) has been going on for years.

The nat­ural gas industry is, par­don the pun, on fire. Touting a vir­tual ocean of nat­ural gas under US soil, gas com­pan­ies have been aggress­ively drilling wells in order to exploit this energy source as quickly and as prof­it­ably as pos­sible. In a bid to become inde­pend­ent of for­eign oil, politi­cians have acqui­esced to the industry’s lob­by­ists at almost every step. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, pro­posed by then-Vice President Cheney, exemp­ted the oil and gas industry from numer­ous pieces of envir­on­mental legis­la­tion includ­ing the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Since that time, frack­ing has pro­ceeded vir­tu­ally unreg­u­lated, and Fox’s travelogue shows just how ubi­quit­ous nat­ural gas wells have become.

Despite admit­ting to being the son of lib­eral hip­pie par­ents, Fox is smart enough not to come across as a spoiled rich kid from the East coast. His con­fes­sional style and banjo play­ing endear him to both the audi­ence and to the people he vis­its in the film. These people, for the most part, are aver­age rural Americans, solid Republicans who likely voted in the very same people who gave cor­por­a­tions the right to drill on their land. I’d dearly love to show this film to some of the cur­rent Tea Party act­iv­ists who are cam­paign­ing for even less gov­ern­ment in their lives. Why aren’t those people pick­et­ing out­side the offices of EnCana or Chesapeake Energy?

Fox does a good job of explain­ing the pro­cess of frack­ing in layman’s terms and per­haps the most shock­ing thing about the pro­cess is just how much water it uses. Each well drilled con­sumes 1–7 mil­lion gal­lons of fresh water, which is mixed with chem­ic­als and injec­ted into the earth’s crust to free up the gas. We’re lit­er­ally sac­ri­fi­cing one scarce com­mod­ity to obtain another. To make mat­ters worse (or bet­ter, depend­ing on your per­spect­ive), when the res­id­ents’ drink­ing water is con­tam­in­ated, they’re forced to buy water from some­where else. Privatization of resources is a capitalist’s dream come true, unless of course you actu­ally live in any of these places. And as the film’s graph­ics show, a huge por­tion of the United States is either being drilled now or will be in the near future. The gas com­pan­ies began in the sparsely-pop­u­lated west­ern states, but are now mov­ing east. Fox’s home is in an area of the Delaware River basin that provides fresh water to New York City, and drilling may jeop­ard­ize the water sup­ply of more than 15 mil­lion people.

And even if you’re lucky enough not to live close to a drilling oper­a­tion, some of these con­tam­in­ants have now entered the food sup­ply, as one rancher sadly relates. Farms and ranches depend on water to irrig­ate their crops and feed their anim­als, and even if the humans can afford to pur­chase clean water for them­selves, they often can’t afford enough to take care of the needs of their busi­nesses. So we’re all at risk. Even sad­der was the rev­el­a­tion that the Bush gov­ern­ment approved drilling on pub­lic land. So now even a visit to land under the “pro­tec­tion” of the Bureau of Land Management is likely to be spoiled by unsightly gas wells at best, and pol­luted air, soil, and water at worst.

Luckily, the film strikes just the right tone, and there is enough humour and banjo music to avoid mak­ing this a com­pletely depress­ing exper­i­ence. But Gasland still deliv­ers an urgent mes­sage, and it’s one that we ignore at our own peril.

Official site of the film


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2 Responses to Gasland

  1. Drew Kerr says:

    I’m look­ing even more for­ward to see­ing this now after read­ing your review. Sounds very inter­est­ing.

  2. Jay says:

    This is one of the best films so far. Josh Fox was at the premiere to intro­duce the film and answer ques­tions after­ward. It turns out that com­pan­ies like Encana (Canadian) are frack­ing in Alberta and parts of Ontario.

    I found the film to be totally depress­ing and shock­ing at the same time to the point where I wanted to do some­thing after view­ing it. A great film.

    The most frus­trat­ing part of watch­ing this film with a Christie HD pro­jector was real­iz­ing how poorly it was shot. Poor Josh has to be one of the worst cam­era oper­at­ors in the his­tory of film. If he just learned how to use auto­fo­cus, the cam­era work would have been less dis­tract­ing. Luckily for him, the sub­ject mat­ter is so com­pel­ling.

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