Friday, July 19, 2013

Film Review: Gasland (Josh Fox) 2010

I don’t normally post reviews of older films, but seeing as the news today frightened the hell out of me, I thought that I would revisit the brilliant documentary about ‘natural’ gas hydraulic fracturing in America.  The process of fracking is already highly controversial as it basically creates and deep underground earthquake in order to fracture the rock and release shale gas, which can then be harvested and sold as energy. 

Josh Fox lives in Pennsylvania and has always been fond of water and nature.  One day he gets a letter that states that if he sells some of his land to corporate fracking companies then he can make up to $100,000.  Thinking this to good to be true he begins to investigate the environmental and health impacts of these processes on local people in and around the central states of the USA.  On his travels he meets people who have such contaminated water supplies that they can light their taps on fire; he meets people who have lost their senses of taste and smell due to breathing the air around their homes; he meets workers and builders of the fracking infrastructure who have no idea that they are handling dangerous chemicals; and, predictably, he meets company representatives who deny all evidence of contamination and responsibility.

Fox begins to compile a list of problems that the citizens he meets are declaring, which includes
1.        Water trouble
2.        Health problems
3.        Hazardous explosive conditions inside houses
4.        Destruction of land
5.        Lack of confidence in state regulatory commissions
6.        A feeling of having been deceived
7.        A feeling of powerlessness
8.        Dead or sick animals
9.        A difficulty of obtaining good information about gas drilling
10.    The idea that there is a cover-up taking place.

If you ignore the conspiratorial angle and the inevitable emotional reactions, there are still a number of scary problems in this list.  The film looks at a legislative phenomenon entitled the ‘Halliburton Loophole’ named after Dick Cheney’s insisted exception to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which allows fracking processes to be exempt from clean water regulations – a blatantly corrupt adjustment of the law.  Fox also includes a wonderful quote from a concerned citizen discussing the ‘corporate business model’, which in her eyes goes like this:  Corporation moves into an area, develop as fast as they can, contaminate local environment, make citizens prove it in the court of law, pay off the last person standing, move on, repeat ad infinitum…

The film is brilliant and terrifying and manages to make the vitally important point that all water on the planet is connected – from condensation and evaporation in weather cycles, to streams and oceans, to animal food production and human consumption.  This means that it is not just the local areas that are directly affected, but also the wider country, which is indirectly affected.

So why do I post this today?  Because this is a process that needs to be used as a last resort and regulated properly.  I’m no scientist (obviously) and have no idea of the details of any of this, but if it is in its early stages in this country then there should be a proper debate with scientists and environmentalists in order to move forward in the most scientific way possible.  Surely…

What worries me about energy policy is that it is so political.  Without knowing anything else about a person you can probably guess their political affiliation by whether they support controversial alternatives such as wind turbines or fracking.  (The very notion of putting those two processes together and labeling them controversial just goes to show how hard it is to be bipartisan).  The division is much stronger in America, but I would have a guess at the people who hate wind turbines offshore would probably be comfortable in exploring fracking…

The new GasLand 2 has been released recently and focuses on the myth that natural gas is a clean energy resource and that inevitably these wells leak toxins out over time.

Here is a bonus video of Josh Fox on explaining the problems

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