22 February 2011

Documentary: GasLand

When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for natural gas drilling, he embarks on a cross-country trip to investigate the drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing to see how safe the process is, or to find out what its potential impact could be upon the underground and aboveground watershed.

What is fracking? Basically a hole is bored into the shale, then a compound called 'fracturing fluid' is pumped into the hole at high pressure, which in turn fractures the surrounding rock. Basically causes a little underground earthquake. Then more natural gas is released from the shale and can be pumped out of the bore hole. The list of chemicals in that fracturing fluid has to be seen to understand why people are worried about it getting into their drinking water. And that's the allegation - fracturing the layers underground is potentially fracturing into the water table layers and the gas and chemicals are then seeping into that drinking water. Plus there's the collection ponds of what comes out of those holes after the fracturing process - about half of what was pumped in, according to the documentary. Where's the rest of it?

On part of his cross country trip you get to watch people ignite the water that comes out of the taps in their home. Water that came from wells drilled on their property years before fracking occurred nearby. Wells that didn't have such contamination before.
You get to watch footage of natural gas bubbling up from streambeds - gas that can be easily ignited.
You get to see what happens when one guy drilled a new water well deeper than his current well, only to have natural gas blow out the deeper well - for days. Before the fracking company came to his place and capped it.

Yes, there is some complaints from the other side of the argument about fracking (linked below) calling into question some of the information presented in this documentary. But does quibbling about details invalidate the overall message? Maybe not. Yes- the documentary is skewed to urge the viewer to get angry. However there was a lot of the industry that performs fracking that refused to participate in the documentary when they could have easily refuted the allegations. But when you listen in on industry talking to the legislative panels, and the way they dodge the questions put to them, they really don't come across as sincerely telling everything they know. So misinformation and misdirection on both sides really calls the claims of both sides into question, not just the documentary's.

Best thing to do: additional research into the topic. I've read newspaper articles in the past about dangers linked to fracking and its byproducts, articles which include the industry response to the allegations. Listen to what the geologists have to say. And these were all before I'd heard about this documentary. NPRs Science Friday touched on the subject a little while ago, and even had a fracking industry defender as part of the discussion. Honestly - so far, to me, it sounds like this documentary's message, and the concerns of the people affected by fracking near their homes, is probably more on target than the denials of the natural gas drillers. That's based more on the additional reading I've done moreso than the contents of the documentary. 
Nevertheless, the documentary may do what it sets out to do - get people to think, get people to demand that their local and state governments pay more attention to what's happening in people's backyards.

Definitely worth the time to watch this documentary. Be it on HBO or wherever else. And why? Because chances are if you happen to live in the 34 (or so) states that fracking takes place, this may be happening in your back yard, or in your water table. And if it is scary, see what your state is doing to monitor the industry locally.

Some links: 
Documentary website: http://gaslandthemovie.com/
HBOs promotion website: http://www.hbo.com/documentaries?cmpid=ABC449#/documentaries/gasland/index.html

Someone who wants to discredit the documentary: http://www.jlcny.org/site/index.php/news/latest-news-articles/192-debunking-gasland-the-movie?gclid=CIuEgLGTvaICFRabnAod2X7r6g

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