He comes to discover how the Delaware River watershed's imminently endangered status will threaten New York City's main water source, and towards the end of the film focuses on New York City, as respected politicians like John Gennaro and Congressman Maurice Hinchey speak on behalf of this issue. But before filming congressional hearings, Fox charts his personal dilemma and how it quickly spirals outward, as first his neighbors tell him horror stories about water contamination due to this process. And as he tours Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas, where hydraulic fracturing has already contaminated myriad underground wells, Fox actually films many families' water faucets catching fire as people hold a match to their running tap water. Fox's continuing investigation ties this unchecked chemical process to Dick Cheney's Halliburton activity and bills covertly passed during the Bush administration. Gasland does not have a conspiratorial feel; it takes an honest, even-keeled investigative approach and relies on information relayed to Fox from renowned activists like Dr. Theo Colborn and Environmental Protection Agency staffer Weston Wilson. This documentary sheds light on what has been a practice that many American citizens have assumed mysterious and possibly benign. It is easy to understand why Gasland has garnered so many film festival awards, since it presents vital information that will necessitate action once it reaches enough of the population. This is grassroots documentary filmmaking at its finest. --Trinie Dalton, Amazon
In 2009, filmmaker Josh Fox learned his home in the Delaware River Basin was on top of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation containing natural gas that stretches across New York, Pennsylvania and huge stretches of the Northeast. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land for a new method of drilling developed by Halliburton and soon discovered this was only a part of a 34-state drilling campaign, the largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history. Part mystery, part travelogue, and part banjo showdown, Gasland documents Josh's cross-country odyssey to find out if the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - is actually safe. As he interviews people who live on or around current fracking sites, Josh learns of things gone horribly wrong, from illness to hair loss to flammable water, and his inquiries lead him ever deeper into a web of secrets, lies, conspiracy, and contamination - a web that potentially stretches to threaten the New York Watershed. Unearthing a shocking story about a practice that is understudied and inadequately regulated, Gasland races to find answer about fracking before it's far too late.
The environmental contamination and human health risk associated with the extraction of natural gas using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” was little known across the United States for years, until a documentary film brought the issue to the national stage. Josh Fox directed the film Gasland, which chronicles the devastation affecting communities where fracking is taking place and the influence of the natural gas industry over regulation of the techniques and chemicals used in the process. The industry aggressively attacked the film, especially when it was nominated for an Academy Award this year.
AN EXCERPT FROM THE FIM "GASLAND" on the news program "Democracy Now!" . . .
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Josh Fox, director of Gasland, who really opened up this discussion with this remarkable film. Josh, before we go to you, I want to play an excerpt from your documentary. This clip, featuring Colorado Congressmember Diana DeGette.
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Out west, we’ve had a lot of experiences with different kinds of mining techniques that have caused human health risks and severe environmental damage. Now, Mr. John, you say that hydraulic fracturing absolutely does not pose a threat to drinking water. So if that’s true, why would you object to the disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process under the Safe Drinking Water Act?
MIKE JOHN: As I mentioned earlier, the information packets that we provide to the—provide to the—
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: No. Why would you object? If it’s perfectly safe, why would you object to disclosure of the chemicals that are used?
MIKE JOHN: What I was saying was that we have disclosed today and prior to the hearing—
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Which chemicals are used?
MIKE JOHN: Yes, Ma’am.
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: In each process?
MIKE JOHN: They’re listed in a frack fact sheet that’s been provided by Chesapeake—
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Well, so, in that case, you would have no objection to my bill.
MIKE JOHN: We’ve supplied that information as part of our—
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: So would you have an objection to my bill then, since you’ve already supplied that information?
MIKE JOHN: I’m not personally familiar with your bill, ma’am.
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: It makes chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing subject to the reporting requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
MIKE JOHN: As stated earlier, we believe that the current regulatory framework—
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Yes or no?
MIKE JOHN: We believe the current regulatory framework—
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: So, yes, you would object to my bill, because you don’t think we would need to report it under the Safe Drinking Water Act, even though you say the chemicals are safe. Correct?
MIKE JOHN: Correct.
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: OK, how about you, Mr. Kell? Are you saying that hydraulic fracturing fluids cannot possibly be to blame for water contamination seen in cases across the country?
SCOTT KELL: Allegations that were presented through certain media outlets relative to six specific states. We did not survey all states that have oil and gas activity, and therefore would not make the statement that no one has ever—
REP. DIANA DeGETTE: OK, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the Congress member from Colorado, Diana DeGette. Josh Fox, tell us who she was questioning.
JOSH FOX: Well, she was questioning, I think, Mike John from Chesapeake Energy and then Scott Kell from the Groundwater Protection Council, which is a nonprofit that takes a lot of money from oil and gas to analyze various results. And they were all saying that there was no threat to water from hydraulic fracturing.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh, congratulations, by the way, on your Oscar nomination. I would guess you were at the Academy Awards, but you really—your award is that you made this known throughout the country. You have really opened up a national conversation on fracking. This New York Times exposé, and all that Walter Hang has just been telling us, can you take it national? Which is what you did. You went across the country from your own concern in your own backyard, when you hadn’t even heard the word "fracking," and then suddenly they said they were going to do it where you lived.
JOSH FOX: Well, I’m very glad to see these New York Times articles, especially when they came out. They gave us much needed backup at a time when the gas industry has been attacking and attacking and attacking, in light of the Academy Award nomination, attacking the film, calling into question its credibility.
But as you see here, time and time again, the science backs up what the citizens on the ground are talking about, what they’re saying, you know, because citizens are your first level of scientific data. And what this shows in the Times here is that they were not incorrect about all the things that they believed were going on, that these wastewater—that this wastewater was being dumped illegally into rivers and streams, that it was being spread out onto roads near their homes. Amy Bergdale at EPA knew very well, and she actually did a presentation when we screened Gasland for the entire environmental wing of the Department of Justice. Amy Bergdale from EPA Region 3 came out and gave the very same presentation that you see a lot of here in the New York Times.
So, it’s very, very disturbing information, but clearly, this kind of practice, as we saw in Pennsylvania, which, by the way, was adamantly—you know, it seemed to be covered up by what was going on with John Hanger and the Pennsylvania DEP. But we saw this same kind of practice happening in Colorado, in Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana—all across the nation. And it is very scary.
And I’ll add also that it’s not just the wastewater that’s being dumped into rivers and streams. This wastewater is the flowback water. It’s the produced water which is initially being injected down into the well board to fracture those shale formations or those tight sands or those coal beds. Fifty percent to 85 percent of that toxic material is actually left in the ground. They can’t get it back out. So, not only is this a problem with the wastewater that actually needs to be disposed of, but that toxic material has been left down in the ground there at each of these well sites, infused into the landscape, to presumably migrate over a period of time. And some of the reviews to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s environmental impact study show that, yes, over decades, that fluid, which has been left in [inaudible], will migrate into the [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: We don’t have the greatest connection with you, Josh, but I do I want to ask, with your film, there was a lot of talk about the oil and gas industry filing a complaint with the Academy Award Committee, saying that your film is full of lies. What is your response?
JOSH FOX: Well, this is the kind of infantile smear campaign, shaking their fists. The gas industry, I think they really went over the top this time to try to write to the Academy Awards to somehow take potshots at the film. They’ve been doing this for a year. We have posted at our website, gaslandthemovie.com, our rebuttals to every single one of their lies about our movie. What they’ve been trying to do, I think, is call into—this is a very similar tactic to what people did to try to cast doubt on the phenomenon of global warming.
What they’re doing here is saying things that are very obviously proven untrue. They say things like, “Well, we’re not exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, therefore Josh’s film is wrong and what everybody else is saying is wrong,” or, you know, “These people could light their water on fire before we got there"—things that are kind of utterly ridiculous and that are easily disproven when you look at the facts and you look at the law and you look at the science. I think what they’re doing is to try to create doubt in the media so that there’s no action taken.
But clearly, what Walter Hang is saying, and one of my great heroes, Tim DeChristopher, who you had on earlier, is saying, absolutely right now is the time for action, within the EPA, within the Congress, at the executive level, and certainly among the citizenship.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh Fox, I want to thank you for being with us, director of Gasland. Congratulations again on your nomination for an Academy Award.
JOSH FOX: Thanks, Amy. It’s great to be on.
AMY GOODMAN: It won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
An Amazon customers review:
When you watch Josh Fox's brilliant GASLAND, it's as if you're watching a nightmare scenario of what would happen if our lands were taken over by evil aliens, intent on sucking the earth dry, regardless of the consequences to the planet--and to us. This is no sci-fi thriller that could never happen in real life, however. Shockingly, it IS really happening and it's worse than you can imagine.
Very fortunately, for all of us, Josh Fox, brave soul that he is, ventured out into the heart of America and into the small towns of this country to actually speak to regular, law abiding, tax paying citizens who are now paying the ultimate price for "clean" gas drilling with permanent health effects, including brain damage, chronic respiratory conditions and many other serious conditions, too numerous to mention. Their land is worthless, their water undrinkable. The now famous scene where the tap water actually bursts into flame is just the tip of the iceberg. The epidemic of hydrofracking now taking place in America is worse than any disease we've ever encountered. It destroys our water, our air, our animals, our vegetation (including farm crops), our livestock, our health and our lives. This is Three Mile Island, Love Canal and Chernobyl--times fifty.
GASLAND should be shown in every elementary, high school and college classroom. At least that way, when our children grow into adults, they will know why there is no such thing anymore as fresh water in America. And they will know who was responsible. - Jeanie, New York, N.Y. (amazon reviewer)
Josh Fox's GASLAND is an entertaining, high energy piece of art that will make you laugh and leave you terrified. Fox traveled across the country and through the gas patches in his old Camry with nothing but his curiosity, ample passion and a camera. Watching GASLAND is an interactive experience; you will laugh, cry, shake your head in disbelief, curse and marvel at the triumph of the human spirit. If this film doesn't make you think about the future and motivate you to action, check your pulse.
I live on top of the Barnett Shale and for six years now I have blogged about the devastating effects of natural gas extraction. Everything in GASLAND, I have witnessed firsthand and captured in video and photographs on my blog.
Natural gas is not a clean energy, and if this is our bridge fuel, we aren't going far. It's another dirty fossil fuel that creates massive amounts of toxic and radioactive waste for which industry has no plan. They are spreading this waste on our farmland, dumping it in streams and ditches and burying it in fields. The water use is simply not sustainable and our surface and groundwater is being contaminated. The emissions make natural gas worse for the climate than coal--now that's BAD!
– S. Wilson, Dedcatur, TX
We can decide now to go forward and build a sustainable world where our children will have a future or continue to beat the hydrocarbon energy dead horse to the ruination of our vital natural resources.
In 2009, Josh Fox was approached by a natural gas-drilling company to purchase the rights to drill under his eastern Pennsylvania property for natural gas. Fox was offered $100,000 for his gas rights, but he was concerned about rumors of problems with natural gas drilling in other communities. Armed with his suspicions, a wry sense of humor and a video camera, he set out to investigate.
Pockets of natural gas have been safely drilled in America for decades. But rising demand for natural gas has drillers looking to less easily-recoverable sources. A new process called "hydraulic fracturing" is being used by companies like Cabot Oil and Gas and Chesapeake Energy to extract natural gas that is bound up in the rock of a geologic formation called the Marcellus Shale, which stretches from New York and Pennsylvania through West Virginia, Ohio and into eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.
Hydraulic fracturing - also known as "fracking" - injects enormous quantities of water and a witches brew of toxic chemicals including benzene and glycol ethers, under extremely high pressure to break up the underground shale formation, releasing the natural gas from the rock. The gas is then pumped to the surface where it is processed, compressed, and then piped away. Some of the water and toxic chemicals used to fracture the shale are pumped back to the surface, and stored in open pits. Thanks to the "Halliburton Loophole" passed in 2005 during the Bush-Cheney administration, natural gas drilling is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In "Gasland," filmmaker Fox travels to Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas to visit communities that have been greatly impacted by natural gas exploration, and he documents the problems there. A scarcity of clean water is one of the greatest problems in arid western states, so pumping millions of gallons of water underground is a huge concern. Water contamination is another.
Fox visits several people who have problems with contamination of their well water, allegedly due to the fracking. Hair loss in pets, headaches, brain lesions are reported. In Dimock, Pennsylvania one resident said "Our water was perfectly fine, and then right after they started drilling, propane and stuff like that ..."
In one of the most startling moments I have ever seen in a documentary film, Fox visits the home of a Weld County, Colorado resident named Mike Markham who claims that he can light the water coming from his kitchen faucet on fire, because the fracking near his home has allowed the underground natural gas to infiltrate his well water supply.
Markham holds a butane lighter up to the faucet, then slowly turns on the water. The flame flickers, but nothing happens. "Just give it a second here," he says. Seconds roll by slowly, and still ... nothing. It looks like a big anti-climax, then suddenly WHOOM!! The kitchen sink explodes into a ball of fire. Markham staggers back, laughing and brushing his forearms. "I smell hair!" he says.
In one of the film's most touching moments, Fox visits Wyoming cattle rancher John Fenton. Fenton, the son of "old-time cowboys" is eloquent and evokes all the ideals of the American West. His property is surrounded by 24 gas wells. Vapors from the condensate tanks are sometimes so bad that they surround his house in a brown cloud. His wife Kathy suffers from headaches and dizziness, and a loss of smell. Fenton shakes his head as he looks at his herd of cattle. He calls his water "the damnedest-smelling stuff, comes out different colors all the time ... I don't know how they (the cattle) even drink it.
"We want to raise the best, most natural clean product we can raise ... but if you're breathing in dirty air and drinking water that could be tainted, what's coming out in these cows? You gotta be sure that what you're putting in `em is as pure as it can be. Cute as they are, in a year or two they're going to be on someone's dinner plate.
"We need to speak in a unified voice, and stand up to these a******."
I highly recommend this film. Fox uses his sense of humor - and his banjo-playing - to make what could be a highly depressing film enjoyable and even funny.
- D.S. Cooper, Lexington, KY