Nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy in 2011, Gasland documents the effect that extracting natural gas from the earth using hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, has on the surrounding water supply and those that depend on it.
A truly extraordinary story, you will watch the first hour of Gasland with mouth gaping at how this practice can be allowed to exist in its current format and the underhanded way in which it was allowed to circumvent the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act due to the pressure of the gas industry on the Bush administration.
Shot by first time film maker Josh Fox who is producer, director, writer and first camera operator, Gasland was spawned after he received a letter from a natural gas company offering to lease his land for nearly $5,000 per acre in order to allow drilling to occur. Once leased, the homeowner has no say in how many drill sites are constructed and, as we find out, has no recourse to the devastating effects that result.
Over an 18 month period, Fox travels through various states where fracking occurs interviewing homeowners and observing the effects on both them and their lives. He also shows that this process is not illegal due to Dick Cheney passing a bill to allow gas companies to circumvent the Clean Water Act, a controversial move from the ex-Haliburton CEO upon entering the Bush administration designed to allow mass drilling with minimal red tape. Since fracking pollutes the water table, many of the victims have suffered severe medical effects from drinking contaminated water and in what are the most extraordinary scenes, they are shown to be able to ignite the water coming out of their taps with a naked flame because of the quantity of natural gas polluting the water.
After seeing the effects and taking various water samples to try and determine the pollutants within the water, Fox does manage a handful of short interviews with certain members of various organisations but as we see in a couple of short montages, all attempts to speak to representatives of the natural gas companies themselves are met with a resoundingly negative response.
Eventually he winds up in a Washington hearing as two senators attempt to move along a bill removing the right of the energy companies to be able to side step the environmental acts designed to stop this sort of problem and as the film ends, this process is ongoing. In scenes reminiscent of the tobacco company big wigs declaring that nicotine was not addictive in front of congress in 1994, the gas industry giants brazenly attempt to discredit the link between fracking and water contamination despite, I’m sure, not believing a word they are saying.
While Gasland is yet another ‘Corporate America vs the little guy’ documentary, it is particularly well presented and does feel like a very personal journey rather than just a series of damning facts designed to cause outrage. It is slightly rough around the edges but this just gives it a more human feel increasing the viewer’s empathy for the people inadvertently caught up in this scandalous practice. Highly worth seeing.