“GASLAND” (2011): Fracking, a devastating corporate assault on the Earth and its inhabitants

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Poster of the film. Filmmaker Josh Fox plays the banjo with a gas mask between two towers of hydraulic fracturing.

Big American energy companies’ next-to-last device to enrich themselves at the expense of the planet’s and its inhabitants’ health is to drill the Earth and make “non-conventional” holes in order to extract natural gas and oil from the subsoil, an industrial process called hydraulic fracturing or horizontal drilling, best known as “fracking”. Basically, these drilling are made by injecting chemicals in the soil so as to widen fractures in the rock placed above gas and oil, and so making these fossil fuels surface through them. Fracking has allowed gas and oil American companies to reach big reserves of natural gas in the undersoil, and through this finding the United States were able for a while to become an energetic power and get over one of its many capitalist crisis. Today the USA are the world’s largest producer of oil (though there’s little point in it: see the final note in this post). The problem is that fracking advantages entail an awful ecological cost even in the short run and threaten seriously life in the planet. What is injected in every drill are millions of litres of water mixed with chemical products toxic to Earth, human, and the other animals and plants. Gasland, a documentary that sometimes seems a horror film, shows fracking’s catastrophic effects, and makes us glimpse what waits human beings and the planet if this practice is not banned forever. The film focusses on the consequences in the USA, where whole natural regions are becoming foul spillways for polluted water, and rivers and aquifers are dramatically damaged.

Gasland, a documentary that sometimes seems a horror film, shows fracking’s catastrophic effects.

 

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Drawing of extraction of hydrocarbons through hydraulic fracturing.

One day of May 2008 Josh Fox received in his countryside home, close to Delaware river, in the border of New York State and Pennsylvania, a letter signed by a gas company offering him a fortune (100.000 $) in exchange for giving permission to drill his property. According to prospectors, Fox’s land is above the huge Marcellus Deposit, which has been called “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas”. Fox, who lives in a house built by his parents and who is ecologically aware, rejected the offer: he didn’t want high iron towers pumping hydrocarbons in his land. Fox knew the controversy on fracking, and that this device had been practised in his country for some years, and wanted to investigate into the phenomenon. He started a documentary -first by himself and later with the help of three cameramen and an editor- about hydraulic fracturing and its effects. He visited private houses and lands belonging to people who had accepted the same offer he had received, and his findings turn out to be horrifying. In Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Texas, and other States (up to 24) where fracking is widespread, he found people affected by serious health problems (neurological, digestive, circulation disorders) caused by fracking pollution in groundwater and surface water, air and soil.

In Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Texas, and other States (up to 24) where fracking is widespread, he found people affected by serious health problems (neurological, digestive, circulation disorders) caused by fracking pollution in groundwater and surface water, air and soil.

Fox enters the affected person’s homes, and sees the frightening state of tap water: it is not only that it leaves fearsome dark dregs at the bottom of glasses, but that in flowing out of the tap, if put into contact with a lighter flame, it catches on fire. This is due to the great quantity of chemicals mixed with home water: they are inflammable as well as toxic. And people have been drinking this polluted water for months and years. This toxic water has caused chronic diseases and, in some cases, deaths. American fracking companies, acting in connivance with States and Federal Governments (first Bush Jr Administration and then Obama Administration), have been providing people with toxic, inflammable water which have caused them chronic diseases.

American fracking companies, acting in connivance with States and Federal Governments (first Bush Jr Administration and then Obama Administration), have been providing people with toxic, inflammable water which have caused them chronic diseases.

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Water coming from aquifers polluted by fracking is so full of  inflammable chemicals that it catches on fire when in contact to lighter fire. Gasland shows it in many different homes.

The only sign of respect and pity shown by companies and Governments are some compensations in the form of water filters (absolutely inadequate to eliminate damaging products) and the previously mentioned economic offers in exchange for allowing drillings and extractions, in contracts containing a clause of confidentiality: affected people promise not to talk about what happens in their proprieties in return for a sum of money.

Fox talks not only to people who agreed to sign the contract and accepted their lands to be drilled. He also talks to scientists, politicians, and some executive director of fracking companies (although, as it is said in the credits, the vast majority of CEOS refused to appear in the documentary). He even attends a meeting of a Congress subcommittee where it is debated the necessity for the companies to make public the chemicals they throw into subsoil and aquifers. For the chemical composition of fracking materials is a State secrecy, that none of the responsible people is obliged to reveal. Chemical products poisoning aquifers enter the homes of helpless people who have nobody to help them (though, in theory, in the rule of law, legislative and judicial powers should be on their side). Some of the components are well-known, and are frightening: carcinogens, causal of congenital diseases and malformations, and of disorders in the nervous system. Several independent chemical analysis shown in the documentary detected many of the toxic chemical products added to fracking water. The list is long, and the names are of products who nobody who loves life would like to have inside his or her organism.

The people responsible for this disaster are the same as always: big American energy companies and politicians.

The people responsible for this disaster are the same as always: big American energy companies (lead by Halliburton), and politicians. In the beginning of the second term of Bush Jr., the disastrous vice president Dick Cheney (CEO in Halliburton and the architect of, among other things, Irak’s invasion and of thousands of deaths, as well as, in the long run, the ISIS) made the legal amendments necessary for the gas companies to be exempt from the Clean Water Act passed in the beginning of the 70s, which protected potable water as a common good. After the amendments, the companies were able to drill and inject in the subsoil vast quantities of water mixed with toxic chemicals. Obama maintained the absolute companies’ impunity.

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Map of fracking in the United States, as shown in Gasland. Yellow areas contain cases appeared in the film, red areas mean regions of drilling, and blue network indicates the river system.

The helplessness of people affected by water pollution is indescribable; the cynicism, the cruelty, and the thoughtlessness of CEOS and many politicians, too. Although they insist on refusing to reveal the chemicals thrown to aquifers, companies deny -without presenting any evidence- any responsibility in environmental degradation and human diseases. No Government has required any explanation. Independent analysis have reached clear results about water composition: it is highly damaging to environment and to people. Companies have put forward in their defence a study by Texas University that exempted them from responsibilities. But this University invalidated the study after finding out that the chief researcher had financial interests in gas industry, which wasn’t mentioned in the report. The researcher had to resign his post in Texas University, the same as his director. Other reports denying connections between fracking and pollution of aquifers have turned out to be financed by industry. This illegitimate collaboration of academic world and private interests, with economic incentives which doubtlessly constitute conflicts of interests, is very frequent in the United States. It is clearly shown in the documentary Inside Job.

Politicians collusion extends to media, who are controlled by big interest groups. Fox shows that a group of New Yorkers worried about the effects of fracking in the quality of water and in human health commissioned an independent investigation which left them even more worried; the group convened a press conference to present the situation, but no journalist attended the meeting. Fox was the only present.

What can be done against the destructive greed of the companies? How can people protect themselves in the United States, how people will be able to defend themselves in Europe, Africa, Asia when the cruel logics of business attacks this continents? Fox argues that the only effective way to take arms against companies and politicians is coordinated popular pressure: that people join in a common front and abandon the isolation that condemns they to failure. He shows that there are still some honest politicians who refused the bribes of industry and weren’t intimidated by pressures of energy lobby. In the subcommittee of Congress shown in the film, some of these honest politicians interrogate a bunch of CEOS, who appear as amoral beings, lacking in any argument when somebody holds them accountable. The big problem is that it seldom happens.

Among the many worthy witnesses in Gasland there is an special one. He is a farmer from Wyoming called John Fenton, who denounces the environmental degradation, the pollution of water, the bad condition of animals that drink this water. Fenton refuses to leave his land, that was the land of his parents and forefathers and that he wanted to transmit to his children. An honest, angry man, Fenton has become one of the main leaders in the world fight against fracking.

One should thank Fenton, Fox an all the people combating this new form of attack on Earth and its inhabitants for revealing the terrible risks posed by fracking. They fight a powerful and violent industry, whisch moreover have the support of many politicians and media. For the common good of all, it is necessary to take part in this unequal fight: the threat is serious. Aquifers and surface water can’t be cleaned from toxic chemicals. Greenhouse effect of substances thrown to the air will be irreversible. The destruction of landscapes and ecosystems, maybe definitive. Human diseases, fatal and perhaps lethal.

As for the cinematographic aspects, Gasland is a good, well-done film. Fox often protects himself against horror and despair with a shield of irony and fine humour. The movie making is good, both in images and editing. Unlike many environmental documentaries which doesn’t reflect on the best way to present problems, Gasland doesn’t forget at any moment his nature of film, of a means of critical information and knowledge. Popular music accompanying the picture is a call to activism and commitment, in the best American struggle for civil rights tradition.

Note: Although the USA are the world’s largest producer of oil, the non-conventional extraction means employed in this country are much more expensive than the techniques employed in countries such Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, which don’t need to spend so much money in obtaining their conventional oil, so they can sell it much cheaper. The result is that the USA are not a serious competitor for them, and have reduced fracking activity, which doesn’t pay. But not before they have poisoned their own aquifers.

DETAILS

Filmmaking and script: Josh Fox
Producer: HBO Documentary Films, International WOW Company
Country: United States
Original language: English
Running length: 107 minutes
Web: http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/home
Trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtpSgqUZ3oA

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