Gasland: A Environmental Justice Movie Review

So over the weekend I watched the film Gasland by Josh Fox and felt the need to comment on it This ones a little long but I think that I give a fairly good explanation. I thought it was successful at introducing the topic of natural gas extraction and its negative affects on the environment, the people, and the animals that are exposed to it. The film begins with his description of how his land is sitting on the edge of a major natural gas shell that gas companies want to lease to drill on in exchange for money. Curiosity about what that process would really entail takes him on an investigative road trip across the state of New York and then across the country. He soon finds himself pulled into a world of contaminated water sources, flammable water, toxic vapors, undiagnosed medical problems, animal deaths, unregulated corporations, government cover-ups, and terrified, frustrated citizens. Here’s the trailer!!!!

According to the film, the main ways contamination occurs is through the fracturi process where chemically laced fluid is pumped into the drill shafts to aid in forcing out the gas. The fluid contains unidentified chemicals as well as 596 chemicals known to compromise human health. The second method is the illegal dumping of production wastewater into nearby fields and streams. The water then leaches into the ground water or dries and is spread to other areas in the form of dust. Lastly, through a process called venting, chemical vapors are released from the rigs into the atmosphere and then fall onto fields sometimes in the form of acid rain. The affects of these acts are both immediate and long term and are intensified by the billions of gallons of water used in each extraction process.
Overall, the film, through a more personal approach, does a good job at inciting strong emotional responses from the viewer. Visually, I felt that the strongest scene was when a resident in one of these communities lights the water from his kitchen sink on fire. The invasiveness of the issues was just so outraging and spectacular that it made me wonder why authorities needed proof after proof.
Albeit the emotional pull to persuade, the film was also successful at underlining larger issues regarding the organization and proficiency of our government, its agencies, and the general public. For instance, corruption seems to extend in all areas of the government even all the way up to the presidency.  Fox explains that this push for natural gases has been ongoing since the 1970’s. What I was not aware of was that after meeting with gas and oil companies one time an alliance was made under the energy task force program initiated under the Bush Administration. Furthermore, in 2005 a loophole in a bill proposed by Cheney that exempted the oil and gas companies from many of the environmental policies invoked in the 1970’s. I was outraged by this particular fact but not surprised as I realize politicians have their own personal agendas that tend to revolve around money.

On a similar note, the EPA also seems to be compromised. As of now, it appears that the EPA is too small and too spread out to manage all issues with 34 of 50 states affected by these industries. Even with citizens making claims and providing their own evidence the film suggests that there is a tendency to ignore them which to me defeats the whole purpose of having a protection agency. Another scene from the movie emphasizes this point. In it, Fox pulls out sample jars for the secretary of the department of environmental conservation of Texas to drink from but he refuses after claiming that there was nothing wrong with the water in those communities. It was later explained that three months after interview the budget along with a number of jobs for that state’s departments of environmental conservation were cut. The irony was that it was done while the biggest drilling operation was underway. It seemed all too systematic and signified that the state government really had their priorities twisted.

Lastly, I was left thinking about these affected communities. How were these people hoodwinked so easily? Was it because most fracturing occurs in rural, sparsely populated areas and the people are probably red state supporters who want government regulation out anyway? If that were the case would it not be there fault partly? The movie suggests that its not really as information is near impossible to get from other citizens and the industries themselves. In the film, there are countless shots of him on the phone trying to get a hold of anyone to talk to about the issues. He is only left with answering machines and false promises to call him back. I can only imagine what it would be like for those facing these issues. Fox also mentions that the word is buried further as anyone who has gone to court and made settlements with these industries are forced to sign disclaimers prohibiting to talk any further.
These types of films always make me feel a bit hopeless by the end and Fox’s film was no exception. The picture did not really offer any resolutions to the problem or my questions other than mentioning a bill proposal that would place some type of regulation on fracturing. Still, with all the support by gas and oil lobbyist, lawyers, and congressmen I do not anticipate a win. Even if it does win there is fear it will stand as a hollow law or be overturned in the future.  Thinking back though, there were some experts who offered words of advice. Award winning environmentalist, Theo Colborn, said that there will be no way to monitor these companies as long as they are given the privilege not to divulge all the chemical their using in their industry. Another expert stated that government agencies as well as grassroots organizations need to look at the issues as they happen instead of once they have occurred.  It seems that there is only one possible solution to this daunting issue; a unified voice of those affected and switch to an alternative energy sources to replace our dependency on natural gas.  

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