Oscar Fever: Gasland

With the Oscars a mere 15 days away it’s maybe time to start casting our eyes over the flicks in the running. Last night I looked at the Best Documentary Feature nominee Gasland.

The USA is an energy hungry place, everyone knows that. The question is, how far will they go to secure and extract their own resources? Josh Fox’s film goes some way to providing the answer, and it’s not an answer that will give comfort to anyone with environmental concerns.

America’s desire to move away from it’s reliance on foreign energy (they’re maybe getting sick of all that expensive fighting) has led to the discovery and subsequent extraction of natural gas reserves held beneath US soil. The scale of these reserves are huge and although no timescale is given as to how long this bounty will last, the map coverage of the gas is immense and covers most of the US landmass.

So this is a good thing, no? Cleaner than oil and obtainable without treading on the toes of nations who don’t like you. This is surely the best option? Well, you would think so, until you witness the impact the extraction process is having on the people who live close to the wells.

Natural gas is tricky to get out of the ground and requires a process called Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking”. This involves drilling into shale beds deep beneath the ground and pumping vast amounts of chemical laden water into the ground to literally fracture the shale surrounding the bore hole. This violent rupturing releases the gas. Landholders across the US were contacted and offered money by the energy companies to lease their land for drilling. For most, the promise of zero environmental impact and thousands of dollars was too tempting to pass up.

Josh Fox was also offered a deal to put a well on his land. New York state plans to start drilling and this was the catalyst for his voyage of discovery. Visiting houses with wells on their doorsteps he is shown example after example of environmental devastation. Water that comes out of the tap brown and sludge-like. Water that stinks of chemicals and is undrinkable. Water you can literally set on fire.

It’s difficult to see how they’re going to repair the damage.

And that’s to say nothing of the fumes from the drill sites. Fox meets numerous people who have respitory and brain ailments, all of which were never aparent before the drilling started.

“Prove it was caused by us” say the energy companies………

It’s an incredibly subtle, powerful piece of work. Ordinary people recount their experiences with incredible humility. There is precious little vitriol which is astounding considering what these people are going through. Every story told is a small piece of a HUGE, disturbing picture. Just like each small gas well (for there are 10’s of thousands) is a small part of a terrible problem.

The scale on which the United Stated is undertaking this programme is staggering and, thanks to George Bush and Dick Cheney (Ex CEO of Halliburton of course) the work was passed with exeptions from the clean air and water laws. Laws designed to not only protect the people, but the earth and it’s life giving commodities.

Will this film win the Oscar? Probably not. It is a fine example of direct action filmmaking though. Catch it if you can.



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