The most enduring shot from Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary Gasland is of a man running his faucet, which he puts a lighter near. The water quickly goes up in flames.
That’s the result of Halliburton-created hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Fox says, which according to GaslandTheMovie.com “is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well.”
For each frack, 1 to 8 million gallons of water are usually used, with anywhere from 80 to 300 tons of chemicals (including known carcinogens and volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene). This leaves huge amounts of polluted wastewater, of which 50 percent or less is typically recovered.
The result is land scarring, air pollution, spills, health problems, and a host of other environmental concerns.
An Investigative Road Trip
What spurred filmmaker and stage director Fox’s interest in fracking? He first started looking into it when a gas company approached him in 2008 about leasing his family’s 20 acres near the Pennsylvania/New York border. The offer was nearly $100,000.
Instead of being bowled over by the amount of money, Fox set out to check out other drilling sites across the country. What he found wasn’t pretty, but it was interesting enough to become the topic of Gasland, which was nominated for an Oscar and won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for a U.S. documentary.
“The first thing that I heard about was a woman [whose] water well exploded on New Year’s Day of 2009,” he said in an NPR interview. “And it sent a concrete casing soaring up into the air and scattered debris all over her yard. And then other people started to notice that their water was bubbling and fizzing, that their water had been discolored. By the time I got there a month later, there were children who were getting sick [and] animals who were getting sick and the whole place was pretty much laid to waste.”
Not Everyone’s a Fan
The Columbia University grad has been blasted by the gas and oil industry, and in February 2012 was arrested at a House of Representatives subcommittee meeting on the EPA’s investigation into groundwater contamination in Wyoming. Authorities said he did not have permission to film it.
Still, Fox keeps plugging away, working on a sequel to Gasland. “The bottom line is, it really is a trip across the country to save my home that turned into my whole country being at risk,” he said in an interview with Truthout. “The scope of the project just exploded; it’s like what I say at the end of the movie that your backyard just keeps getting bigger and bigger until you realize it’s all just connected. All the water is connected, all the air is connected and everything is our backyard.”