Gasland may well be the most important film made in America in years. Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance, where it premiered in January, Gasland, virtually on its own, has exposed an imminent threat to our drinking water. A national audience saw the film when it aired on HBO last June 21 and the doc is now showing in select theaters nationwide.
Norah Eisenberg's June Nation interview with Josh Fox, the maker of the film, did an excellent job explaining the doc's complicated subject: hydraulic fracturing. Fracking, as the practice is commonly called, is a means of extracting natural gas by pressure-drilling a mix of water, sand and chemicals more than a mile vertically and horizontally into the earth. The sand and chemicals break up the dense rock to release methane, the compound comprising natural gas, which is pumped back up along with the fracking liquid, now infused not only with the chemical additives but heavy metals and radioactive material as well. The problem is that these materials are leaching into our water supplies, sickening people, vegetation and animals.
By design, hydrofracking causes miniature underground explosions – fracturing rocks and consequently releasing gas, along with radioactive and other carcinogenic and highly toxic substances from deep within the earth. These carcinogens, along with radioactive materials and the toxic sludge known as frack fluid, can contaminate aquifers and spoil water supplies.
Gasland tells the gripping and awful story of how fracking became the dominant technology in US gas production. As Eisenberg explained, Halliburton and Dick Cheney are prime actors in the fracking drama. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, developed behind closed doors with Cheney's oversight, allowed energy companies to conceal as trade secrets the chemicals they use to help the drilling liquid reach and fracture the shale. But reports by whistle-blowers, and industry documents have revealed that the "trade secrets" clause is being used to cover the fact that dangerous compounds like butoxyethanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, glycol ethers, hydrocholoric acid, sodium hydroxide and benzene are posing a major health risk to increasing numbers of Americans.
Filmmaker Fox traveled across 32 states to meet rural residents on the front lines of fracking and investigate the concrete consequences of the practice on the ground. He discovered toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, brutal illnesses, and kitchen sinks that burst into flame.
What to do? A good first step is to implore your reps to support the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act. The legislation aims to repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act. It would require the energy industry to disclose the chemicals it pumps underground in the hydraulic fracturing process, information that has been protected as trade secrets.
Supporting United for Action, an organization of "volunteers who shape public policy decisions by organizing and mobilizing groups of like minded citizens," is another good way to help halt the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Check out the groups' website for more background info and details on how you can get involved in the fight against fracking.