Gasland

The Nominations:

  • Documentary Feature

The Black-and-White:

A review by spacedcowboy

How would you feel if your hair fell out, your dog is barfing, and when you put a match or lighter to the water coming out of your kitchen faucet, a huge fireball ensues?

See Gasland.

Here’s a plot synopsis of Gasland from wikipedia.org:

In May 2008, Fox received a letter from a natural gas company offering to lease his family’s land in Milanville, Pennsylvania for $100,000 to drill for gas.

Following the lease offer, he looked for information about natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale under large parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. He visited Dimock, Pennsylvania where natural gas drilling was already taking place. In Dimock, he met families able to light their tap water on fire as well as suffering from numerous health issues and fearing their water wells had been contaminated.

Fox then set out to see how communities are being affected in the west where a natural gas drilling boom has been underway for the last decade. He spent time with citizens in their homes and on their land as they relayed their stories of natural gas drilling in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Texas, among others. He spoke with residents who have experienced a variety of chronic health problems as well as contamination of their air, water wells or surface water. In some instances, gas companies are replacing the affected water supplies with potable water or water purification kits.

Throughout the documentary, Fox reached out to scientists, politicians and gas industry executives and ultimately found himself in the halls of Congress as a subcommittee was discussing the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, “a bill to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to repeal a certain exemption for hydraulic fracturing.” Hydraulic fracturing was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

My initial reactions to Gasland were mixed – given the visual evidence (e.g., burning water in kitchen sinks) I was convinced that the method to extract natural gas in the United States is contaminating the water supply. This may very well be true, and if so, it is horrific, and this documentary does a great service to bring it to our attention.

Particularly chilling is the fact that the process to extract natural gas, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), was exempted in 2005 from the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Energy Policy Act. The films suggests motives for why this is so…

From the Gasland movie website:

The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudia Arabia of natural gas” just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown.

It seems compelling and convincing that this is an unregulated and unmitigated natural-gas-disaster, at a personal level, and ecologically. And as such, I am moved and I am disturbed.

Having said that, and having been disturbed by it, the documentary suffers (as many modern documentaries do) from an imbalanced approach and lack of application of the scientific method to prove its point. The evidence, while compelling, is hearsay.

The film (I hesitate to say documentary) is a personal journey. Josh Fox takes us on his journey, to understand what is happening to his home in Pennsylvania, and to explore the impact on the US, and the world, of the natural gas crusade happening now world-wide. As such, it succeeds. I wan enthralled to see the filmmaker’s journey from conversations around kitchen sinks, to a congressional hearing about fracking. This, I think, was the true triumph of the movie.

However, wearing my “black hat” as a reviewer of Oscar-worthy films, I must say that I think Gasland falls short. This was an admirable effort by a filmmaker who, I’m guessing, never thought he’d be in contention for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature (and bravo for that!). However, passing this through the mill of what deserves an Oscars for documentary, Gasland falls flat – too many editorials, too little unbiased and balanced perspectives.

A documentary brings facts, not editorials, and Gasland was a bit too full of hot air.

Bottom line: See it. Learn, and be worried. But as the best Documentary Feature of the year? No – not a documentary.

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