Sunday, July 25, 2010

Please Watch 'Gasland'

So what would you do if you had some farmland acreage and somebody approached you to sign a lease that would pay you about $5,000 per acre to allow them to drill for gas on your property? Filmmaker Josh Fox had such an offer for his family’s 20 acre property near the Delaware River in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania.

$100,000 is hardly chump change! But before signing anything, Fox decided to check out a story about people in nearby Dimock, PA who were suffering ill effects that they believed were a result of their well water being contaminated by the gas drilling that had already started there. In addition, it was said that people were actually able to light their running tap water on fire! So he investigated and filmed what he saw there. This lead to Fox following up on similar stories from other areas around the country where gas drilling has been taking place for some time.

The collection of stories resulted in a documentary titled Gasland. Video clips from some of these visits are on the
official website of this movie.

In June, the movie premiered on HBO and is available to subscribers for viewing on demand through the month of August. Here is a partial synopsis from the
HBO website.

Gasland is Fox’s urgent, cautionary and sometimes darkly comic look at the largest domestic natural gas drilling campaign in history, which is currently sweeping the country and promising landowners a quick payoff.

However, as Fox discovers, the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, [developed by Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s former company] was exempted by the Bush-Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005 from the United States’ most basic environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

Natural gas companies have installed hundreds of thousands of rigs in 34 states…Each well requires the use of fracking fluids – chemical cocktails consisting of 596 chemicals, including carcinogens and neurtoxins, as well as one to seven million gallons of water, which are infused by the chemicals. Considering that there are approximately 450,000 wells in the U.S,. Fox estimates that 40 trillion gallons of chemically infused water have been created by the drilling, much of it left seeping or injected into the ground across the country.

Whew! So what does the oil and gas industry have to say in their defense? Fox was unable to get an on-the-record comment from any of the companies doing the drilling. But when executives from the various companies appeared together in Congressional hearings, it was their position that this fracking process causes no harm to anybody’s drinking water.

In addition, Energy In Depth, a Washington, D.C. based PR group supported by the oil and gas industry, has created a web page Debunking GasLand with a list of claimed factual inaccuracies in the documentary.

Not to be outdone, Fox assembled a group of experts to compile a 39 page web document,
Affirming Gasland which Fox calls "A de-debunking document in response to specious and misleading gas industry claims against the film."

Affirming Gasland is especially informative for those who would like to understand this issue more since it copies the text of Debunking GasLand and then does a point-by-point rebuttal that Fox and his experts have prepared. And incidentally, in Affirming the experts are explicitly identified next to their words; Debunking does not identify the sources behind its writing.

Gasland falls short of stating categorically that the polluted well water that the many people in his film are dealing with is the result of the gas drilling. This would require an investigation by a government agency. But there is compelling circumstantial evidence that is part of each person’s story in the movie. The well water was never bad before. After the drilling, the water starts to look bad and people start getting sick.

The drilling companies can (and do) argue that their drilling had nothing to do with the bad water. And the lighting of running tap water that was shown in the film? Naturally occurring methane pockets as a result of drilling the water well. Not their fault. In essence, they are saying “trust us” — just like we trusted BP.

Unfortunately, the federal government in the form of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been mostly absent through all of this, likely due to the federal environmental exemptions given to the gas drillers. This leaves the individual state agencies to serve as the watchdogs. But with state governments under tremendous financial pressure to cut costs, the lack of money and manpower to effectively do their jobs is only getting worse.

One step in the right direction would be for Congress to pass
H.R. 2766 and S. 1215 which would repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act and get the EPA on board.

If you haven’t seen it, I hope you will take the time to watch Gasland to help you make up your own mind on the subject. For those without HBO, find a friend who has HBO and watch it together! It is available On-Demand anytime thru August. After that, it will be available on DVD. You won’t be sorry!

In the meantime, here is a 23 minute
PBS video interview of Josh Fox which includes video highlights from the movie.

Drilling has been already been underway out west where many thousands of gas wells have been drilled. With the industry now starting to concentrate on the
Marcellus Shale formation, some people in Pennsylvania and the surrounding states will soon be asked to sign a lease to allow gas drilling on their properties. Only these people can decide if the money offered is worth it to them.

For the rest of us, we must decide whether the environmental price of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ to obtain our natural gas is worth it to us.
This is an important question. We also need to weigh in the risk of
gas wells exploding and hurting people. If nothing else, we owe it to ourselves to become more informed on this issue so we can come up with some intelligent answers!

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