On America’s environmental devastation charts, the hits just keep on coming.
I have decided to devote more space than is available in print (tomorrow) for my review of a new HBO documentary “Gasland.”
It should deter you from taking any money from a gas company that wants to drill on your property, no matter how much you need it (the money). There are details below of a Saturday viewing and the HBO schedule.(These photos are courtesy of HBO.)
We’ve all heard of the Marcellus shale. It is a mile below parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland, where ground water is, and gas companies are drilling it, using hydraulic chemicals and chemically treated water — several millions of gallons per well — to “frack” the shale to get at the gas.
Chemists, geologists and merely instinctive regular folks are calling this insane and they are doing it on camera, notably in Josh Fox’s endearing and horrifying new documentary, “Gasland.”
It debuts on HBO at 9 p.m. June 21and shows June 26 at noon, June 30 at 9:45 a.m., July 5 at 3:30 p.m. and July 9 at 4 p.m.
“Gasland” won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival for exposing the effects of America’s race to get gas wells drilled — in 34 states and counting. It has been touted as clean energy, but so has coal. The reverse is shown, as people hold lighters to their running water taps and the water becomes fire.
Mr. Fox, who lives on the banks of the Delaware River in Milanville, near the New York border, began a nationwide trek with his camera after getting a letter last year from a gas company offering him $105,000 to drill for gas on his 19.5 acre property.
Lots of money? He thought not and began talking to people about the cost of this so-called boon.
That's him in the photo on land the Bureau of Land Management (not a euphemism but yes, Orwellian) owns in Wyoming.
John Fenton, a Wyoming rancher, lives surrounded by drilling apparatuses and condensate tanks on his property. He called the vapors “like a brown blaket over the air.” A third-generation rancher, he said, “It’s amazing that what took Mother Nature millions of years to build could be destroyed in a few hours by a piece of heavy machinery.”
Weston Wilson, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, spoke about the Halliburton loophole, part of the 2005 Energy Act, which allows companies to keep secret the chemicals they use to frack shale. An EPA investigation was quashed, he said, citing the Bush Administration’s credo as “don’t investigate; expedite things for industry.”
The EPA is still falling down on the job under President Obama, he said. “The onus should be on industry to demonstrate to the government that their practices are benign. Americans don’t deserve to be exposed to mysterious chemicals.”
Mr. Fox traveled to Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas before returning to his native Pennsylvania. He documented people lighting their tap water on fire; the condensate tanks and drilling rigs that cut through the migratory route of the endangered pronghorned antelope; brown and yellow water; the hair loss of domestic animals and the ailments of people who signed away their land to gas companies: the loss of taste and smell, dizziness, headaches, benzene in their blood.
Zoologist Theo Colborn, a world-renowned expert on the health effects of toxic chemicals, said people whose air and water are polluted by gas drilling are suffering, besides the previously mentioned ailments, neuropathies in the hands and feet and irreversible brain damage.
Mr. Fox spent three weeks on the road but found enough evidence in his own state to be afraid. A scared resident of Dimock, Pa. handed him a jar of yellow stuff that came from his well. In this water was a refractant that dissolves fish gills.
Scientists and Mr. Fox rattle off lists of chemicals that have been found in intolerable levels in streams and ground water released by fracking, including barium, benzene, formaldehyde, cadmium, mercury and glycol ethers. Mr. Fox rattles off the hundreds of truck trips and millions of gallons of water needed for one operation.
He interviews John Hanger, secretary of the Pennsylvania DEP — and the most recent former CEO of PennFuture, an organization that is committed to protecting the environment — who says, “There is no such thing as a perfect source of energy. Mr. Fox showed him the jar of Dimock water and Mr. Hanger said, “The last thing we want is for people to drink it.”
Mr. Hanger wouldn’t take any bait, either.
Every person whose water has been tested and is contaminated “has had water replaced,” he said. “We’re eager for the public to let us know about problems.”
“How much water could you replace?” Mr. Fox asks.
In the upper West, where people live sometimes an hour from a Wal-Mart or a grocery store, gas-contaminated residents are making trips to buy bottled water. Imagine: your water is not drinkable and you are warned not to do dishes in it, shower in it or wash your clothes in it and you have to drive a mile to buy bottled water. Imagine how much you would need.
“If your way of life is being beseiged and your health is under attack, where do you go?” asked the rancher Mr. Fenton. “This is my wife’s family farm.”
Where do you go, indeed. Thirty-four states and counting.
The film has its light moments. In one scene, Mr. Fox gets out of his car on BLM land wearing a gas mask and strumming a banjo, a la Pete Seeger, who is featured early in the film in a 1970s clip singing “This Land is Your Land.”
Wednesday’s news, that the upper Delaware and the Monongahela River are among the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers, is disputed as the fault of gas drilling by Lou D’Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association. American Rivers, the advocacy organization that compiled the list, says otherwise.
“My back yard wasn’t my back yard anymore,” said Josh Fox in the final narrative of the film. The story he exposes “is not going away anytime soon.” It’s going “from my back yard into yours.”