white house should screen gasland part II
June 28, 2013
Clearly, President Obama has not seen Gasland Part II. If he had, he would not have laid out a climate plan so reliant on fracked gas.
Josh Fox went to the frack-free fortress of Pittsburgh last week for the final screening of Gasland II before it runs on HBO July 8. With cheers and standing ovations, the audience of about 1,700 welcomed back the filmmaker who had brought to the big screen homeowners who could perform pyrotechnic tricks with tap water.
Outside Pittsburgh, the gas industry occupies much of the rest of the state, so before the film many groups offered helpful information, such as a two-hour training called “Learn to track shale gas operations in YOUR community” and websites such as FracTracker to get information and post stories about contamination.
Fox, who grew up in Milanville, Pa., toured 23 cities in Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and New York, showing Gasland II to enthusiastic audiences. In Williamsport, Pa., about 1,000 people came to see the Gasland sequel, Fox said, while a nearby showing of the pro-industry FrackNation, drew 18.
He said he used to feel isolated, depressed, lonely and anxious. “I’m not lonely anymore,” he said to more cheers. The “inspiring and uplifting” movement that has taken on the fracking industry has “reinvented democracy,” he said. Although the work is extremely difficult, he said, the only way forward is to continue to organize, protest and take back our communities.
Fox accused the last three Pennsylvania governors of “carrying the toxic water of the natural gas industry.” After rolling out the red carpet to industry, the state has been conducting an ongoing “environment impact study on the people of Pennsylvania,” two-thirds of whom now want a moratorium until risks are evaluated.
Gasland II starts off with many shots of Obama boasting about our 100-year supply of natural gas. That is one long bridge. Then Fox shifts to his flyover on July 4, 2010, of the Gulf of Mexico, 75 days into BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Press flights were restricted, but when Fox called the FAA, someone from BP answered (huh?) and cleared his flight. Long streaks of oil are visible on the vast surface. BP ended up using a chemical banned in Europe to make the oil sink and, presto change-o, vanish from sight— at least for humans, at least temporarily. He interviews concerned families along the coast. “This is where we eat, sleep, live,” one mother says.
And so, the fossil fuels industry has created yet another mess.
The film then picks up where the first Gasland left off. Fox can now view a drilling rig from the home in the woods that his parents built. He interviews families near fracked wells in Wyoming, Texas and Pennsylvania. Some residents complain of water smelling like turpentine. A Texas family can spray fire from the garden hose. The children of then-Mayor Calvin Tillman of Dish have nosebleeds and rashes. Water tests reveal benzene and other neurotoxins. A family pays $1,000 a month for replacement water for their Texas mansion because their well water has benzene, toluene, boron and other fracking-related chemicals. A woman in Wise County, Texas, says she began stuttering and stumbling after the drilling started. She says her body tissue contains chemicals linked to fracking. The families show Fox page after page of water test results. They are torn between moving to protect their health or staying in hopes that the companies will be forced to connect their homes to public water or compensate them in some way.
At town meetings filmed in Gasland II, Dimock and Pavillion residents get the results of studies confirming the water is contaminated with chemicals linked to fracking. Residents cheer as the report is read, because for a brief moment they think they’ve won. But they haven’t. There will be no precedent-setting connection to public water. Although the official line is that the water is safe to drink, residents say EPA officials are telling them quietly that they should not use the water. Abandoned by regulators, they end up settling lawsuits, moving and being barred from speaking about their cases. If they don’t settle, they will be stuck with the lawyers’ fees. They truly can’t win. (The morning after the Pittsburgh screening, an article on page 2 of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the EPA had turned over the investigation of the Pavillion water to state officials.)
Meanwhile, the industry and state regulators continue the line that fracking has never contaminated the water. (Last month, though, the Scranton-Times Tribune, using information obtained through a state appeals court order, reported that state environmental regulators determined that oil and gas development damaged the water supplies for at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, businesses and churches. )
Gasland II goes beyond these families, though. We see the industry employing military psyops tactics, referring to fracking opponents as insurgents or the counterinsurgency. Fox covers the revolving door for public officials and the gas industry executives. For example, Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and George W. Bush’s homeland security director, became an industry lobbyist. The gas industry has also ripped a page from the tobacco industry’s playbook, hiring the same slick PR firm and producing children’s coloring books featuring a “Friendly Fracosaurus.”
Fox interviews Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University professor of engineering, about cement casing failures: “It’s not a question of if but when [methane] will migrate” into aquifers. Gasland II examines global shale deposits and the U.S. industry’s export plans. He talks to economist Deborah Rogers: “Wouldn’t it be great for industry if they get us to be much more dependent on natural gas…and then prices start rising?” In Australia, a taciturn farmer shows Fox the water bubbling up in his fields. Of course, he can light the water on fire.
Fox also links fracking to climate change and ecosystem tipping points, using clips from Hurricane Irene’s havoc in New York and an interview with Cornell scientist Robert Howarth about methane leaks. Fracking is the last gasp of the fossil fuels industry, Fox says. But this film also documents the rising anti-fracking movement.
Matia Vanderbilt and Eric Robison, both of CitizenShale.org in Garrett County, went to the screening. Vanderbilt said the connection between the tobacco and gas industry PR campaigns “should be a huge wake up call to people. Many of us remember some of the old cigarette ads claiming how good cigarettes were for you. In 1966, the Flintstones, a children’s cartoon, was used to promote Winston cigarettes, like the ‘friendly Fracosaurus’ is being used to persuade children that fracking will be good for them and their future…..It would be a crime to wait 40-plus years for our society to realize the human rights side of fracking before taking action to protect our human rights to clean air and water. Just like there is no safe cigarette, there is no safe fracking. These types of marketing PR campaigns have become tools of power that manipulate societies into believing in false promises with the hope financial gain and energy independence, while promoting denial about the negative impacts of fracking.”
Robison, the president of CitizenShale.org, said: “On the way home from Pittsburg we were traveling south on Interstate 79 between Washington and Waynesburg when in the distance we spotted a drilling rig in operation on a hilltop beside the interstate. The area was lit up like a sports event at night, and as we passed the site we were struck by the very strong smell of chemicals (we were a couple thousand feet from the site) . . . My thoughts drifted to . . . Welcome to Gasland!”
A few days after the screening, the EPA delayed yet again, until 2016, its study on the effects of fracking—even as Obama was no doubt finalizing his climate speech that presses for rampant fracking. (Fox’s reaction to the climate speech is here.) And then Duke University scientists published a study showing high rates of methane, propane and ethane in wells up to kilometer from fracking sites. DeSmogBlog.com covered that here.
Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community continues its battle with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Dominion Transmission Inc. over a planned 16,000-horsepower compressor station for fracked natural gas on the edge of town. Myersville’s future is our future. If we build an economy on fracked natural gas, we will all face some combination of drilling rigs, compressor stations, pipelines, fractured forests, air pollution and toxic chemicals wandering around in our exploded bedrock looking for a way into our drinking water.
The town has to file its appeal by July 15. Chesapeake Climate Action Network will match up to $1,000 for the legal defense fund.
Donations can be sent to: MCRC, PO Box 158, Myersville, MD 21773