How utterly ironic that I had to interrupt writing my review for Gasland II with a Parachute Creek spill update about the news that OSHA will assess paltry fines to Badger and Bargath totaling about $18,000. Sort of brings it all back home.
We should all be grateful that the land man came knocking on Josh Fox’s door in 2008, because it set the young filmmaker on a remarkable journey to expose the environmental devastation and public health degradation caused by oil & gas drilling, first with the original Gasland movie released in 2010, and now Gasland II – the sequel.
In the original Gasland movie, Josh Fox explored drilling impacts with wide-eyed wonder as he tramped through the gasfields in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Utah, Texas, and Colorado. A 13-minute segment titled, “48 Hours in Garfield County” became a warning to the rest of the world: “You don’t want to end up like these poor folks.”
Yeah, it stung.
The now classic scene from that film shows a Weld County property owner setting his faucet on fire. Since then, the oil & gas industry has debunked the scene repeatedly claiming methane is a biogenic, naturally-occurring by-product of Mother Nature.
As if thumbing his nose at the industry, in Gasland II Fox races at what feels like a frenetic pace (we’re running out of time) from Pennsylvania to Arkansas to Wyoming to Texas, then all the way to Queensland, Australia, filming water wells, faucets, and garden hoses on fire. Either we have a serious problem with out-of-control biogenic, naturally-occurring methane suddenly seeping into aquifers around the world or the industry is completely full of shit.
Since the release of the first Gasland, drilling has spread to 34 states in the U.S. (more than doubling in Garfield County and Colorado) plus more than 13 countries around the world. Fox lays bare the impacts to the environment in contaminated water supplies, air pollution, and dead and diminishing wildlife. But worst of all he shows the human toll in sickness and lost property values as family after family is forced to move from their homes to save their lives. Some were bought out and silenced by the companies that poisoned them, others simply walked away.
If you’re still naïve enough to wonder how this could happen, Fox shows you how it all happened as he interviews politicians and experts who have warned about the dangers of drilling and fracking but whose voices have been drowned out by industry’s deceptive media campaign to lull the public, buy politicians, and shape government policy. However he clearly points the finger at one politician in particular – President Obama. And he holds one agency responsible for betraying the public – the EPA.
This time around Fox seems to have anticipated future debunkers with two powerful interviews. Tony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, and former researcher for the gas industry (and one of Time magazine’s People Who Matter in 2011) explains how vulnerable the cement well casings are to cracking and how industry’s own statistics reveal that most cement jobs fail over time.
In another interview, Stanford professor Mark Jacobsen describes a study he conducted to bundle renewable resources including wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and wave power together, which would supply all of our energy needs now and well into the future. So much for natural gas as a bridge fuel …
But the biggest take-away from this powerful film is not just the contamination of public health and the environment. It is the contamination of our democracy by an industry that has proven it will go to any lengths to control the outcome, and the politicians and government agents who are more-than-willing accomplices in this frack-the-earth society. In other words, it’s what we witness on a daily basis in Garfield County, especially with the ongoing Parachute Creek spill and proposed drilling on Thompson Divide.
For many of us who have been living in the middle of the oil & gas drilling boom for more than a decade, Gasland II is like a horror film. I’m not ashamed to say I wept while I watched it and I had trouble sleeping afterward. That Josh Fox could terrify a hardened cynic like me is saying something.
For those of you out there living in your own little private Idahos who still think drilling doesn’t affect you, well think again. If you drink water and breathe air, you’d better watch this film.
Gasland II is playing this week on HBO. It is also on HBO On Demand and HBOGo.
Other air dates & times (Eastern) —
July 11: 8:15 am & 4:15 pm
July 14: 3:15 pm
July 17: 1:45 pm & midnight
July 20: 9:10 am
HBO2 runs it on July 10 at 8:00 pm and July 25 at 3:50 am