Gasland (2010)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Gasland</strong> (2010)

(On DVD, February 2011) In looking at environmental issues, there’s often a naïve and comforting tendency to believe that the worst excesses are behind us, somewhere in distant history.  Surely, no one will be stupid enough again to build unfiltered smokestacks leading to acid rain, or expand a residential neighbourhood over buried toxic landfill like what happened at Love Canal.  So it is that one of the most depressing facets of Gasland, Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated exploration of natural gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the realization that this has all happened in the past ten years.  Helped along by a deregulatory framework approved by the Bush administration, tens of thousands of fracking sites have been established and Fox takes us on a damning tour of some of them.  The process upsets natural geology to such a degree that it contaminates drinking water with industrial waste and escaping natural gas, condemning ordinary people to pay for alternate sources of water, fall sick to neurological diseases, live under the threat of explosions or see their rural neighbourhood turn deadly for wildlife.  Much of this is happening on public lands, or within tranquil rural communities once people accept payoffs (er, “mineral royalties”) for what’s happening underground.  Fox’s elegantly mournful tone is unexpectedly effective in creating pure outrage, and part of the film’s effectiveness is seeing Fox become more self-assured both in content and in presentation as the film advances.  The natural gas industry is ineffective in presenting a credible defence: on the other hand, Fox traces a clear path between government deregulation, industry lobbying, environmental degradation and grass-root consequences: He build his case from the ground up, and we can’t help but think that one of the reasons why fracking has become such a problem in such a short time is that for the longest time, its consequences have been on isolated and rural ordinary people, far away from the urban centers of environmentally-concerned citizen.  It remains to be seen what can be done to turn this practice around: Official government entities aren’t doing much; some politicians seem comprehensively paid-off by the industry; and there seems to be some outrage fatigue in the US after the overwhelming Bush years.  And that’s not even going into the various ways the US government is structurally corrupt by design.  Even the conviction that natural gas industry executives are due for a heck of a karmic retribution won’t help anyone in the short-term.  On the other hand, Gasland may still help people outside the US: there’s been a lot of discussion about shale gas extraction in Quebec lately, and the wind is definitely blowing toward far-stronger environmental regulations.  Gasland, which circulated widely in 2010 (excerpts of it even being shown on mainstream TV news about shale gas extraction) may have helped.  It’s not much and it’s far too late to help US citizen, but faced with such a bleak portrait of public environmental degradation, it’s best to take all the good news we can find.

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