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Gasland : Can you light your water on fire?

by Josh Fox; Molly Gandour; Trish Adlesic; Matthew Sanchez; International WOW Company.; Gasland Productions.; HBO Documentary Films.; Docurama (Firm); New Video Group.;

  DVD video : NTSC color broadcast system  |  [Widescreen]

Blazing Water   (2012-03-23)

Very Good

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by susanclare

Gasland is not a long film, nor is it replete with orchestral music and expert cinematography. However, this is a change-your-mind sort of documentary that does its job.


Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas is largely unregulated, and the companies doing it are expanding their reach. Already, areas of the southern, western, and southwestern US have been fracked, and the companies are now at work on the Delaware River Basin. They pretty much go where they want and use the means they need to achieve results.


Hydraulic fracturing by natural gas companies is almost what it sounds like: fracturing underground rock layers with powerful blasts of water to permit natural gas to move where it can be captured for use.


But I said almost. Over 500 chemicals are injected along with the water, and some are hazardous to biological life (plants, animals, and us). These do not all stay underground. Some escape when the companies spray liquid into the air so it can evaporate (they have to get the liquid back out of the fractures so the gas can move in). Some liquids from fracking are brought to ground level and let sit in pools called flowback pits. The companies, knowing there’s far more there than simple water, call this “produced water.” Groundwater often becomes contaminated and affects people’s wells with chemicals including glycol ether (an antifreeze) and benzene.. Furthermore, the buildup of gas can cause explosions in the wellbores and in water lines.


The history of regulation of fracking is nasty and way too light; Fox’s recap of it is borne out by other research and investigative reporting.


Reading long reports containing numerous technical terms is not everyone’s cup of tea. This film is an easy way to get the basic information. Fox is a likable man whose land has been targeted for gas company fracking. He tours areas of the United States where fracking has already occurred, interviewing landowners. We see more than one person able to ignite creek water as well as water from their kitchen taps, people who have become chronically ill. One woman is freezing the carcasses of wildlife expired around a pond near her home in hopes that some authority will autopsy them to identify the chemicals at fault. So far, no one has taken her up on it.


While few federal agencies appear interested in what might lead to regulation of fracking, some US states and counties have banned the practice.


Never mind how close the Delaware River Basin gets to home wherever you live, as the results from fracking may be in our refrigerators right now. Fracking is carried out on ranches and farms, and the livestock are getting sick. Think milk, eggs, steak, and pork chops.


Can fracking be carried out more safely? Apparently, it can. But also apparently, it may not be, without more stringent federal regulation. Some EPA staff have testified to the dangers which, by the way, include possible earthquakes, but the gas companies have been granted exceptions to some important (to our safety) environmental and land constraints already in place, and new regulations seem to get quashed.


Fox shows a touch of black humor now and then, making clear that the people affected by fracking are real human beings, helpless before corporate machinery. In one brief scene, he stands in an area replete with toxic air, playing cheerful country music on his banjo and wearing a gas mask. We laugh a moment before realizing this is no exaggeration, as some people living in fracking areas are afraid to go outdoors without protection. Certain fracking chemicals can cause asthma and irreversible neurological damage.


I’m not getting up a group to march on Washington here, but I am advocating self-education. A number of the folks suffering the consequences of fracking were unaware of the risks, were assured of fracking’s safety, and were paid for the rights (contracts they can’t get out of). They now hope their experience will warn others of the dangers. Certainly, we should at least hear them out.

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