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Film Review: Gasland (2010) and Gasland: Part II (2013)

Gasland (2010) and Gasland: Part II (2013). Directed by Josh Fox.

Gasland is an Oscar-nominated film about America's frenzied drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with more wells planned in the next decade than in the last hundred years. Rural residents (and workers) of Pennsylvania are suffering irreversible brain damage and excruciating pain due to neurotoxins in newly contaminated water and air following drilling. The response of the fracking industry has been a hundred million dollar lobbying campaign, in part to suppress criticism. Some lobbyists have even gone so far as to recommend the use of military manuals on psychological operations and treating critics as 'insurgents'. Secrecy plays an important part too. No spokesperson from the industry agreed to interviews with director Josh Fox, and companies in the industry have been buying off contaminated land with confidentiality agreements. In public the argument has been made that there is no alternative, in private, industry figures refuse to drink the contaminated water and provide bottled water to residents. One resident commented, 'you want me to shut my mouth? I ain't gonna' and 'I ain't no tree-hugger.'

Despite dismissal of environmental critics as unscientific, industry efforts have ensured actual science is hard to come by. Leaked internal industry memos report no way of completely fixing or preventing cement well-casing from fracturing, so perhaps it’s not just cowboy practices. Environmental scientist Bob Howarth comments 'we tested shale gas [claims] as a transitional fuel and a better fossil fuel for global warming and it is neither.' Satirist Stephen Colbert asked one industry figure if he could feed his toddler chemicals used in fracking, 'because they're perfectly safe, right?' Fox's Emmy-award winning sequel is even better than the first. Films about fracking such as the earlier Split Estate (2009), like many social justice films, can tend towards a glum tone. Josh Fox as an investigative film-maker avoids this and is as warm and hopeful as early Michael Moore in covering 'the last gasp of the fossil fuel era.'

DJW