John Colson: Hit and Run
October 9, 2009
There’s a new documentary about the impact of the natural gas industry in Colorado and New Mexico, and I strongly recommend it.
It’s titled “Split Estate,” by an independent filmmaker named Debra Anderson, and it takes a decidedly sympathetic look at the experiences of a number of families whose lands, livelihoods and health have been disastrously affected by the industry’s practices.
It is showing three times for free this week. It can be seen in Aspen at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12 at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, and in Carbondale at 7 p.m. on Oct. 13 at the Gathering Center at the Church of Carbondale on Snowmass Drive. Both showings are sponsored by the Thompson Divide Coalition, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Environment Foundation.
The third showing, also on Oct. 12, is to be at 1:15 p.m. in the Garfield County Commissioners meeting room in Glenwood Springs, which will be open to the public. That viewing is not sponsored by the three organizations named above.
The film also is to be aired on national television on Planet Green, part of Discovery Communications, on Oct. 17 and again on Oct. 22.
Now, I’m a journalist, and I work hard to keep my reportage unbiased toward one side or another in the stories I produce. I have to, under the relatively informal but broadly understood ethics and rules of my profession. If I don’t, people will justifiably stop reading what I write.
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On the other side of that coin, I am human, I’ve been around and I’ve seen a lot, with the result that I have some fairly strong opinions about almost everything. Hence, the remark about how I “work hard” to keep those opinions out of my writing.
In the case of the gas industry, this sometimes gets difficult, particularly when confronted with inconsistencies, shadings of the facts and what I believe to be outright false information coming from the industry’s well-paid public relations machine. Not to mention those situations when the stories of illness, hardship and ill treatment at the hands of industry operatives are told by the people who live next door to the gas wells.
Still, I try to maintain an objective perspective, occasionally to such a degree that people accuse me of working to protect the gas and oil operators from those who view the operators as agents of the devil.
The film, “Split Estate,” then, presents yet another difficulty for my efforts.
It is very well done, polished and thoroughly researched, and it offers a damning case against an industry that is acknowledged, even by its detractors, as inevitable in the face of rising energy demands and a growing population, coupled with the equally inevitable slowing of oil discoveries the world over.
Natural gas is widely seen as the next logical component of our evolving energy equation, as we move toward a fuller embrace of what are known as “sustainable” and “alternative” sources such as solar, wind and biofuels.
The proper speed of the world’s conversion to such sustainable energy sources is, of course, a matter of considerable and, shall we say, energetic argument, mostly reflecting questions of profit for the corporate entities that will accomplish that conversion. Whether that is an appropriate approach is fodder for further debate, best left aside for now.
In the meantime, natural gas has undergone a boom, aided by technological advances that have become the focus of a withering battle between the health and welfare of people who happen to live in gas-rich regions, and the profits and expansion of the industry and the jobs and prosperity that the industry promises to bring with it.
This fight has landed in western Colorado and New Mexico with explosive force, as the companies involved have rushed in to grab the gas lying beneath the Piceance Basin and nearby fields, while the communities have grappled with the impacts of that rush. One view of the resulting clash is depicted in the film.
I don’t think it really matters, though, how one feels about the conflicts involved, in terms of deciding whether or not to view the film. We all need to see the different sides of this debate if we are to arrive at conclusions and work out solutions that permit us to live here in any kind of harmony and well-being.
See it. Think about it. Judge for yourselves.