Oozing profits: ‘GasLand’ exposes nation’s energy industry
August 26, 2010
ASPEN – Josh Fox isn’t shocked that America’s energy companies, in their pursuit of tapping the nation’s supplies of natural gas, are jeopardizing the health of the environment, especially water supplies. Given balance-sheet realities, the corporations are just behaving like corporations.
“When you look at the short-term profits, it looks pretty good,” Fox said.
What does shock, and outrage, Fox is the system that is allowing such practices. In “GasLand,” his documentary that earned a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival – and which shows tonight in the opening-night slot of MountainSummit – Fox convincingly makes the case that the energy companies have eluded the checks and balances that should kick in in a functioning democracy. “GasLand” portrays the energy companies as shadowy operations whose public-be-damned maneuvers have been made possible by a government – particularly former vice president and energy company executive Dick Cheney – that sides with short-term thinking.
“You wouldn’t think this could happen in America,” said Fox, whose investigation was spurred when he was offered $100,000 for his family property in eastern Pennsylvania. “It’s 2010, but it might as well be 150 years ago, in the coal mines of Kentucky and West Virginia, when strip-mining set in, and farmers were tricked into handing over their land and their property was destroyed. It’s an old story.”
The new twist here is the increasing pressure, for political and economic reasons, to develop domestic natural gas as an alternative to imported oil for energy needs. The most efficient way to access natural gas is hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a process that involves drilling deep into the ground and using enormous quantities of water and a huge array of chemicals. “GasLand” demonstrates what happens when water and the chemicals mix, and are allowed to flow back into the water supply: water that looks brown and smells worse; faucets that light up like a torch; the sudden appearance of health problems.
The threat is as widespread in scale as it is severe, Fox said. As the film’s title suggests, North America is saturated with natural gas resources, from the Rockies down to Texas and up into the Ozarks. But Western Slope residents may be particularly alarmed; western Garfield County gets much of the focus in “GasLand.”
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As Fox has traveled the country with “GasLand,” he has been amazed by the groundswell of interest. People show up at screenings toting samples of their tap water. But that sense of urgency hasn’t translated yet into government action, or even hit a tipping point of protest.
“We’re not talking about sustainability at all,” said Fox, who will attend today’s screening. “Our system is not conducive to that. It’s completely backwards. We’re talking about getting a profit, taking from the land.”