The dangers posed by the natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to the nation's water supply and human health are slowly becoming a part of the mainstream dialogue. The 2010 documentary Gasland has played a key role in raising public awareness. Now the director of the film, Josh Fox, has won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming.
Even Gas Industry Credits Film's Role in Growing Opposition
The film resonates because it cuts through the public relations fog that the gas industry continues to produce about the methods it uses to extract natural gas. While the industry continues to claim fracking has been proven over time to be safe and that the industry is highly regulated to insure that the people and environment are protected, Fox's film contests this rosy spin. He captures footage of Americans living near gas drilling sites who can no longer drink their water, have fallen ill, and most compellingly, have faucets that explode in fire from gas leaking into their water wells. Upon accepting the acclaimed award, Fox told the audience, "We cannot allow America to turn into a gas field."
Josh Fox and other activists are up against some well-funded, powerful players in the gas industry and Fox is on their radar. As the Center for Media and Democracy previously reported, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association Tisha Conoly-Schuller is advising the industry to make fracking "hipper" to appeal to young people and reframe the debate in terms of jobs and the economy. She hates to credit the film, but notes that Gasland has played a significant role in the growing opposition to fracking: "These nuts make up 90 percent of our population so we can't call them nuts any more."
A "Dogfight" with the Biggest Industry in the United States
Even with advocates like Fox exposing the dangers of fracking, the industry is still gaining ground. They have a host of legislators on their side, as well as signs of support from the Obama administration. President Obama's recent decision to not toughen air quality standards for ozone pollution has been seen as one of the steps the administration has taken to side with the gas industry. Sandra Steingraber, an acclaimed ecologist who just received a Heinz Award in recognition of her research on environmental health, describes the consequences of fracking on air quality: "Air pollution is an inevitable consequence of hydro-fracking. It's not a risk. It's not the outcome of an accident that may or may not happen. Compromised air quality is a certainty with hydro-fracking."
The dominoes are also falling into place at the state-level for natural gas drillers. New York instituted a moratorium on fracking last year, but Governor Andrew Cuomo is in the process of lifting the ban. The New Jersey legislature has been working to put a ban in place, but Governor Chris Christie sent the bill back with a conditional veto, recommending that the ban be lifted in a year. The Delaware River Basin Commission will vote next month on whether to allow huge swaths of the Northeast be opened to fracking. More than 15 million people depend on this basin for drinking water and agriculture. Hydrofracking is already occurring in 34 states.
"We are in a dogfight with the biggest industry in the United States," Fox told the Center for Media and Democracy." But these people are refusing to back down to these huge multi-national corporations that are coming into their towns and national parks to pollute and destroy them."
"Fracktivists" Not Slowing Down
Opposition to fracking has turned into a widespread movement with Fox as something of a progressive hero. A few thousand activists recently gathered in Philadelphia to protest a two-day Marcellus Shale industry conference were they serenaded the conference attendees with chants like "No Fracking Way!" and "Don't Frack Mother Earth!" A few days earlier, activists gathered in Washington, D.C. in solidarity with protesters involved in a campaign of civil disobedience to encourage the Obama administration to oppose the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. If built, the pipeline would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada across the U.S. to be refined in the south. The inevitable pipeline leaks will threaten the Ogallala aquifer, one of the world's largest aquifers. Currently, the extraction of the tar sands oil uses large amounts of water and natural gas. Josh Fox was arrested, along with over 1,200 others, at the two-week long D.C. protest.
"This isn't a partisan issue. It's not about whether you are Republican or Democrat, whether you are rich or poor. It's about people coming together over an environment and health issue," he said. "Its about civil and human rights."
Fox is currently filming a follow-up to Gasland. Fox told CMD that this film will focus on the pollution in our government, rather than the pollution in our ground. "The gas industry has been successful in purchasing our government and has bought its way into conversations on energy, drowning out voices of citizens," he said. "It's shameful and its criminal."
For his latest project, Fox looked at the hazards of fracking not only in the U.S., but globally. It will include footage from drilling sites in Europe, Africa, and Australia. While producing the film, he discovered that the outrage against hydraulic fracturing is global. France has banned fracking, there is a moratorium in South Africa against it and growing opposition in places like the United Kingdom and Canada.