Associate Editor Kevin Clarke appears in an upcoming issue wearing his reporter's hat ("The Last Days of St. Vincent's"; See also his video-slideshow: "A Requiem for St. Vincent's"). But this week online we asked him to try out some different skills in a review of a new documentary on HBO, "Gasland." In "Drill, Baby, Drill?" Kevin looks at Josh Fox's off-beat documentary, a kind of road film that follows Fox across a U.S. landscape increasingly broken by natural gas drilling sites.
Fox's controversial documentary has already drawn fire from natural gas producers who have been gazing longingly on rich gas fields beneath Pennsylvania and New York. Exploiting those fields, Fox charges, endangers the drinking water used by 17 million people, including all the residents of New York City. The preferred drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, "fracking" for short, could mean the contamination of the nation's largest unfiltered municipal water supply.
Fox knows of what he films. His odyssey began when he received a letter advising him of the potential of earning as much as $100,000 in royalties and bonuses were he to sign over his family’s 19 acres in eastern Pennsylvania’s Delaware River Basin, an area called the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas,” to gas drilling. It wasn’t long before he was on the road across America’s vast Gasland seeking out farmers and ranchers and their displeased neighbors who were suffering serious buyer’s remorse after cashing those checks. Well water that had been put to use for years, if not generations on some properties, was now hopelessly contaminated; livestock, pets and family members were falling ill; and kitchen faucets had become ignitable flares. Natural gas producers deny all culpability, while providing a lucky few who sign nondisclosure agreements water cisterns and filtration systems to replace their poisoned water sources, and government bureaucrats who should have been representing the people’s interests were, and remain, missing in action.
Fox’s film nods to a number of classic American film genres, most obviously it joins the emerging tradition of Michael-Moore-ian rebel documentaries like “Sicko,” “Food, Inc.,” and “King Corn,” sustained as much by the documentarian’s skillful polemics as they are by more debatable elements like facts and figures. But “Gasland” also channels classic American road movies. It’s part industrial detective story and environmental agitprop, and if you live in the New York and Pennsylvania drilling fields of desire—or plan to drink water ever again—part horror film.
If you can stand to hear any more bad news about America's problematic relationship with fossil fuels, read the rest of the review here . . .