Writer/Director/Narrator: Josh Fox (Memorial Day)
Genre: Documentary (2010)
In brief: Industry spokesmen categorically deny the accuracy of reports of ground water contamination from natural gas extraction. Josh Fox became interested in this issue in 2009, when he got a letter from a natural gas exploration company offering him almost $100,000 for the rights to drill on his 19 acres in the Delaware River Basin. Before agreeing, Josh sets out to learn something about the process and people’s experiences. First he takes us back to 1972. That was the year his parents bought the land and built the home Josh lives in today. It was also the year President Nixon signed the Clean Water Act and several other pieces of legislation to help preserve our most important natural resources.
In 2005, Vice President Chaney championed the passage of the Natural Gas Exemption. It exempts the industry from complying with the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and about a dozen other environmental safeguards. The result has been the dramatic increase in the practice of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. The process fractures shale in order to release natural gas trapped within the rock. It uses 1 to 7 million gallons of fracking fluid… water plus almost 600 chemicals… to frack a single well, per fracking event. Natural gas companies seem to have limited requirements to disclose the chemicals they use and don’t seem to believe safety studies are needed. So far, they’ve been quite successful at fending off regulations. Josh travels the country with his video camera to document what he learns. What he shows us is chilling… black drinking water, tap water that catches fire, water wells that explode, people and animals with illnesses ranging from hair falling out to death… and the list goes on. Some of the problems appear to be from the release of natural gas into the water supply and some appear to be from the chemicals that aren’t supposed to get into the environment... but do.
There are times when the film becomes quite repetitive. How many times can we watch crude video of tap water catching fire before we become numb? This could have been edited down to a tight half-hour film conveying the same information. The problem is that until you see how many times these problems are repeated, you might think these experiences are unusual. Josh shows us they’re not. The natural gas industry says this film is misleading. At the very least, the film shows us an issue that needs to be investigated. Right now the question of drilling on Josh’s land is moot. There’s a moratorium on natural gas exploration in the Delaware River Basin and the water shed areas for New York City because the proposed 50,000 natural gas wells could affect the water supply for almost 16 million people. The natural gas industry wants this moratorium lifted. Do we have a right to expect proof that the process is as harmless as they say it is? Huge deposits of natural gas have been discovered in 34 states so far. Whether you agree with the filmmaker or not, this problem isn’t going away.
3 popped kernels
A chilling look at an issue that isn’t going away
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: TV & direct to video
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Amateur video
Character Development: Not that kind of film
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Timely topic