Edited by Peter
A lot of people have called Josh Fox’s 2010 anti-fracking documentary, Gasland, biased, inaccurate, and misleading; but if I had to describe it in one word it would be ‘hipster’.
In 2006, Fox’s family received a letter offering $100,000 to allow a natural gas to be extracted using a process called hydraulic fracturing (fracking) under their property. The controversial process of fracking involves the fracturing of deep-rock using high-pressure liquid made from a mixture of water, sand and chemicals though which natural gas can escape. Soon after his family had received the letter, Fox set out with a film crew to see how this type of gas extraction has affected though who live next to it.
From a very superficial stand point, the documentary is poor and very hard to sit though. Fox, for some strange reason, has made the interesting choice of narrating the documentary whilst channeling a depressed Kiefer Sutherland. Every word seems forced and half-assed – as if Fox really has no interest in the subject he is covering. The line delivery was so bad that, at times, I had trouble understanding what was being said and had to fight the urge to turn it off. For anyone thinking that I am exaggerating, I suggest you watch the documentary trailer – then imagine having that monotone, lethargic, pretentious voice verbally assaulting you for 107 minutes. What makes the narration even stranger is that the few times Fox speaks directly to the camera, he sounds normal. Another very petty, but one of those ‘once you see it you can’t stop noticing it’ criticisms of the documentary is how it looks like the whole thing was shot using instagram. To some, these filters give pictures an old school, vintage, nostalgic feel; but to me they are the calling card of sub-par cinematography trying to hide lack of talent with quirkiness. If the use of instagram filters was not hipster enough for you, then you will be happy to know that Fox goes on to crack out his banjo in front of a fracking well – whilst wearing a gas mask, which definitely gets a 4-out-of-5 ironic moustaches on my hipster-omiter.
From a factual standpoint, the documentary makes a lot of errors – everything from claiming that a type of pronghorn antelope is endangered, to stating that the oil and gas industries do not have to abide by the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, etc. One of the more interesting (and intentionally misleading) claims is that the water of several Weld County, Colorado residences had become flammable as a result of nearby fracking. This is as awesome and dangerous as it sounds and was the only interesting part in an otherwise boring documentary. The problem here is that the origin of the gas in their wells was investigated before the release of the documentary, and it was discovered that only one of the wells was contaminated with thermogenic gas – which may have been a result of near by fracking. All the others were contaminated with biogenic gas and, therefore, not linked. However, you would not think this if you watch the documentary, as it gives the impression that the only way to have flammable water is to live near a fracking site. In 2011 at a screening at Northwestern University in Chicago, Fox was asked why he missed out this valuable information, to which he responded “it’s not relevant”.
The climax of the movie was an interview with the former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP), John Hanger – defending the process of fracking to Fox. This interview is what the whole documentary had been building up to – and it failed miserably, revealing both Gasland and Fox to be limp and ineffective. The interview starts with John explaining how there is no such thing as a perfect source of energy, when Fox pulls out a cooler containing water samples he had collected on his travels. These samples came from various sources and it was heavily implied throughout the documentary that they would be tested to see if they contain any of the chemicals used in fracking. This, I thought to myself, would be the big reveal – and Fox must have discovered evidence that contamination had occurred as a result of fracking. However, this was not the case, as Fox simply wanted John to drink one of the samples. There was no mention of the results of these water samples in the interview; nor, for that matter, in the documentary at all. There is only one reason I can think of why they never appear after such a big build up – that they contradicted the documentary’s predetermined conclusion. What makes this whole situation worse is that Fox lied about the particular water sample he was asking John to drink. He said, “This is tap water. In other words drinking water” – when, in fact, Fox had been told that this was actually waste water from a tanker.
In closing, this movie is a waste of time, and not worth watching – no matter how you feel on the issue.