While the country’s undivided attention is currently focused on the British Petroleum oil and gas spill destruction spreading across the Gulf, a potentially greater doomsday scenario is simmering across the heartland and backroads of America and beyond. The environmental monster in the process of being unleashed is the corporate drilling for natural gas beneath the earth, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And the prophetic documentary arriving on HBO to warn of that apocalyptic disaster, is GasLand.
The recipient of the Sundance Documentary Special Jury Prize this past year, GasLand is much more than the directing debut of Josh Fox. The filmmaker was himself confronted with a highly personal and deeply troubled connection to the issue at hand, after receiving a call from an energy company offering to lease his land as a site for gas drilling.
Suspicious not only of the tight-lipped company suits when seeking answers, but the ecological ramifications as well that such drilling might impose, way beyond simply disturbing the rustic serenity surrounding his Pennsylvania family home above the Delaware River, Fox embarked on a cross-continental exploration to see what was transpiring in other drilling areas. And found himself in an abrupt flipping of film genres from road movie to tragedy and horror.
The advancing under-the-radar scandal is seen first machinated by then Vice President Dick Chaney, who aggressively promoted the encroaching on public land for drilling. This, under the guise of freeing the United States from dependency on foreign oil, but at what price to its own citizens.
Face to face with a majestic US forest and farming landscape already massively disturbed, scarred and torn up by drills and machinery in what has come to be known as the gas rush, Fox visits with the families living in proximity. Those who have been drinking the ensuing toxic water have suffered irreversible degenerative diseases and cancer, and their crops contaminated and livestock sickened.
And it’s already too late for many of them, before discovering that they can light a match to their faucets and watch their gas drenched brown drinking water explode in flames before their eyes. Or find their homes surrounded now by bulldozed destroyed mountains and woodland, poisoned wildlife in the streams, and blackened skies. And while those who have leased their property for drilling – in coveted rural areas called the ‘Saudi Arabia of natural gas’ by the greedy and heartless energy companies – were pressured into signing scare tactic confidentiality clauses, some are angry enough to speak out and vent their rage to the press and the filmmaker anyway.
After attending nonchalant, self-serving government hearings or pursuing officials who dodge him or flee the room when pressed for answers, Fox returns home dejected, but still steeled for the good fight, if only the audiences for his documentary will heed his warnings. Which includes a disaster waiting to happen, should drilling begin around the basin near his home that supplies drinking water to the entire metropolitan New York City area, and could potentially poison millions.
In an ironic footnote, GasLand ends within its closing credits, those refusing to be interviewed by Fox. Among them is listed British Petroleum.
GasLand begins airing on HBO on June 21st, with rebroadcasts through July. More information about the documentary is online at: GasLandthemovie.com
HBO Documentary Films
4 [out of 4] stars