Yesterday evening, June 21, HBO aired a two-hour documentary about natural gas fracking, which was made by a resident of Northeast Pennsylvania where unconventional gas production is just taking off. Filmmaker Josh Fox, having been offered about $100,000 for mineral rights under a property his family had owned for several generations, got suspicious and decided to look into the whole subject of hydraulic gas fracturing. What he found, after touring Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and Louisiana, was a pattern of companies' riding roughshod over local concerns about air and water and--in some cases--almost certainly doing serious damage to human health and safety.
Though the film, Gasland, won this year's Sundance award for best documentary, its production values are nothing to boast about. A review in yesterday's New York Times complained, for example, about Fox's making a big show in the fashion of Michael Moore of trying and failing to obtain interviews with corporate players.
That, however, is more a matter of style than substance. Reporting a feature article about gas fracking for IEEE Spectrum magazine, I also found that the oil and gas companies generally refused to talk to the press. Though there was one notable exception, most brazenly said that any coverage was likely to be negative, and that they therefore saw no percentage in talking with media people. One company even refused to respond to a series of damaging allegations made about its activities in the Dimock, Pennsylvania area.
In thirty years reporting for science and technology magazine, I had never run into this kind of attitude among high-tech companies.
Based on interviews with people in gas-affected areas and with experts who have sought to investigate the chemicals found in injection and flowback water, Fox makes a convincing case that some of them are much more dangerous than the industry would have the public believe. One such expert, Theo Colborn, talks of "insidious" neurological effects.
Despite Gasland's shortcomings, were you living in an area where companies are starting to frack, I'm in no doubt that the film would leave you feeling worried--irrespective of your politics or expertise.