Movie Review: Gasland (2010)

Posted: July 20, 2013 in Documentary


Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking is a process where drills go deep underground to actually fracture the land, injecting a mix of over 500 chemicals and water and release the natural gas underneath.  Fracking is already going on in Pennsylvania, and in vast areas in the South.  Josh Fox who lives in Pennsylvania, got an offer from a natural gas company for about 100,000 to sell his 19 acres of land.  He didn’t sell his land, instead he started filming across the country that illustrated why fracking might be a dangerous practice.  In Dimock, Pennsylvania, Fox found residents with dirty water, bubbling like some otherworldly witches brew, and this water could actually be set on fire.  Fox demonstrated this in his travels to Colorado, where he actually set residents tap water on fire.  Fox continues to Texas and Louisiana where he purports to show the damage caused by widespread fracking. Fox talks to people formerly in the EPA, Westin Wilson, who says the EPA can do nothing until the chemicals in the fracking fluid are disclosed.  Fox throws in some footage of politicians gladhanding members of the natural gas industry and returns to his home in Pennsylvania.

I am oddly uncomfortable with this movie, I should love this movie, a movie about the little guy fighting against the giant monolithic natural gas companies.  This should be a David and Goliath story but it isn’t.  It’s an alarmist movie, showing some anecdotal evidence of wrongdoing, to debate a much larger issue.  Part of the problem is Fox himself, the tone of his voice, dramatic pauses, and his background, hippie parents, tree-hugger save the whales kind of people.  This is the man who is going to do a documentary on fracking.  It’s a very one-sdied guerilla type documentary, with none of the wit and charm that Michael Moore infuses into his documentaries.  It is factually wrong when it says the EPA cannot sue companies who frack, and cause environmental damage under the Clean Water Act, the EPA  charged that in 2010, Exxon illegally stored the wastewater from fracking, and they won a settlement in 2013, but Mr. Fox should not make blanket statement about the powerlessness of a regulatory agency, if he does not know it to be factually true.  For their part, the natural gas companies engaged in their usual no interviews policy, which is stupid and makes them look bad, like they are trying to hide something.  What we really need to do is get corporate money out of politics, and then maybe we can get to some answers about fracking and global warming.  As long as politicians are in the corporations pockets, we will never know how to resolve contentious issues like this.

This is one of those political documentaries, so depending on your politics you will either love it or hate it.  It’s entirely up to you.  My judgment has nothing to do with politics, I just wish it was a better made, better documented movie.

Gasland:  Full of hot air.

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