Josh Fox the producer of the documentary Gaslands was born in Milanville, PA. As a child all he could remember was his family building a nice red shack in the woods. When he grew up in 2009 a letter came to him and his family informing him that his house was on top of the Marcellus Shale (a natural reserve hotspot). They proposed 4,700 dollar lease for an acre of land to mine on, which with all of their land would be equal to about 100k. Harmony in nature and in his family’s land meant everything to Josh, so when gas mining operations went ramped spreading further and further east until they were knocking on his own front door he went looking for answers. The producer takes a stance that questions the method of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ which is used to tap into reserves of natural gas (supposedly ‘clean gas’). The arguments he makes such as: the struggles of communities, the oil rigs malpractice and impact on the environment, and government concealment is what draws me to this text.
Oil fracking has effected several states across the nation; just 6 states have documented over 1,000 incidents that result from this practice. Oil fracking is process of drilling hundreds of metric tons of water infused with upwards of 500 chemicals such as abrasives and lubricants. This mixture is shot through drill holes 8,000 feet into the ground, pressure build up causes the rock to break apart into deep cracks which in turn free up the gas. These practices use exponential amounts of water and hazardous chemical not to mention the gas and man power to get these resources to the site. In addition, government has passed laws exempting oil and gas industries from the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and several other environmental regulation laws. This caused the largest natural gas drilling campaign in history.
Josh starts out by going to communities damaged by oil fracking and interviews the families to get their perspective. Pat Farnely was a wife of 4 who lived in a town around NW Pennsylvania. Josh interviews her about what she has experienced after the rigs started drilling around her land. She told her that her water went bad it would sometimes his and sizzle when sitting in a cup, her family all became sick from this until they realized it was the water doing it. Each house in this community had the same stories of how their wells were compromised with natural gas and gas operators, attorneys, and environmental regulators denied it and didn’t help. Next up he fully committed himself to this almost natural gas detective scheme and traveled all the way to Weld Country, Colorado to interview home owners. Here he was shown even worse conditions, water sample taken straight from the tap where chemicals settled out of the water to turn into a kind of black sludge. Homes were forces to get reserve tanks to buy water so they can take showers and drink water without risking physical harm. At one of the homes in Colorado Josh actually held a lighter to a running sink and the water burst into flames. He visits Jesse and Amee Ellsworth’s home next; this house is located on a massive gas mining hotspot. Just walking out of her front door you can see about 8 oil rigs. She talks about how, “a part of who you are is being destroyed by the actions of others for selfish purposes”. Some of these families are just discovering that their water is the source of them and their family’s health problems after years of drinking the contaminated water. Josh truly realizes that no testing is being done by the EPA even after homeowners provide them with murky water samples; absolutely no precaution was being made for the health/ betterment of these families. The Oil and Gas Commission should be in place to help the people, but instead they are only aiding the gas operations, and when Rehn one of the homeowners Fox interviewed asked this commission, “Who is here to help the people” their response was ,“no one call an attorney.” House after house Fox was so motivated to dig up more dirt on this ‘epidemic’ and raise public awareness on the problems.
After interviewing dozens of homeowners and regulation officers Josh takes another angle to the problem, the operation itself. He discovers the average frack operation requires a total of 1,150 truck trips consisting of the transportation of chemical, construction gear, oil rig itself, and an astonishing 500–600 tanker trucks for water. After the operation is done the excess ‘frack water’ ridden with chemicals is left in a pit before it may be removed. Left in the open air the majority of the volatile chemicals either evaporate into the atmosphere or seep into the ground. The alarming thing is companies know this is happening and the want to speed up the process of the ‘frack water’ evaporation only to cut down on transportation costs for the waste. They do this by spraying the fluid up into the sunlit air exponentially increasing the rate chemicals get into our atmosphere. Environmental quality agencies tested air pollutant levels and found areas in Wyoming were higher that LA on the average day. They also discovered ozone was decreasing at an unsustainable rate. Clearly these operations are more concerned about their own economic benefit rather than the hundreds of things they’re doing wrong to affect the environment, and without anyone to enforce them to do otherwise problems will persist.
Fox’s discoveries and a lot of other independent research done by environmentalists has motivated public response to stop/ regulate these practices. Congress has recently made a movement to establish the Frack Act which will cut down on gas mining in areas, and will require environmental tests for a rig to proceed drilling or for one to be established. Fox’s point of view during this documentary was very brave and has influenced a lot of people’s mindsets like me.