Movies for Transition: Gasland
By Ben Brangwyn 28th October 2011
This movie is pertinent to all countries with shale gas under their territory. Some countries (eg France) have banned the processes of extracting it – “fracking” – while others embrace it (UK). Many transition groups have shown this movie to good effect, mobilising a human energy source that wants to a) stand in opposition to fracking, b) create alternative sources of energy and c) reduce energy usage everywhere.
If you are showing the movie, please make sure you comply with the licensing agreement noted at www.popupcinema.net.
Here’s the movie blurb from the UK distributer, Dogwoof:
Gasland is going a long way in spreading public awareness about gas drilling and the risks it poses on human and environmental health. Nationwide response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive. The Oil and Gas Industry’s response: not so enthusiastic.
When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part vérité travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown.”
You can book this film to screen whenever and wherever you want through Dogwoof’s Popup Cinema. Just click the link below, select the license fee that applies to you and then Dogwoof will send you the film and tweet about your event.
Below is an absolutely fascinating review from the industry authority Petroleum Economist. It’s full of false claims and unsupported stats. (For the full scoop on the CO2 impacts of fracking, there’s an excellent article by Paul Mobbs at Energy Bulletin.)
Review by Petroleum Economist, Jan 2011: Gasland premieres in the UK this week, just as Cuadrilla Resources prepares to resume shale-gas drilling in Lancashire, a county in northwest England close to Liverpool and Manchester.
And, it’s safe to say, Josh Fox’s exposé of shale-gas practices in North America has created a bit of a stir.
Burning gas towers, poisoned rivers, dead wildlife, uncommunicative gas executives and rapacious landsmen: Gasland has it all. Most of it is anecdotal documentary-making; but some of the scenes are truly disturbing. If you thought natural gas was the sweet sister of the fossil fuels, think again. It, and its extractors, are coming to get you.
It’s a touch sensationalist, to be sure. But that doesn’t bother Fox. “The film is successful and entertaining,” he tells PEU, “it has to be to get people to pay attention.”
Gasland is well shot and the viewers are lavished with picturesque scenes of rural North America. It’s often funny, too. But Fox’s ambition to “entertain” creates a problem. The film begins with blurred shots of rigs and hydraulic fracturing (fracing) operations overlaid with haunting music to create a sense of alienation between the viewer and the subject material. The effect creates a macabre setting. Fox’s narration tells the audience: “I’m not a pessimist. I’ve always had a great deal of faith in people.” The hanging “but” at the end of that sentence lets you know his friends from the shale-gas industry are in for a walloping.
Gasland is being marketed as a documentary, but that’s a creative application of the label. Fox is a theatre director, not a journalist. He exercises creative licence throughout the film and facts rarely get a neutral treatment. The film relies on engaging the viewer’s emotions with the subject material, much like a feature film, or theatre production does. Fox’s technique is to offer case studies of “wronged” residents who have suffered – illnesses, contaminated water supplies and so on – at the hands of the drillers.
He’s emotional about it all himself. Fox’s idea for the film came after he was offered $100,000 to let shale-gas firms into his own home in Milanville, Pennsylvania. He rejected the offer and followed it with a road trip across parts of a region with prolific shale-gas drilling called “the red zone”. It’s a cri-de-coeur of profound not-in-my-back-yardism.
Fox begins by visiting the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania, where one resident describes “a total loss of normal life” since the arrival of the shale-gas producers. Gasland shows the viewer various examples of families with contaminated water and some dramatic scenes where residents demonstrate they can set their tap water on fire, supposedly a result of its contamination by toxic chemicals used in fracing.
Images of domestic animals losing their hair and seriously ill residents leave the viewer with only one conclusion: the industry is careless, at best. Any other reaction would be inhumane.
None of these claims, however, are given credence by any presentation of science to support them. And Fox admits that little research has been done on shale-gas drilling’s impact on the environment. “The industry has been very successful”, he says, “at shutting down all scientific enquiries on independent levels.”
He does test a sample of water given to him by a mysterious member of the public who won’t appear on camera. In it, Fox says he finds chemicals used in fracking.
One aspect of the US shale-gas revolution Fox entirely ignores is the economic benefits it has brought to the US, not least in demolishing the country’s need to import liquefied natural gas – a significant gain for the nation’s energy security. Fox reckons this advantage is illusory, benefitting oil and gas companies, not the American people.
There is a touch of naivety in this, to say the least. The International Energy Agency (IEA), among others, says natural gas will be central to meeting world energy needs – and have “significant implications” for the battle against climate change. Global gas demand, which fell in 2009 as a result of the economic crisis, is set to rise steadily from 2010.
Under some of the IEA’s predictions for global demand, gas is the only fossil fuel for which demand will be higher in 2035 than in 2008. Its abundance and environmental benefits are too great to ignore. On average, gas releases 50% less carbon dioxide than coal when burnt.
And this shift to gas is crucial, says the IEA, if the world is to have any chance of limiting global warming to within 2°C, a limit generally accepted as necessary to stop potentially damaging changes to the climate.
But even the IEA acknowledges that a glut of gas could hurt development of greener energy sources, making renewable energy – usually pricier than fossil fuels – less competitive.
This is a red flag to Fox. “Shale gas is the moral enemy of renewable, truly green energy,” he says. “It is a disincentive to develop renewables, which is the direction we need to go.” Fox wants a complete moratorium on shale-gas drilling in the US.
Others maintain that only a swift switch to more gas-fired power generation will knock coal, the largest source of electricity in the US, off its perch. Natural gas, believe many in the sector, and US energy secretary Steven Chu, can be a supplement to renewable energy. Conventional natural gas is an “enabler”, says Chu, for greener alternatives in the long term.
These are arguments against Fox and his film. But the shale-gas industry has done itself no favours by failing to engage with him over the issue. Gasland is a polemical presentation of one side of the argument. But its images are compelling and unless gas’s boosters are more willing to answer the genuine criticisms and scotch the misleading ones they’ll lose the public.
Everyone I know who’s seen it says it had a big impact on them – in a good way.
[authored by Ben Brangwyn]