“Don’t frack my mother”

A review of Josh Fox’s “Gasland II”

The battle continues in the documentary sequel on the increasing perils of hydraulic fracturing, commonly knownas fracking, in Josh Fox’s Gasland Part II, recently shown on HBO. The line “Don’t frack my mother,” as in mother earth, appears as a battle cry in the Gasland II documentary, given the danger fracking has presented to the earth itself.

High altitude maps show in pinpoints of light, the advanced rash of these wells, which have grown exponentially since Gasland I.

The message of Mr. Fox’s Gasland Part II is that while the battles over the investigation and regulation of fracking wax and wane—with the anti-regulatory forces, politicians and corporations, currently on top—thousands of additional wells that use this controversial natural-gas drilling technique continue to be drilled with a savage rapidity.

Gasland Part II, which had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and was first shown Monday on HBO, paints a convincing picture: homeowners at the mercy of the oil and gas industry wait while government agencies make tentative moves toward regulation that eventually come to nothing or are reversed.

Almost always, the land and home owners near and around these wells have been physically sickened by the methane leaking through the concrete that surrounds the diggers’ pipelines. Rashes occur, vertigo, sick feelings, cancers, depression, a loss of joy at living on even lush properties in Wyoming and California, where wells are being punched through the state’s Central Valley, which sits directly over the Monterey Shale.

This poses an even larger danger that fracking can and does induce earthquakes through the operation: it pours thousands of gallons of water into each well, water mixed with a cocktail of toxic chemicals to fracture the rock and induce the methane gas to pour out and be captured. Inevitably, a fair share of it escapes upwards into the air, sickening the atmosphere, people, animals, and soil.

  • Gasland I reported that, “Natural gas companies have installed hundreds of thousands of rigs in 34 states, drilling into huge shale fields, tight sands or coal bed seams containing gas deposits trapped in the rock. Each well requires the use of fracking fluid—chemical cocktails consisting of 596 chemicals, including carcinogens and neurotoxins, as well as one to seven million gallons of water, which are infused with the chemicals.” Just the names of these chemicals will give you chills.
  • When Fox does the math, “Considering there are approximately 450,000 wells in the U.S., Fox estimates that 40 trillion gallons of chemically infused water have been created by the drilling, much of it left seeping or injected into the ground.”
  • The problem is that this infused water mingles with clean water, which happened after Hurricane Irene flooded upper New York State on Aug 27, 2011, inevitably fouling clean streams and other sources, making it dangerous for humans to drink, causing everything from headaches to cancers and other lethal diseases, affecting men, women, children, animals and plant life which withers and dies off as well.
  • Sadly, Governor Mario Cuomo, who originally banned fracking for a year for a “scientific examination of it,” let the ban expire, thus endangering the drinking water for New York City and State and most probably profiting one way or the other in his political ambitions.

It is acts like these by politicians and corporations that caused The Environmental Protection Agency last month to literally walk away from its promise to investigate water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., which previously was shown in the film as one of the most significant victories for aggrieved homeowners, whose homes and property lost most of their value since fracking continued.

The reason given for the EPA to walk away was that “higher-ups” stifled the protest, from Obama on down, literally threatening the employment of EPA workers’ jobs. Shale oil, another product of fracking, is a heavy pollutant, produced similarly, mainly for foreign countries hungry for fuel. It, too, should be abandoned for the pollution it produces.

Mr. Fox tells us about these horrors in the first-person style of colorful mudslingers like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, but his tone is sadder, mordant, his blank face a melancholy emblem of the hopelessness of the situation. He is constantly present in the film, taking on a kind of minstrel’s or bard’s role emphasized by shots of him strumming a banjo in the woods near his Pennsylvania home. At one point he celebrates his own doggedness by beginning to run the closing credits before announcing that “no, the story isn’t over yet.”

The original Gasland grew out of a company’s effort to pay Mr. Fox $100,000 for exploration rights to his family-inherited land, which lies above the Marcellus Shale formation and its huge reserves of natural gas, which is considered “the Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas.”

Gasland II briefly recaps Fox’s personal history and revisits communities that were featured in Gasland I, where shots of methane-laced water pouring from kitchen, bathroom spouts or hoses were set on fire with cigarette lighters. He is tracing the legal and political fights of the intervening years, citing studies and statistics attesting to the health dangers of fracking.

Putting all of this material into an economical yet coherent package would be a challenge for any documentarian, but Fox’s rambling style is perfect for it. In its seeming simplicity, it works beautifully for Fox, who directed, wrote and edited Gasland Part II. The film runs to two hours and its anecdotal, hopscotch never ceases to enlighten the viewer, including this writer.

Most of Mr. Fox’s material isn’t open to question, because it is so accurately shown to cause the desultory effects Fox is writing about, particularly after writing about them in Gasland I. But that shouldn’t stop him, personally or legally. He has a story to tell and he should tell it.

The capper in Gasland II are recordings of a gas industry conference at which public relations managers are told to study the army’s counterinsurgency manual because “we are dealing with an insurgency when it comes to protesters and angry homeowners.” It is a vicious if not idiotic attack on whistleblowers by corporate powers and the U.S. government.

Mr. Fox gives an account of the Pennsylvania government hiring a private company to monitor fracking protesters. It is eerily reminiscent of NSA’s spying on American citizens for no discernible reason other than they have the power and the means to do it, as whistleblower Edward Snowden pointed out, much to the offenders’ chagrin.

In an episode not widely covered outside the state, there is a real eye-opener, suggesting that the FBI’s COINTELPRO tactics, an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program, be used. They are a series of covert and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.

COINTELPRO tactics include discrediting targets through psychological warfare, planting false reports in the media, smearing through forged letters, harassment, wrongful imprisonment, extralegal violence and assassination. Covert operations under COINTELPRO took place between 1956 and 1971, largely during the contentious Vietnam War.

It’s hard to take issue with Mr. Fox’s personal reporting, which handled the film with a top-notch production team. It warns that economic and political forces will soon spread fracking not just in all of America but around the world, no matter how harmful critics say it may be to the environment and our health. And that is enabled from money being put in lots of political pockets; and that is thanks to the Supreme Court’s “corporate personhood,” fantasy, which enables these bought entities to spend as much as they like ballyhooing fracking and demonizing the protestors.

In fact, legally the court is depriving real human beings of their free speech to protest these awful money-spending programs, because millions of everyday people individually don’t have these kinds of assets. They are working people, some more affluent than others, some less affluent, some outright poor, some having allowed fracking initially to provide a financial cushion for their future. But the cushion is filled will poison as it stands now. So the time to quit this business is now.

Coincidentally, the former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, appointed by Bush as the first Head of Homeland Security, has no problem making life insecure for members of his state, first by not banning fracking, and now by continuing to do so, claiming fracking is not the problem for the damaged people, property and soil. He’s proud of representing gas companies’ point of view.

In addition to Ridge, Fox provide a glimpse of the hardball tactics he is talking about. He runs a Google search for his own name and puts the result on screen. There, directly above his Wikipedia entry, we can see who has bought “Josh Fox” as a search phrase: a gas-industry trade group offering the “Truth about Gasland.” They’ve got the wrong guy.

What’s more, Gasland II closes with Mr. Fox being humiliated: arrested and handcuffed at a committee meeting in Congress, to which he was invited to speak and show sections of his new film. This again, is redolent of treatment prescribed for Snowden, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. It seems to report dangers to the public these days is a crime.

To see Gasland I or watch the trailer for Gasland II, click here. And make up your own mind about this ongoing disaster that threatens the future of life on earth by an energy supplier.

The truth is hydroelectric power plus wind power plus the sun can sustain the world’s energy needs indefinitely. What’s lacking is the imagination and courage to apply them to practical use—and to resist “a quick buck” via bribes to avoid the challenge. But each and every one of us need to take up the mantra of protest as well: “Don’t frack my mother.” Because she has given us life, nurtured us for millions of years, and will for millions more if only she’s given the chance to live.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at gvmaz@verizon.net.

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