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Tue Jan 11 2011Natural gas. The very term seems so benign. In a world searching for new energy sources, it has to be a good thing, right? Well, that’s not the conclusion of this angry Sundance-lauded doc exploring the industry in the US, where massive underground gas deposits have prompted much recent drilling. Erstwhile NY theatre director Josh Fox received a lucrative gas company offer to exploit his family’s rural Pennsylvania retreat, but instead of signing on the dotted line, he documented this fact-finding mission across America, discovering flammable tap water, neurological and respiratory problems and pollutants contaminating earth and atmosphere alike.
While the hushed tones of Fox’s would-be naïf commentary slightly grate after a while, his film’s images, contrasting natural beauty with industrial horror show, are bracingly effective indeed.
Retrieving the gas means injecting corrosive combustible chemicals – noxious stuff you wouldn’t want anywhere near the water table – to blast it up to the surface. Yet this process is legally exempt from the Clean Water Act or any form of disclosure, thanks to 2005 legislation introduced by VP Dick Cheney – former CEO of Halliburton, the corporate behemoth extracting huge profits from gas exploration.
Having shown us unfortunate citizens on the receiving end, and environmental agencies sitting on their hands, Fox builds up a surge of outrage, yet leaves us longing for a few more retaliatory punches launched at the higher-ups. Still, setting the context for individual involvement may be no bad thing, and his touching reverence for the land itself certainly underlines the high stakes at play.
Author: Trevor Johnston