“You need water for life”, declares Josh Fox whilst cascading images of polluted streams and sick animals convincingly suggest that, where the collection of natural gas is concerned, water supplies have become dangerously contaminated. Indeed, for those who sold their land for the purpose of ‘hydraulic fracturing’ – a process which involves pumping trillions of gallons of water into gas reserves which is then subsequently recycled back into the local communities – some truly startling side-effects have begun to emerge which are, to say the least, cause for concern.
Having been sent a letter proposing that he sell the family land for $100,000, Fox decided to investigate what the consequences would be of allowing the drilling to take place. What he found is often jaw-dropping and surreal, with some inhabitants now able to hold a naked flame to their drinking taps and watch them catch fire – the result of natural gas infiltrating the water supplies. Insult is added to injury as further probing reveals Dick Cheney’s direct involvement in developing and securing the passing of legislation founded on loopholes and greed that facilitate the drilling in the first place. That the companies responsible repeatedly reject the scientific tests which prove the water is infected is flabbergasting.
GasLand arrives in the UK sporting an Oscar nomination, hardly surprising given the Academy’s penchant for politically angry documentaries. Shot on digital camcorder, Fox directs, narrates and appears in several scenes, reflecting his personal determination to expose a truly scandalous practice. Thankfully for once the handheld approach doesn’t feel like you’ve been cast into the ocean on a stormy night, with much of the camerawork steadied by tripods. Fox’s investigative approach is also refreshingly measured unlike the reactionary, hysterical approach of Michael Moore who has, over the last decade and more, dominated theatrically released documentaries, much to the form’s disservice.
GasLand will inevitably reach a bigger audience on television which is probably its natural home, with nothing particularly cinematic about the scope or the imagery to justify being projected onto big screens. It is, nonetheless, a fascinating insight into corporate America’s relationship with government and the environmental havoc that energy companies wreak, now brought to the USA’s own doorstep.