The scariest movies, in reality, are not horror movies (especially horror movies today), but are, in my opinion, documentaries, at least ones that focus on a specific individual or group of people that are up to no good.  I’m sure you know the answer why.

Earlier documentaries from this year prove this point: Daniel Ellsberg revealed the ignorance of a properly informed America and how that resulted in the loss of nearly 60,000 military personnel in the Vietnam War, the Art of the Steal showed just how easy it was for politicians and power players to pick apart an individual’s will, and Casino Jack showed us an America ran by money, not by actual thinking men and women.

GASLAND?  This one is scary, and definitely a wake up call, in trying to figure out what America needs to do with its energy crisis.

Josh Fox, the creator of said film, receives a letter from a gas company, asking if they could pay him for the rights to drill the natural gas from his land.  Not sure if $100,000 is worth it, he does some investigating of local towns and counties that have natural gas drilling, in this instance, called hydraulic fracturing, or frakking.  What he finds is devastating: local water supplies ruined because of the natural gas seeping into them; running water that lights up in a pyre of flame; families reporting headaches, animals losing their hair, etc.  It’s enough to make him say no.

The process of hydraulic fracturing, he shows, involves drilling a mix of water and nearly 600 various chemicals – some of them being known carcinogens and harmful to human health – into the ground, causing mini earthquakes that fracture the earth, releasing the stored natural gas for extraction.  A site can be fractured up to eighteen times; the amount of water needed for one fracturing at one well is anywhere from 1-7 million gallons of water.

There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of these wells all across the country in various natural gas fields.  You can do the math.

Fox’s journey takes him from his home in northeastern Pennsylvania to across the southern portion of the United States, stopping in places like Forth Worth, Texas, where a new well springs up almost overnight.  He ends up back in Pennsylvania talking with a state senator about what to do about this problem.  The senator was right to peg him about being behind the camera asking questions; Fox’s response is a simple “I’m from Pennsylvania, and this affects me.”

He ends up in Washington, D.C. for a Congressional hearing from various gas companies about the effects of hydraulic fracturing and their effects on the environment – they either feign ignorance or outright say no to questions about their effects.  Fox is quick to point the camera repeatedly on the bottled water that the gas company employees are drinking (one repeated mentioned throughout the film by distressed homeowners about their water is asking these same people to drink it, to which they politely decline as best they can).  Fox, prior to this hearing, is in New York, learning more about a water basin that serves 20 million people that remains untouched but is part of the largest natural gas vein in the eastern half of the country.

That 20 million people, by the way, lies along the Delaware River valley, stretching from southern New York State all the way into Delaware.  Most of my readership (if I have one) lives along this 100-mile length of land: the water we drink comes from this basin.

Fox himself is admirable in his quest for answers.  His narration comes off as stilted, which is bothersome at first but becomes more focused as the film moves forward.  His has a dark humor that emerges – the scene with him playing banjo would be funny if public lands and a gas well weren’t behind him, as well as what he’s wearing as well when he plays – but he’s also serious, and his angered response comes at an appropriate time, when continued disbelief of the stories he hears gives way to “what can we do about this”.

This film is definitely a wake up call.  Well made, informative, and downright scary.  Like all documentaries about the real world should be.

Note: this film is playing on HBO On Demand through September, in their Documentaries section.  Watch it.

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