In May 2008, filmmaker, Josh Fox, received a letter asking for his permission to lease 19.5 acres of his land for natural gas drilling. He would receive a significant financial incentive to do so (a cheque for $100,000) and the activity would, the letter reassured, have very little impact on his land.
Wary, Fox decided to look into just what this drilling would involve. Would there really be any lasting impact on the stunningly beautiful area of the Upper Delaware River Basin, on the border straddling Pennsylvania and New York State, that he called home?
What happened next would change Fox’s life forever and lift the lid on the Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing. The director embarked upon a cross-country journey uncovering a shocking web of secrets, lies and horrific contamination.
Fox decided to make a documentary about his journey. Gasland was released in 2010 and subsequently nominated for an Academy Award. Almost a decade on, the film has lost none of its shocking power.
Fracking is the process of injecting, at an extremely high pressure, a vast quantity of water (between 2-7 million gallons of water is used per frack) to fracture a rock formation. As the rock is blown apart, tiny bubbles of gas are released.
However, volatile organic compounds are also released in this process… they are harmful and, along with methane, they often find their way into the water supply.
I have watched Gasland several times. I always enjoy Fox’s soft spoken, banjo-playing filmmaking style. He is very entertaining to watch and it is impressive how he balances the personal with the universal.
One scene in Gasland never fails to stun. Fox films a Pennsylvanian resident setting the drinking water that is flowing out of a tap in his kitchen on fire. The moment became so iconic that it even inspired a spoof on The Simpsons.
However, this scene (a phenomenon seen many times in the film) is not the only thing that stays with me after watching Gasland. Who could forget the poor woman whose water well exploded on New Year’s Day in 2009? Who could forget the heartbreaking stories of adults, children and animals becoming sick as a result of exposure to horrendous chemicals used in the fracking process?
Gasland also features a wealth of astonishing and disturbing information about fracking. It is easy to become overwhelmed and disheartened. However, the documentary leaves a positive legacy. For example, in 2015, New York State banned fracking.
Meanwhile, thanks to Fox’s powerful film, we are all now better informed.
World-Changing Doc Recommendations
Gasland is part of the documentaries that change the world sub-genre of Documentary 7.
If you enjoyed this movie, I would also recommend:
I would also like to include the following honourable mentions: Dear Zachary, Food Inc., An Inconvenient Truth and Bowling For Columbine.
Do you have any filmmaking documentaries that you would like to recommend? If so, do let us know in the comments section below or over on Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.