By Milène Ortenberg
It’s no secret that our ecosystems are paying a steep price for our exploitation of natural resources. While some argue that eco-exploitation is without a doubt a sacrifice we need to make, some say that it doesn’t have to be. Director Josh Fox is one of them. His family home in Milanville, Pennsylvania sits on the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas-rich plain on which companies have tapped into using hydraulic fracturing. Problem is that these drilling efforts are severely impairing basic quality of life for local communities, such as contaminating drinking water and even natural streams and rivers. It isn’t just Pennsylvanians, it’s all over the country. From Wyoming to Texas and even Australia, Fox crusades around the globe to demonstrate the urgent need to stop fracking and America’s dependence of fossil fuels. Essentially, this is the ethos of the film.
Fox does this quite well, but lacks in demonstrative power. Bundling up many different (and many times unrelated) subjects and angles together to make a point is no longer a valid plan of action in a world where anyone can Google your claims. Yes, the 2010 BP oil spill illustrates the shortcomings of the multinational’s safety and environmental concerns, not to mention sub-par cleanup efforts from the government, but making it seem like it’s happening all over again with fracking is not only uncalled for, it’s inaccurate.
Indeed, many critics have pointed out questionable claims made by Fox in the film, on which there is an abundant amount of online debate. You can check out some of these disputes HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.
I am by no means an expert in the field of oil and gas exploitation, and even less so where American environmental legislation is concerned. However, where I do see in a problem in Fox’s portrayal of fracking is its lack of perspective. For those of us who have been following the story over the last few years, the iconic image of someone lighting their tap water on fire is nothing new. It’s the anti-fracking symbol: the idea that in a country like the United States of America, the government can allow it’s citizen’s drinking water to be polluted by corporation’s lack of thoroughness in environmental protection. But that posterchild of an image, is that all there is to it? Fox seems to think so, as in Gasland I and II, he continues to paint the same one-sided picture of negligence and overall bad intentions from the government and the oil and gas industries. Okay maybe not all BAD intentions, as they do have the Environmental Protection Agency, that has done a lot to minimize the negative effects of fracking, such as proving affected communities with fresh drinking water and pressure companies to reseal the cement that causes the gas leaks.
But yes, the oil and gas industries are hardcore lobbyists, having spent over $105 million in 2013 alone. However, this is over-stated in Fox’s movie, which paints the picture of these lobbyists blocking the repair efforts of the EPA and other organizations. What he doesn’t mention is the prosperity the industry has brought to the U.S.. Yes, you read that right. Its not only for job growth and international trade, but for providing basic amenities to a fast growing population. It’s undeniable: we are energy-hungry, and there are no signs of slowing down anytime soon. To keep the world that we have built going, we need natural gas. Whether you think it’s a good world or bad world is irrelevant, we need energy and lots of it. One can argue, yes but what about renewable energy? What about solar and wind and hydroelectric power? My answer to that is: they pollute too.
Not in the same ways, but they have their toll on the environment as well not to mention serious health concerns. Take the wind turbines for example, that have disabled a number of communities in Ontario due to the disruptive sound waves generated by the engines. And don’t even get me started about solar power. Ever thought about where the compounds that make up solar panels come from? I’m not saying renewable energy is not viable, I truly believe it is, but to say that fracking is dirty energy isn’t, is a false claim.
At the cheap rate that Americans produce and purchase oil, it is a booming and very profitable trade. Oil is to the Americans what Opium was like to the British: they see profit and prosperity, but most of all that the East will get dependent on it and will single-handedly repair their debt.
Do I think fracking is awful? Yes. Do I think that the government is stupid to even allow such a risky practice to take place? Yes. Do I feel incredibly bad for the thousands of families that don’t have drinking water? Absolutely. But in my opinion, Fox could have spent more time talking to opposing forces such as oil and gas executives, workers, and people that are generally on the positive side of the industry to explain themselves. Even if it was to prove them wrong or challenge their beliefs, it would have brought more depth, another side, another perspective. Preaching to the choir the whole way through rallies up people, but doesn’t appease the skeptics.