Published Jul 22, 2010In the opening moments of Gasland, director Josh Fox talks a bit about his liberal hippie parents and leisure suits in the '70s, seemingly contextualizing their environmental efforts and progress with our current regression. This is made relevant only by the fact that an oil company offers $100,000 to lease Fox's land, which is the impetus of his cross-country quest to examine the effects of natural gas drilling on drinking water, a peculiar stretch in context, to say the least. Although, it's no less peculiar than the mirroring of teenagers on spring break to Abu Ghraib's prisoners in Fox's previous dreadful exercise in pretence, Memorial Day.
Once the glib, introductory voiceover narration stops, this topical enviro-doc actually delves into some interesting material, explaining the fracking process, wherein gallons of water and chemicals are drilled into the earth to release coveted natural gas. Interviewees all describe the gradual, or immediate, deterioration of their water into a flammable, undrinkable waste product, forcing them to buy their water from Wal-Mart.
Accounts of illnesses, hair loss and drilling explosions drive home the dangers of setting up sites near citizens, while the political arguments explain the laws that allow this to happen without explicit description of the chemicals involved in the process.
Brief interviews and a senate hearing with oil spokespeople hint at the dominant, problematic, well-adjusted way of thinking that leads to such irresponsible behaviour on the quest for money and power, but Fox's documentary is far too myopic to tackle anything beyond "environment good, white man bad."
And while this single-mindedness could help focus a film, Gasland is nearly two hours, dwelling on examples of environmental toxicity without edits for ridiculous stretches. On the upside, this leaves time to reflect on other things, such as the frequent use of the word "fracking" and the fact that the oil companies actually seem quite intelligent by targeting the least educated rural areas to exploit.
One might wonder if it's all some conspiratorial neo-liberal movement to keep the stupid from breeding. As for fracking, if Fox replaced all of the oil workers with Cylons, this documentary would move from flawed, but informative, to sheer awesomeness. (Mongrel Media)