In 2009, filmmaker Josh Fox learned his home in the Delaware River Basin was on top of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation containing natural gas that stretches across New York, Pennsylvania and huge stretches of the Northeast. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land for a new method of drilling developed by Halliburton and soon discovered this was only a part of a 34-state drilling campaign, the largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history. Part mystery, part travelogue, and part banjo showdown, Gasland documents Josh's cross-country odyssey to find out if the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - is actually safe. As he interviews people who live on or around current fracking sites, Josh learns of things gone horribly wrong, from illness to hair loss to flammable water, and his inquiries lead him ever deeper into a web of secrets, lies, conspiracy, and contamination - a web that potentially stretches to threaten the New York Watershed. Unearthing a shocking story about a practice that is understudied and inadequately regulated, Gasland races to find answer about fracking before it's far too late.
Little did director Josh Fox know that he'd find himself trailing the history and future of natural gas mining for this documentary, Gasland, or so he claims in this moving and evocative political exposé. Thankfully unpretentious and lacking in the didacticism that plagues many political documentaries, Gasland is edifying in the most entertaining and palatable way. Fox's open-ended questions presented during his narration are answered by interviewees found as he travels cross-country to source out water pollution happening as a result of hydraulic fracturing. The tension begins when Fox researches a letter he receives in the mail at his rural Pennsylvania farmhouse, inviting him to sell his land for $100,000 and permission to mine natural gas. He comes to discover how the Delaware River watershed's imminently endangered status will threaten New York City's main water source, and towards the end of the film focuses on New York City, as respected politicians like John Gennaro and Congressman Maurice Hinchey speak on behalf of this issue. But before filming congressional hearings, Fox charts his personal dilemma and how it quickly spirals outward, as first his neighbors tell him horror stories about water contamination due to this process. And as he tours Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas, where hydraulic fracturing has already contaminated myriad underground wells, Fox actually films many families' water faucets catching fire as people hold a match to their running tap water. Fox's continuing investigation ties this unchecked chemical process to Dick Cheney's Halliburton activity and bills covertly passed during the Bush administration. Gasland does not have a conspiratorial feel; it takes an honest, even-keeled investigative approach and relies on information relayed to Fox from renowned activists like Dr. Theo Colborn and Environmental Protection Agency staffer Weston Wilson. This documentary sheds light on what has been a practice that many American citizens have assumed mysterious and possibly benign. It is easy to understand why Gasland has garnered so many film festival awards, since it presents vital information that will necessitate action once it reaches enough of the population. This is grassroots documentary filmmaking at its finest. --Trinie Dalton