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Gasland Part II Takes Another Look at the Dangers of Fracking in the Barnett Shale

Last night on HBO, the documentary Gasland Part II premiered. As with the original Gasland, I found director Josh Fox’s filmmaking skills lacking. He mistakes pretension for artsiness, and it’s excruciating to listen to his narration, for he seems…to think…that pausing…every few seconds…will…add profundity…to what…he has..to…..say. Then there’s his closing speech, in which he rambles something about how our fingerprints look like the inside of tree trunks, and trees always stand firm, so maybe that’s why we stand firm, but what happens if we ruin all the land and cut down all the trees, or something. That’s laugh-out-loud funny.

You might want to watch this film anyway. That’s because its subject matter — how natural gas drilling has been damaging water supplies and how the revolving door between the energy industry and government offices has aided in covering up the evidence — is worth your attention. Particularly since a sizable chunk focuses on North Texas’ own Barnett Shale, including the Parker County home of Steve Lipsky, whose well is so contaminated with methane and other toxins that it poses the danger of causing his home to explode. There’s also Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of Dish, Texas, who moved away from the town because of damage to his family’s health by air pollution from surrounding well sites.

The EPA has gone back and forth in its official pronouncements about whether hydraulic fracturing is to blame for these problems. I tend to believe ordinary people who just want to have some clean damn water at their houses more than I do corporations with a profit motive that requires they deny, deny, deny and pretend there is a debate over science even where there isn’t a debate. (Corporations have a long track record of doing this: See the dangers of tobacco, or climate change denial.) And it is scary to hear how former state governors, and other officials, who were once charged with regulating the energy industry, go to work for those same companies soon after leaving office. As Lipsky says in the movie trailer posted above, “It’s scary when the government is afraid of a business.”

It makes it extremely difficult for ordinary citizens like us to know who we can trust, and of course that keeps that debate going. Meanwhile Range Resources and Chesapeake Energy and others keep drilling.

  • 宗誠

    it’s a documentary. what more do you want from the director? go make a film yourself!!

  • my2cents

    Seriously? I am not sure if you have watched “Fracknation” but it is a pretty devastating response to Mr. Fox’s Gas Land I. The part about Steve Lipsky in Gas Land II “The wrath of Josh Fox” is as made up as the part in Gas Land I about the family whose water is non-potable. Moreover, natural gas (assuming we can get the administration to stop campaigning and actually get to work) can allow the United States to become energy independent. Meaning we will no longer support governments that, for the most part, don’t really like the United States. Are there accidents? Sure. But to say that we should stop fracking because there might be an accident is sort of like saying that we should stop using automobiles because thousands of people die each year. It just doesn’t make any sense. And your logical fallacy of “Since the tobacco companies lied then the gas companies are lying too” is not only nonsensical, it is poor argument making. But I agree that it should be watched just so that people will understand the lengths some people will go to get their agendas aired.

  • jasonheid

    I want a better-made documentary.

  • jasonheid

    I was simply using the tobacco company example to illustrate why I have a greater level of trust in non-corporate entities than in corporate entities. I never said that case proved lying in this case.

    “Fracknation” has been as criticized for its supposed distortions and misleading data as “Gasland” was by “Fracknation.”

    Steve Lipsky’s story has been covered in sources other than in “Gasland II,” including the WFAA report I linked in the post above.

  • my2cents
  • Alec Baldwin

    It’s also scary when a filmmaker is “afraid of science.”

  • Jim Schermbeck

    Yep, it’s always risky to do narration, much less your own, without going all Monty Python on your audience, or in this case, Tori Amos. The first one worked better because it was a road trip. There’s lots of good academic-based science out there now that wasn’t there even a year or two ago that I wished he’s used, especially about air pollution volumes and toxicity. As to who to trust, I don’t think it’s any harder than it was in the tobacco fight, or the fight to get lead out of gasoline, or the fight to bring new controls to the local cement plants. There’s a monied interest on one side, and pretty much everyone who was minding their business before they got shat on, on the other.

  • Jim Schermbeck

    Yep. It’s always tough using narration, especially your own. You risk going all Monty Python on your audience, or in this case, maybe Tori Amos. The first one was better because it was basically a road trip. There’s a lot of good science out there now that wasn’t there even a year or two ago that I wished he’d use – especially about air pollution problems. As to who to trust, I don’t think that’s any more difficult now than it was when you had to choose to who to trust in the tobacco wars, the fight over seat belts or lead in gasoline, or controls on the local cement plants. There’s a monied special interest that benefits from the activity or absence of controls, and then there’s everyone else who was minding their own business before they got shat on.

  • Peter Kurilecz

    a decidedly one-sided POV loaded with misinformation
    http://energyindepth.org/national/the-continuing-fraud-of-gasland/

    what would be interesting is to see Gasland 1 and II shown along with Fracknation
    http://fracknation.com/
    and then have a debate between Fox and MacAleer

  • Neal K

    Are we still talking about Steve Lipsky and his supposedly flammable well? That footage was declared fraudulent by a Texas court last year.

  • wmp

    But why would you have the documentary makers debate each other? They don’t know anything, yet they keep getting quoted in the media as if they were experts. Invite real experts to debate each other on the topics they’ve studied.

  • Neal K

    Are we still talking about Steve Lipsky and his supposedly flammable well? That footage was declared fraudulent by a Texas court last year.

    Link: http://www.barnettshalenews.com/documents/2012/legal/Court%20Order%20Denial%20of%20Lipsky%20Motion%20to%20Dismiss%20Range%20Counterclaim%202-16-2012.pdf

    P.S. It is extremely annoying that Frontburner doesn’t allow html tags in comments anymore.

  • jasonheid

    Watch the WFAA report from February:

    http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/News-8-Exclusive-Parker-Co-water-well-in-on-fire—191125411.html

    There is gas in his well. WFAA cameras witnessed it venting off the well over and over. The issue you’re referring to arose because the judge believed the video was implying that he was setting the water itself on fire. It’s like throwing out a suit on a technicality.

  • my2cents

    Gas in ground water is a known and common phenomenon. It has been occurring well before the proliferation of fracking.

  • Avid Reader

    Seems like it was thrown out since the hose was hooked up to a gas vent, not a water line.

  • jasonheid

    No, the hose was connected to the well head.

  • Jim Schermbeck

    It’s exhausting keeping these folks up to date on the “rest of the story” their sources don’t bother to mention.

  • Avid Reader

    Looking at the 43rd Judicial District Court Order right now. Direct quote: “the actions of Mr. Steven Lipsky, under the advice or direction of Ms. Alisa Rich, to intentionally attach a garden hose to a gas vent-not to a water line-and then light and burn the gas from the end nozzle of the hose. This demonstration was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national news media a deceptive video, calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning.”

    Exhausting keeping these folks up to date on “the rest of the story” their sources don’t bother to mention.

  • Mike

    Looked at that court order and watched the WFAA report, seems to me they’re saying the same thing, that the hose was hooked up to a part of the water well that’s specifically designed to vent gas, which would lead me to believe that gas in wells was known before fracking. I have friends who have a similar well, i’ll have to ask them if they have a gas vent on theirs next time i talk to them.

  • jasonheid

    @Avid: The judge is referring to the fact that the hose was coming off a vent that was installed off of Lipsky’s water well to bring gas directly out of that well, as opposed to running from a water line fed by that same well.

    So again, the issue is that the judge felt that Lipsky’s video was misleading because the use of the garden hose implied the water itself was being set on fire. This doesn’t dispute the fact that the well is full of explosive gas.

  • jasonheid

    Yes, gases like methane will naturally occur in wells like this, and yes, vents are used to prevent gases from building up.

    What’s not normal is for there to be such a high concentration of gas that a person is able to set it on fire like this, over and over.

  • Dubous Brother

    Why can’t documentarians just make honest and truthful videos like Al Gore and then just win a Nobel Prize and an Oscar and …..

  • Avid Reader

    @jasonheid, Yes, the Lipsky well has a large amount of gas. I don’t see anywhere in the WFAA article or video any mention that the actual water well drilling company that Lipsky used had drilled a number of wells before Lipsky’s that also contained large amounts of gas. Gas in water wells is not an uncommon occurrence. It would also be helpful to have a timeline of when Lipsky built his house, drilled his well, or how long he had been using the well before he noticed the large amount of gas. Was it 1, 5, 10, 15 years of water well use before the Range fracking in the area started? Would also be helpful to see if there were any tests done on the well when initially drilled or anytime before the gas well was drilled. I am open to the logical idea that fracking can at some level, whether by a leak or just from the action of fracking, introduce methane into water sources. I need more proof than a video of a guy lighting gas escaping from his well on fire since that is nothing remotely new. I will take neither Fracknation or Gasland I, and II as anything other than far left and far right nonsense since neither one will let one iota of competing logic be mentioned in their films as anything other than idiocy.

  • blake

    Give em hell Jason, and don’t let the gas industry apologists try to zig and zag around the truth. You hit the nail on the head when you break it down to the profit-driven corporations on one side, and the regular people minding their own business on the other side. Every anti-gas drilling activist I know got involved in the fight only after a gas driller tried to trample over them and their rights and ruin their quality of life, and they deny everything while hiding behind a team of lawyers. The drilling industry has been paying off lawmakers for 100 years to keep laws written to protect the industry.

  • Neal K

    Source?

  • my2cents

    Regular people that have lawsuits against gas companies for millions of dollars that have no financial incentive to make stuff up? Show me that person, Blake. Because I am pretty sure he or she hasn’t be produced yet.