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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.