I felt like I could see it. A horizontal well bore drilled down into the earth, snaking underneath The Congress, shooting money up through the chamber at such high pressure that it blew the top off of our democracy: another layer of contamination due to fracking. Not the water, not the air, but our government. All those toxic dollars, all those contaminants, all of that influence, outsizing the citizen’s voice in our democratic republic.
The words are from Josh Fox, narrating the end of his remarkable investigative follow-up film Gasland Part II 1, in which he reveals some more of the dirty tricks used by this grotesque industry to fake, cover up and deny responsibility for earthquakes and widespread pollution of both air and aquifers. Methods of manipulation that very often involve the pitting of communities against themselves using psyops techniques that are literally taken from army manuals designed for subjugating enemy insurgents.
But fracking is so filthy that no amount of public relations or concealment by the legislative bullying, nor the extensive use of non disclosure agreements, can ever keep the lid solidly on the truth. The explosive tap water, the bubbling streams, the sick livestock, the nosebleeds, the rashes, the neurological disorders; when it was eventually proven beyond all doubt that fracking was the direct source of the contamination ruining people’s lives and livelihoods, the industry in America simply pulled harder on the levers of powers and the regulatory agencies stepped to one side once again. And of course, it’s not only the American system that’s contaminated by fracking – Josh Fox again:
So I still don’t know what’s gonna happen around here. The saying goes that environmentalists only ever get temporary victories, but the losses are always permanent. There’s no such thing as anyone’s backyard anymore. This wasn’t about me getting drilled or anyone getting drilled in any one place, the plan is for shale gas to be the new world energy. If they get their way, we’re in for fifty years of shale gas running the world. You start to get dizzy. I felt like I could close my eyes and open them anywhere in the world. 2
The image above (also from the official Gasland website) shows the continents of our world blotched red to highlight seams of shale deposits, and show how this uninhabitable gasland might become truly global in its full extent if we do permit this abominable industry to spread. As Josh Fox says, plans are already in place to turn shale gas extraction into “the new world energy”:
A full version of Gasland II is embedded above. You can also click here to watch at Vimeo.
Around the time Gasland Part II was released nearly two years ago, I had written to its co-producer Deborah Wallace (I couldn’t find an email address for Josh Fox) to pose the following important question:
I first watched Gasland more than a year ago and it shocked me no end. At that time almost no one in Britain had even heard of fracking. Now it’s here and, as I say, I’m worried. The question I would like to know the answer to is actually a rather simple one. In general how long does it take for the effects of fracking to reach the surface and begin affecting animals and humans? The reason I ask this is because I have a feeling that the industry (in collaboration with the government) is trying to give the go-ahead for fracking in a truly accelerated way. To get as much gas out of the ground as possible before people actually begin to see the extraordinary amount of damage that has been done to our countryside and to the well-being of the population. It seems to me that the race is on here. So to get back to my main question then, could you tell me (to the best of your knowledge) when we can first expect the effects to be felt? Should we anticipate seeing obvious environmental/health problems within a few months, a few years, or does to generally take decades of fracking before the scale of devastation becomes obvious at the surface? 3
To her great credit Deborah Wallace replied 4, although she was reluctant to give a specific answer to my inquiry, saying only: “your question is difficult to answer since there are several ways that wells can fail so we couldn’t give you any specific time frames.” And recommending that I read through the FAQs on the Gasland website (in truth these do not supply an answer to my specific question either).
But now, thanks to a newly released documentary constructed around personal experiences of those living amidst the coal seam gasfields of Australia, a far better estimate can be put on just how much breathing space we realistically have until irreversible damage is done (in the event that the unconventional gas industry gets its foothold in Britain) – and the answer is not long at all. No sooner than the wells are drilled, the clock is loudly ticking…
At the midpoint in Gasland II, Josh Fox took a flight to Queensland in Australia. There he interviewed local farmers who showed him effects of contamination he was uncomfortably familiar with from his earlier visits to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and his home state of Pennsylvania. Rivers bubbling with methane, poisoned aquifers, and, most dramatically, water hoses that you can ignite. But what Gasland II fails to make clear is that unlike America, none of the drilling in Queensland began later than 1996, which means that all of the pollution is less than two decades old, most having leaked from wells drilled during the last few years.
In Voices from the Gasfields (embedded below) rancher, John Jenkyns, another who had originally welcomed the arrival of the industry, tells us that things were okay for about the first eighteen months. It was not long after this honeymoon period, however, before his rainwater became so contaminated that not only did it kill his plants, but it stripped paint from the car.
A neighbouring farmer, Brian Monk, also describes the “brown dome” that he often sees hanging over the gasfields. It is from this toxic cloud, he says, that the pollutants rain down. Heavy metals and high levels of radioactivity now found not only in water from the boreholes but in the rainwater too. “If you can’t trust rainwater,” he asks, “then what are you meant to trust?” Adding: “That’s why you’ve got to stop it before it starts.”
So what happened to the environmental regulators in Queensland? Well, that’s where the story becomes the most familiar one of all. Wherever fracking goes – both regular shale and coal seam gas – lack of regulation is sure to follow it, causing contamination, as Josh Fox puts it, not only of the water and the air, but of our governments too. From America to Canada (where environmental regulations were supposed to be some of the strictest in the world) and to Australia, the most painful lesson is simply this: that fracking can never be regulated because all “unconventional gas” extraction is an inherently backward technology and unavoidably polluting. Due to their ignorance people in all these countries as well as others in less affluent corners of the world are now suffering dreadfully, but in Britain we have absolutely no excuse for being likewise deceived.
Gasland Part II follows on three years [after Gasland], to continue documenting how the stakes have been raised on all sides in one of the most devastating environmental issues rapidly spreading the globe. This sequel further enriches the argument that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a lie, where in fact fracked wells inevitably leak over time, and vent exuberantly more potent greenhouse gasses such as methane in cumulative effect, not to mention the continued string of cases of severe water contamination across the United States and even cases as far away as Australia. Gasland Part II follows deeper into these happenings, revealing yet more of an entrenched corporate collusion in the pursuit of exploiting dwindling ‘natural resources’…
2 These extracts are taken from the very end of the documentary, after Josh Fox tries to exercise his First Amendment right to film hearings at The Congress, but is arrested instead. He begins this poetic stream of consciousness conclusion with the following remarks:
When I was in the police station, my arresting officer hit me up for a part in my next movie, as he was leading me over to the fingerprint machine. When they pressed my fingers down on the glass, and I saw the images up on the screen: the ridges, the circles, and my fingertips; I realised they looked just like the inside of a tree. Maybe there’s something deep in our DNA that doesn’t want to get cut down. Maybe there’s something linked – at least, that’s what I feel. The tree doesn’t move until you cut it down, and I’m certainly not moving. We can’t all just move. Certainly not when there’s another way out.
Sent: Friday, 28 June 2013, 13:34
Subject: fracking in the UK – an urgent matter
I am a resident of Sheffield in the UK which is set become the centre of region an enormous shale gas extraction – the government pressing ahead at breakneck speed whilst telling us all (courtesy of the BBC mostly) how wonderful it is that we have such large reserves under our feet waiting to be tapped. Obviously there are many people in Britain such as myself who are deeply concerned by these rapid developments.
I first watched Gasland more than a year ago and it shocked me no end. At that time almost no one in Britain had even heard of fracking. Now it’s here and, as I say, I’m worried. The question I would like to know the answer to is actually a rather simple one. In general how long does it take for the effects of fracking to reach the surface and begin affecting animals and humans? The reason I ask this is because I have a feeling that the industry (in collaboration with the government) is trying to give the go-ahead for fracking in a truly accelerated way. To get as much gas out of the ground as possible before people actually begin to see the extraordinary amount of damage that has been done to our countryside and to the well-being of the population. It seems to me that the race is on here. So to get back to my main question then, could you tell me (to the best of your knowledge) when we can first expect the effects to be felt? Should we anticipate seeing obvious environmental/health problems within a few months, a few years, or does to generally take decades of fracking before the scale of devastation becomes obvious at the surface?
I couldn’t find Josh Fox’s email contact details and so I sent this to you with the hope that you can either answer my question directly or pass it on to Josh – I’m sure you’re all very busy but I can’t think who else to ask. My best wishes with your continuing campaign and thanks to Josh and the rest of your team for getting the word out on this terrible industry. And I look forward to seeing Gasland 2 when it is released.
All the best,
Date: Saturday, 7 September 2013, 13:22
Subject: RE: fracking in the UK
Thank you so much for your letter, and apologies for our delayed reply. We have been inundated by responses to the film and this has affected our ability to respond to folks in a timely manner, we hope you’ll understand. I’m sorry you had to write twice and that it took us so long to respond.
Unfortunately, your question is difficult to answer since there are several ways that wells can fail so we couldn’t give you any specific time frames. You might want to check out our FAQ section on the website, I think you’ll find lots of answers to questions there.