“Well that was depressing,” Professor and Department Chair of Geoscience and Engineering Dr. Michael Schanlin said at the conclusion of Elizabethtown College’s screening of “Gasland.” “And if you weren’t thoroughly frightened by that, you should be.”
This 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary directed by Josh Fox, which showed at the College on April 22 as the closing event of Scholarship and Creative Arts Day (SCAD), focuses on the harmful effects of harvesting natural gas from below America’s soil. The hydraulic drilling process in which natural gas is collected is called fracking and has been proven to be hazardous for both humans and the environment.
The documentary demonstrates the increasingly unsafe living conditions of those whose homes reside on top of or near the natural gas wells that are being drilled by large corporations. Numerous anecdotes illustrate the dangers associated with fracking, including an array of illnesses stretching from asthma to cancer because of the necessary poisonous chemicals needed to harvest the gas. The film also focuses on the flammable water that is being pumped into homes’ wells as a result of natural gas drilling. One segment of the film is titled “Water, Water Everywhere and not Enough to Drink” because, as a part of the fracking process, only half of the toxic water injected into the ground is recovered, therefore poisoning the local water supplies of nearby residents.
Fox was inspired to create this documentary when he discovered that a fracking site may be developed near his home in Pa. In order to investigate people’s rights on this subject, his film also includes political information regarding fracking and displays gas corporations’ unwillingness to speak on the topic, as well as their reluctance to acknowledge and mitigate the hazardous side-effects of their business.
Once concluded, Scanlin offered commentary on both the film and its subject matter. “This is the level of awareness that you need to become an advocate for change. You need to stop being bystanders,” he said. “We have become a nation of spectators.” According to Scanlin, films such as these are among the most effective ways to raise awareness on a large scale. Contrary to some critics and politicians, Scanlin believes “Gasland” to be accurately made and without bias.
Dr. William Newsome, associate professor of history, also attended the screening held in Leffler Chapel and Performance Center and explained why he believes that awareness of this specific issue has been lacking. “Physical distance creates social distance. You can see by the size of our crowd tonight that we are fighting an uphill battle,” he said. His comment about the audience’s size refers to the fact that only a handful of students and faculty members attended the event. One audience member even acknowledged that there were more student-employees present, simply because they were required to attend.
According to Scanlin, the only way in which U.S. citizens can stop natural gas drilling is by forming a large following against fracking because politicians that support it will only react to money and the threat of being voted out of office. “They want to make natural gas drilling look patriotic,” he said. This point was illustrated in the documentary during a congressional hearing in which a drilling-supportive politician said that it is better to drill on our American soil rather than in foreign countries. The politician said that drilling in the U.S. will create jobs in our homeland and better protect us from terrorists. Scanlin believed this to be a political tactic to force someone who disagrees with fracking look unpatriotic.
Scanlin also explained that the U.S. cannot be the only country turning to renewable energy sources, the only suitable solution that he foresees, in order to stop corporations from fracking completely. This is because natural gas could then be sold overseas as a result. He estimated that it will take 30 years for the majority of the country’s population to switch to renewable energy, but that it needs to happen much sooner in order for the switch to be effective. “By the time it affects enough people, it will be too late and too imbedded in our culture,” he stated. “There will never be an environmentally safe way to gather natural energy. It’s like putting a band-aid on a wound that needs critical surgery.”
“Gasland” originally premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary’s sequel “Gasland 2” debuted on Sunday, April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.