After the showing of 'Gasland,' over 100 people stayed around to discuss how we can work together to reduce the problems of fracking. Photo: Megan Fluke Medeiros
It is too toxic to step outside. A foreign drink of chemicals bubbles out of household faucets. Families are cruelly mutated. Alien machines take over and destroy their lands and homes. Death and disease plague these lands, once full of lush life and vigor. Is this a scene out of a futuristic sci-fi film? Is it merely a paranoid and improbable tree-hugger’s nightmare? No, it is something entirely different: it is Josh Fox’s Gasland, a documentary about the horrific effects of “fracking,” the process of extracting natural gas from deep within the Earth by means of hydraulic fracturing.
Those “alien machines” are gas wells, and the toxins seeping into and contaminating the water are the 596 different chemicals, from the unpronounceable to the unknown, used in the fluid necessary for fracking.
Close to 130 people gathered at the Redwood City downtown library to watch Gasland’s July 10 showing,, hosted by the Chapter’s Peninsula Regional Group. After the movie, a crowd of over 100 stayed to engage in an animated discussion about the impending fracking “gold rush” in California. People expressed a sense of urgency, as California has the largest frackable reserves in the country, and the expansion of fracking in our state appears imminent. Attendees discussed what can be done to spread awareness among those who are not already part of the environmental choir. Ideas such as showing “Gasland” at house parties, churches, workplaces, schools, community centers, etc., were suggested. People also discussed the importance of lobbying our public officials to introduce legislation that would ban or regulate fracking.
Fracking’s Hideous Effects
Fox’s film unveils the hideous effects of fracking, as he speaks with American families who have been diagnosed with various neurological disorders proven to be the direct result of proximity to the gas wells placed near their property. He documents numerous pets and farm animals, dead or hairless and sickly as a result of the seeping chemicals that come hand-in-hand with the fracking wells. Streams and lakes bubble with natural gas from leaking wells. Faucet water erupts with flames when it comes even remotely close to an open lighter, due to the propane, benzene, and countless other hydrocarbons that seep into community water reservoirs during fracking.
Fracking has been going on for years as oil and gas companies as well as politicians size up our land and our environment as merely a local Saudi Arabia of natural gas. Government officials have not protected us. In 2005 Dick Cheney was instrumental in passing an act that exempts oil and gas companies from the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. Over a thousand complaints about fracking’s harmful effects have been documented across six states; all were deemed illegitimate by the oil and gas companies or by the state government. As manifestly awful as this sounds, the political influence of oil industry money is increasing, imperiling our planet and its inhabitants.
Earthquakes and Other Dangers
In California fracking is especially dangerous because it requires drilling hundreds of feet into the ground. This creates a series of tremors deep within the Earth, which has led, and will lead, to swarms of earthquakes. Not only this, but fracking also requires millions and millions of gallons of water, and California has a serious water shortage. Chemical spills and well tube casing failures cause fracking fluids to migrate to our local streams, drinking reservoirs, and aquifers. This contamination from seepage includes lead and arsenic. Fracking wastewater is often improperly, often illegally, disposed of in our fields and rivers, permanently damaging not only the environment and wildlife but also the workers whose job it is to find a way to dispose of the mixtures of toxins. Fracking sites are found near our farms and even in some of our backyards. As a result, there has been documented illness due to water pollution and air pollution, contamination of foods, and decrease in herd sizes from illness, death, and reproductive failures, all directly connected to fracking.
The message of Josh Fox’s Gasland is very clear: Natural gas is not the clean, groundbreaking fuel that some in the media have portrayed it to be. The effects of fracking are disastrous to our land and our health. The greed of oil and gas companies and the politicians that take their money are the reasons why many Americans are suffering from the horrendous effects of hydraulic fracking.
Bita Shahrvini is a senior at Carlmont High School and is a member of the Green Youth Alliance.