Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technology used to extract natural gas from shale formations. The method utilizes water mixed with chemicals to make small fractures in shale, allowing natural gas to leave the rock (EPA, Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas 1). Although few studies found negative effects of fracturing on people’s health, some activists claim that fracking can have serious consequences for people living close to gas production wells. Josh Fox’s movie Gasland and its sequel Gasland II have stirred the communities all over the United States by portraying the negative health effects of fracking. Southland was released in 2012 in response to Gasland. However, whereas Gasland relies on speculation and unproven suggestions aimed to destabilize the gas production industry, Truthland offers a more objective exploration that diminishes the vast majority of Fox’s claims.
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Gasland II begins with the discussion of hydraulic fracturing technology and its potential effects on groundwater resources and the environment. Fox then proceeds to discuss several cases where residents living close to gas production sites complained about the negative health effects of fracking (Gasland II). For example, Fox interviewed Lesley Stahl, who found an unusual amount of gas in house drinking water, which caused water to catch fire (Gasland II). Throughout the film, Fox stresses that fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which means that companies are not obliged to inform people of the chemicals they are using, thus presuming that the chemicals affect house water quality (Gasland II). Together with other Dimock families, the Stahls attempted to sue the gas production company for contaminating their water supply, “but no permanent solution for residents’ water contamination had been proposed” (Fox, Gasland II). After reviewing several cases, Fox concludes that fracking is a conspiracy against the entire U.S. population (Gasland II). The film ends with famous footage of a man lighting his faucet on fire.
Southland is a relatively short documentary that stays close to the point and does not use any impressive visuals to stress the findings. Instead, the film begins with Shelly explaining the reason for beginning to work on the film. Shelly states that she lives atop the Marcellus Shale, which is among the largest sources of natural gas in the world (Truthland). After watching Gasland, she and her family decided to explore if the claims were true and if they needed to worry about their health. Together, Shelly and her family composed a list of questions about fracking, and she began her journey across the country to obtain answers from industry professionals, researchers, officials, and local residents. Throughout the film, Shelly refers to Fox’s claims, proving that the vast majority of them are misleading. For instance, although Fox stated that no solution was found to the quality of drinking water in Dimock, Shelley visited a rancher living in the same area who explained that there is safe drinking water and that the water supply has been fully recovered (Truthland).
Advantages and Limitations
One significant advantage of the documentary is that it is effective in achieving its key goal of stirring the people and persuading them to fear to frack. Throughout the film, Fox uses vivid images of destruction, refers to past cases, and interviews people who claim to have suffered from the technology (Gasland II). Another advantage is that Gasland II works to connect fracking to a larger context of political power and the oil and gas industry. However, the primary limitation of the film is that it only offers one viewpoint on the issue. In his search for information to confirm the danger of fracking, Fox ignores key research evidence that makes his claims appear misleading. For instance, a study by Lueken et al. is one of many studies to confirm that the use of natural gas obtained from hydraulic fracturing causes improvement in population health by reducing SO2 and NOX emissions (1160).
Moreover, although Fox states that fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, it is still included in the Safe Drinking Water Act’s (SDWA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, the key element of which is to improve the quality of wells and minimize the risks caused by their installation and use (EPA, “Natural Gas Extraction – Hydraulic Fracturing”). Furthermore, Fox fails to provide evidence that the negative health effects observed in the interviewed people were caused by fracking and not other personal, household, or external factors. Finally, the film uses the audience’s lack of awareness to its benefit. For instance, Fox argues that shale wells are unstable and that well failures and leaks are common, citing research that actually took place in the outer continental shelf (OCS) area of the Gulf of Mexico (Everley). The report that Fox refers to states that the findings exclude data from onshore wells, making the study irrelevant to Fox’s arguments (Everley).
The key advantage of Truthland is that it seeks to present an objective view on the risks and benefits of fracking. Shelly consults scientists and officials, asking specific questions that are similar to those discussed in Gasland II. However, the film does not attempt to argue for a certain position on the issue; instead, it aims to provide an informed opinion and to answer all the questions that the audience might have after watching Gasland II. Another advantage of the film is that it is concise and lacks persuasive language, thus allowing the audience to form an independent view on the topic. One limitation of Truthland is that the film does not review research studies on the effect of fracking on health and water quality. The film also avoids discussing the environmental benefits of fracking, which are important to the evaluation of the method.
It is evident that the majority of arguments made by Fox are either irrelevant or outright misleading. There is a solid body of research confirming that fracking does not pose any risks to the health and well-being of people and animals. For example, Energy in Depth issued a report providing information on studies that do not support Fox’s point of view. The report concludes that “there is little to no evidence of significant, negative health effects linked to contaminated water from fracking […] because hydraulic fracturing itself does not pose a credible risk of groundwater contamination” (Energy in Depth 27).
Moreover, there is extensive evidence of environmental and health benefits resulting from fracking. For example, Muller and Muller state that shale gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution (2). Personally, I disagree with the opinion presented in Gasland II, as there is not enough evidence to support Fox’s claims. On the contrary, the vast part of research evidence opposes his view on the issue. Southland, on the other hand, provides an objective overview of the statements offered in Gasland II, showing the lack of relevance and credibility by referring to prominent researchers and professionals. Overall, I believe that fracking is an environmentally-friendly alternative to oil production; there is no scientific evidence to prove that water contamination and health consequences discussed in Gasland II can be a result of fracking. As long as the installation and operation of wells are governed by appropriate regulations and standards, fracking is safe for people and animals.
The energy in Depth. Compendium of Studies Demonstrating the Safety and Health Benefits of Fracking. 2017, Web .
Everley, Steve. “Debunking Gasland, Part II.” The energy in Depth. 2013, Web.
Fox, Josh, director. Gasland. WOW Company, 2010.
Fox, Josh, director. Gasland II. HBO, 2013.
Lueken, Roger, et al. “The Climate and Health Effects of a USA Switch from Coal to Gas Electricity Generation.” Energy, vol. 109, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1160-1166.
Muller, Richard A. and Elizabeth A. Muller. Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking. 2013, Web.
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Southland. Directed by Shelley. The energy in Depth, 2012.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States. 2016, Web.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Natural Gas Extraction – Hydraulic Fracturing.” EPA Environmental Topics, n.d., Web.