In 2009, Pennsylvanian Josh Fox started working on a new documentary
, which he would later title "Gasland" after "he received a lucrative offer for the drilling rights to his family property in northeastern Pennsylvania, which sits atop the natural-gas rich Marcellus Shale."
In previous posts I have described the brewing controversy caused by drilling for natural gas in the Upper Delaware River Basin, and on the Marcellus Shale particularly. The biggest source of controversy is not the drilling itself, but rather the drilling method. Many energy companies are turning to a controversial new drilling method known as "fracking."
Again, fracking is basically injecting special fluid into rock formations at a really high pressure, which causes the rock to fracture and "helps release gas deposits trapped in rocks." According to Fox, the problem isn't the drilling but rather the fluid used to create the fractures. The fracking fluids contain neurotoxins and carcinogens and "trillions of gallons of contaminated water have been produced by the process and largely left to seep back into the earth or evaporate."
The use of fracking in the Upper Delaware Basin might not be such a problem if the area's water didn't serve as a vital drinking water source for nearly 20 million people. Taking that into consideration, the possibility of contaminating this vital drinking water source with a multitude of contaminants is simply unacceptable.
The fracking process has been around for over 60 years. Many may ask why it has just recently started to become controversial. Fox "traces the problem to the Dick Cheney-backed Energy Policy Act of 2005, which exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other environmental regulations." The film alleges that this exemption created "a massive gas grope that has resulted in 450,000 gas wells in 34 states."
"In Colorado and Wyoming, residents in drilling areas complain of persistent headaches, loss of smell and taste and having to buy their drinking water from Walmart."
While it is important to understand that natural gas is a much "cleaner" source of energy in terms of emissions, it's also crucial to study how its extraction will affect its surrounding environment. The fact that energy companies have gone forward with natural gas extraction without any tangible idea of what it's going to do to the surrounding environment is unacceptable.
I believe this shows that while it is important to pursue natural gas as a somewhat cleaner energy source, embracing the non-renewable source as the next step after oil is a big mistake. The U.S. should instead place primary focus on renewable energy like biofuels as well as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal energy. Federal and state governments need to put the right economic incentives in place to make these energy sources economically feasible to pursue.
"Gasland" aired on HBO Sunday night, and won a special jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.