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Josh Fox's 'Gasland' Sequel Opens, a Tour Through a Land of Abandoned Homes and Broken Promises

Gasland Part II contends that an industry should not be allowed to break what it cannot fix.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Gasland Part II

 
 
 
 

This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

Gasland Part II, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, takes us deep into the heartland of America, a land overtaken by gas extraction via fracking. The iconic and recurring depictions of water-on-fire seen in the first Gasland, in the new film serve as postcards from a travelogue through a land of broken promises, abandoned homes, and extinguished rights.

The first Gasland, (which was released in 2010 and nominated for a 2011 Academy Award) became this country’s wake-up call about fracking, the first prod for millions to look beyond the industry-engineered PR facade. Banjo music played throughout the soundtrack revealed director Josh Fox’s chosen musical instrument. But Fox became a kind of Pied Piper for a growing grass roots movement that questioned the need for fracking. Challenging the inroads claimed by the multinational gas and oil industry, fractivism is a popular and youth-driven pushback that these powerful industries are neither accustomed nor equipped to deal with.

Gasland and  Gasland Part II (and films like them) unmask the human debt incurred by an array of corporate Goliaths. It turns the lens on those joining the ranks of the Davids—ordinary citizens that awaken from the American dream to discover their way of life has been redefined by impersonal corporate entities, intent on constructing new superhighways towards profits‑—right over the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Gasland Part II continues Fox’s exploration by offering textured, in-depth profiles of half a dozen or so families in geographically diverse locations, from Australia, to Wyoming to Pennsylvania. Fox’s camera takes us into the homes of straight-talking folks who worked hard to secure their corner of the heartland.

Over the course of the film, we watch them move from disbelief to indignation to disillusionment, as they learn that no one’s willing to make industries accountable, even when a town loses its water. Texas homeowner Steve Lipsky built a million dollar plus dream home for his wife and family. With ample square footage, the Lipsky home was surrounded by sky-high picture windows, stunning views, and cascading pools. The customized bathroom came complete with an oversized whirlpool tub that now stands empty. Test results showed water so contaminated by nearby fracking activities that EPA officials privately advised the family never to drink it. But in a theme of civilian betrayal that recurs throughout the film, Lipsky claims that mid-level government regulators retracted their findings, rejected key opportunities to rein in the offending companies, and kept revelatory test results locked away from public access.

Gasland Part II documents what happens when people discover that the standard American protections are as prone to fail as the cement casings on gas extraction pipelines. (Industry documents shown in the film reveal that all casings fail over the next thirty years, and many much sooner, thus setting the stage for aquifer contamination by fracking chemicals, and methane.)

For me, it was a poignant Earth Day reminder that (as the film notes) the destruction of communities by the fossil fuel extraction industry is as old as the industry itself. For decades, this took place among indigenous populations, though few noticed. As  Gasland Part II poignantly reveals, what’s different now is that it’s happening to white Americans. In some cases the film’s subjects are former Republicans, even a few who once clambered for drilling, without understanding that the hope of a fair partnership between Goliath and David is as doomed as a Kardashian marriage. Especially, when, as  Gasland Part II uncovers, industry documents recommend the use of psy-ops (psychological operations, a military tactic deployed in combat zones) to manage community divisions in fracking regions. This may not be the change people were wanting to believe in.

 
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