GASLAND (now an Oscar nominee), 'proof' and the need for responsible oversight
By Alan Septoff
January 25, 2011
More than any other single effort, Josh Fox's GASLAND has helped puncture the myth that natural gas is "clean". This movie makes abundantly clear the human costs of irresponsible drilling by telling the stories of real people who have been harmed by it.
When a multibillion dollar industry has its dirty laundry hung out for everyone to see, it fights back. And so it has tried to discredit GASLAND as unfounded environmental hysteria. With this Oscar nomination, we can expect these attacks to increase.
Although you can read a blow-by-blow refutation of these attacks by Josh Fox and a panel of experts, one of industry's main claims is [paraphrasing] "we can't know those people were hurt by drilling -- there's no proof that drilling/hydraulic fracturing harmed their, or anyone's, drinking water".
Until very recently, that was true -- even in the face of mountains of circumstantial evidence like GASLAND (before gas drilling, no water problems for generations; immediately after gas drilling, polluted water) -- no direct evidence linked drilling with polluted drinking water. One reason: thanks to an exemption in the Safe Drinking Water Act called the "Halliburton loophole", industry is exempt from completely disclosing the toxics they inject as part of the drilling process (hydraulic fracturing aka fracking).
It's extremely hard to tie contamination to a driller if that driller doesn't have to tell you if it uses the contaminant in question.
And even with the Halliburton loophole, the industry claim of "no link" is no longer true. According to the Pennsylvania state government: residents of the town of Dimock (who are featured in GASLAND) have had their drinking water polluted by drilling. Yet industry still argues it's not responsible.
What is needed:
- an end to exemptions for the drilling industry;
- rules that establish no-drill zones where any drilling would be irresponsible (like drinking watersheds)
- rules that requires transparency/disclosure by drillers to the public;
- rules that require baseline monitoring (water testing before drilling begins) funded by the driller through an independent third party;
- adequate funding for staffing and enforcement of responsible oversight.
Passage of the FRAC Act, introduced in the last Congress and expected to be introduced in this new Congress soon, would be a good first step.