Humane Educator's Toolbox: Gasland

I grew up in southwest Kansas, were there were gas plants nearby, and plenty of natural gas pumps, those giant mechanical horse heads constantly nodding up and down, seeking the invisible riches below. I didn't think anything about it. Many people haven't thought much about natural gas (beyond their monthly bills) until recently, with concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," blazing across the news headlines, and the release of Gasland in 2010, a documentary nominated for an Academy Award.

My husband and I watched Gasland a couple weeks ago with a few friends, and most of us had big rocks in the pits of our stomachs throughout. Gasland follows filmmaker Josh Fox, who decided to learn more about fracking when he was sent a letter by the gas company that wanted to lease his land for natural gas extraction. He wanted to know: was it safe? Would it harm him or the beautiful land he'd been raised on and loved with his whole heart?

Fox ended up traveling around the U.S., interviewing people who live on or near fracking sites, visiting production and storage facilities, and talking with people from all sides of the issue. When he talked to a growing list of people who had experienced illness and/or could set their water on fire, he became more concerned. The more he learned, the scarier the facts that were revealed.

I've watched countless depressing documentaries, so to me this felt like one more issue to add to my action list. But my husband, who usually isn't phased into action by powerful experiences like this, was so disheartened and alarmed by what he learned from the film, that he approached me about buying an electric water heater and shutting off our gas.

Though we didn't care for the jumpy, blurry style of filmmaking, the content was indeed powerful and compelling. It was compelling because it started with one individual investigating something that might affect him (and his land) personally; because it's such a widespread, relatively unregulated practice; because it affects people, animals and the planet equally; because it's something we can all do something about.

As you might expect, the energy companies haven't been happy with the film. A gas industry front group published a "debunking" of the film, and the Gasland filmmakers responded with a "de-debunking" of group's claims. This document, which includes the original allegations and the responses to those allegations could serve as a great tool for older students to use their best critical thinking and accurate information-seeking skills.

With the recent brouhaha over the coal industry's propaganda partnership with Scholastic, growing concern over global warming, and no energy source that's (at least yet) completely clean, Gasland is just one useful resource for exploring important issues about our future.

~ Marsha

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