Gasland: The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudia Arabia of natural gas” just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called Gasland.
GaslandPart II is the provocative follow-up to the filmmaker’s Academy Award nominated documentary feature Gasland. Fox’s newest effort — with his trademark dark humor — shows how the stakes have been raised in one of the most controversial environmental issues facing our nation today. GaslandPart II pierces prevailing myths by arguing how and why fracked wells inevitably leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, and endangering earth’s climate with the powerful greenhouse gas, methane.
The 2010 documentary Gasland and 2013 follow-up Gasland II have significantly raised the profile of issues surrounding fracking across the globe, inspired the creation of hundreds of local anti-fracking groups, rallied celebrity activists, and played a key role in region, state, and country-based moratoria on oil drilling. The films have influenced the writing of the national FRAC Act. Eight members of Congress and many environmental groups have joined a campaign to force the EPA to reopen marquee cases demonstrating that fracking has contaminated groundwater. The production team is in the midst of launching another grassroots tour, “Solutions Grassroots,” designed to encourage adoption of renewable energy solutions by individuals, communities, and commercial settings, and to support related legislation.
- Director: Josh Fox
- Director & Producer: Molly Gandour
- Producer: Trish Adlesic
- Screenings and Outreach Coordinator: David Braun
Gasland, Part II
- Director & Producer Josh Fox
- Producers: Trish Adlesic, Deborah Wallace
- Gasland Grassroots Coordinator: Lee Ziesche
- Gasland: Private donors through International WOW Company and fundraising parties, Cinereach Sundance Doc program grant, Park Foundation, 11th Hour Fund and Fledgling Fund.
- Gasland Part II: HBO, Park Foundation, Wallace Global Fund, Lucy Rockefeller Waletsky, and Bertha Foundation.
Key Funder: The Park Foundation
The filmmakers write:
“Both the Park Foundation and Fledgling Fund were really instrumental in creating the campaign structure at the beginning but then we worked with our grassroots partners in the field to create a dynamic outreach campaign that could address hot political situations. But the Park Foundation has been so incredibly instrumental for us—they have kept with us and seen the value in continuing the campaign over 3 long years. These campaigns are often multi-year undertakings. Park Foundation understands that. At each stage they found ways not only to support us with grants but also with important contacts and other resources. They have been such a leader in this field.”
- To change the conversation on fracking in the mainstream media and international dialogue.
- To grow the anti-fracking movement.
- To raise awareness of the fact that there is no safe fracking, and the only measure that will protect communities is to ban it.
- To raise awareness of the deceptive PR tactics of the oil and gas industry and their corrupting influence on democracy
Global but grassroots tour “included many rural areas whose movie theaters would have never played Gasland or Gasland Part II otherwise,” notes Fox. New York has been a particular target, due to the threat that fracking would contaminate New York City’s water supply.
Theinitial engagement campaign was targeted towards people who lived above shale plays and were targeted for fracking. For Gasland Part II, grassroots outreach was focused on the network of hundreds of mom and pop anti-fracking groups that the first film helped to catalyze — for example, New Yorkers Against Fracking alone is a coalition of over 200 groups against fracking — as well as “big green” environmental groups like Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and NRDC, and good governance groups like Common Cause.
Partners: Through the team’s tour and screenings programs they have partnered with hundred of organizations—many of which were founded after seeing the Gasland Grassroots Tour and went on to host their own house parties and community screenings.
How the Campaign Works
The grassroots screenings were high-profile events that served as organizing tools for activists who were struggling to gain attention and spread information on fracking. Fox writes “I believe because we showed up and personally toured to these areas, the audience size at each screening was much larger and folks became much more engaged.” These screenings were paired with broadcast for maximum reach. Face-to-face and broadcast distribution strategies were amplified with savvy online outreach.
The filmmakers note that effective steps they took to move the campaign forward included:
- Releasing key clips like the iconic scene of tap water on fire, which allowed the team to garner attention before Gasland was even completed. Those clips went viral and have been featured extensively in the media to this day.
- Focusing on informing the audience on ten key points that prove the only reasonable and safe decision is to ban fracking: 1) Water contamination, 2) Water pollution, 3) Health effects, 4) Waste disposal and land scarring, 5) Fracking the climate, 6) Fracking our communities, 7) Fracking the government, 8) Fracking our workforce, 9) Fracking the civic dialogue and media, 10) Fracking the future.
- Post-screening conversations, which allowed them to fine tune the film to “make sure the that then dense amount of scientific fact we were trying to share were readily understandable,” the team writes. “Now the fracking movement is one of the most educated movements of all time. They understand complex processes like well casing failures and know the percentage of leaking methane.”
- Showing segments of Gasland were to every community board in New York City—engaging this population helped gain significant media attention and broaden the dialogue on an international level.
- Pairing broadcasts on HBO with their tour and screening schedule to reach the widest possible audience.
- During the grassroots Tour of Gasland Part II, taking an audience photo every night and tweeting it out with a message to President Barack Obama and the governor of the state they were in.
- Pursuing extensive outreach with celebrities, including Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansen, Alec Baldwin, Debra Winger, Yoko Ono, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Natalie Merchant and others.
- Fox writes “We’ve made a huge impact on the international dialogue. In 2012 the word ‘fracking’ was Googled more than climate change. Data shows that the release of Gasland and my many media appearances was one of the causes in rise of awareness.” According to Google’s analytics, searches for Gasland tend to precede rising search activity for ‘fracking’. For example, the first Bulgarian-language subtitles appeared in mid-2011 on video-sharing websites, prefacing the emergence of widespread anti-fracking protests.
- Negative posts accounted for only one fifth of the 74,000 posts in June and July many of which originated from the oil and gas industry or their spokespeople and supporters. According to an analysis done by Fenton PR firm 190,687,177 people saw positive messages about Gasland Part II.
This campaign continues on many fronts, with the ultimate goal of a national ban on fracking. The Gasland production team is in the midst of launching “Solutions Grassroots,” a national tour featuring film, music and performance as a motivator to adopt renewable energy solutions for individuals, communities, and commercial settings, and to support related legislation. The team is organizing a set of pilot locations, with a goal of deploying the model throughout the US. Each tour stop is designed to spur the formation of neighborhood volunteer teams led by a trained field organizer who will help them set goals to move towards 100% renewable energy. In conjunction, the team is building relationships with renewable energy providers, building a “new grassroots distribution circuit” that marries cultural, grassroots and business partners.
Change in Awareness
Before Gasland was released the oil and gas industry dominated the conversation, according to Fox, touting hydraulic fracturing as a safe process that would help secure America’s energy independence. He writes: “we were able to combat the false information being perpetuated by the industry and change the international dialogue about fracking by broadcasting the films on television and doing hundreds of media appearances. …Almost single-handedly, Gasland made unconventional gas production internationally controversial. The film’s climactic scenes of rural homeowners using matches to set tap water alight have been replicated repeatedly, in multiple languages, in both mainstream and social media.”
A white paper from the oil and gas industry revealed that Gasland raised awareness of what fracking is and its dangerous consequences all over the world, noting “The anti-fracking movement did not start with Gasland, but would not have gone global without it.” Many of the scientists featured in the films have received increased media attention for their work including Stanford scientist Mark Jacobson, whose plan for 100% renewable energy was featured in Gasland Part II, was recently on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Polls on fracking indicate that there is not only a rise in awareness on what the process of hydraulic fracturing is, but public opinion is turning against it. Currently two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support a moratorium on fracking.
- Gasland premiered at Sundance 2010.
- Gasland II premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2013.
- Both Gasland films were among the highest rated in HBO’s documentary series. The team approximates that the film reached worldwide HBO audiences of 50 million across 30 countries.
- iTunes reports 10,999 downloads of Gasland
- Gasland: Sundance Film Festival, Special Jury Prize Big Sky Film Fest, Artistic Vision Award Yale Environmental Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize Thin Line Film Festival, Audience Award Sarasota International Film Festival, Special Jury Prize Traverse City Film Festival, Best Environmental Documentary Nominated for Best Documentary Oscar Won Emmy for Best Documentary Directing Nominated for 3 additional Emmy Awards including Best Doc, Writer and Camera Nominated for Best Documentary Screenplay Writer’s Guild of America Won Planet Defender Award (Josh Fox) from Rock the Earth Won Environmental Media Award for Best Documentary Won John Lennon/Yoko Ono Peace Prize 2010 (Josh Fox) Won Best Graphic Design Cinema Eye Awards Nominated for IDA Pare Lorentz Award
- Gasland Part II: Tribeca Film Festival Waimea Ocean Film Festival Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Best in Festival Cinema Verde Environmental Film Festival Won Environmental Media Award for Best Documentary Won Cinema Eye Hell Yeah Prize
The film’s extensive grassroots outreach campaign included the director personally touring to over 300 cities and towns, and developing a robust house party and community screenings program.
Another important aspect of the production team’s media strategy was to create a dialogue with the climate change movement and other groups fighting extreme energy extractions like mountaintop removal and tar sands.” To this end, Fox traveled with 350’s Do the Math Tour, created a video for tar sands action, was arrested as part of a Keystone XL protest in front of the White House and participated in a march on Blair Mountain in protest of mountaintop removal.
- An estimated 200,000 people attend screenings of the original Gasland on their Grassroots Tour.
- Another estimated 22,000 people attended screenings of Gasland Part II on their Grassroots Tour.
- In addition, an estimated 32,000 people have attended house party and community screenings of Gasland Part II. Through their community screenings program, organizations have hosted hundreds of community screenings and house parties.
- Primary site: www.gaslandthemovie.com—Unique visitors: 1,296,500
- Social media platforms:
- Facebook—109,113 likes as of early May
- Twitter—23,000 followers as of early May.
- Online distribution platforms: Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Vimeo
Notable online responses:
The films’ social media sites serve as hubs for the anti-fracking movement. Fox writes: “We get daily emails from top anti-fracking organizations asking us to share their content through our Facebook page and Twitter account. Dozens of people from around the world post updates on our Facebook page.” Further, he reports: “The release of Gasland Part II drove a massive conversation across social media, blogs, and web forums.”
Robust online responses to the films both reflect and drive continued interest in the topic from activists, politicians and the press. For example, one tweet about Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson suing to keep fracking infrastructure out of his neighborhood was retweeted 696 times. Fox writes: “While we weren’t the first to report on this story we helped garner significant media attention. I went on [All In With] Chris Hayes to talk about it two times in a row.” There are dozens of unofficial mash-ups, shorter versions, and translations of Gasland on YouTube. A few examples are Gasland with Romanian subtitles, in Spanish, and in French. The team also runs a blog called the “Not From Gasland Journal” where they share stories from activists around the world.
Key Press Mentions: The film has been widely covered in TV segments and in print around the world.
Change in Behavior
- The film’s primary ask is that fracking be banned. Calls for tighter regulation have revolved around Gasland’s major concern of disclosing fracturing chemicals, as well as managing surface wastewater and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Gasland screenings have become one of the strongest organizing tools anti-fracking groups have to educate and galvanize people in their areas. They offer a shared point of reference for anti-fracking groups worldwide, serving as a ready introduction to the issues and perspectives of the anti-fracking movement.
- Since fracking is so widespread, the specific goals around each screening have varied based on the needs of the communities they were in.
In addition to many one-off screenings, by reaching out to their audience and working with groups like Food & Water Watch and MoveOn, the team has coordinated 620 Gasland Part II house parties and over 200 community screenings with over 100 more people signed up to host house parties on Earth Day. Many of the larger environmental groups changed their position on fracking and came out against it after Gasland premiered. Fox writes: “The films have also had a large influence on the number of scientists researching this topic. Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy have compiled over 150 peer-reviewed papers about the impacts of shale gas development.”
- Gasland was distributed to every New York State Senator and Assemblyperson and the Governor’s office.
- The film has been screened multiple screenings at EPA (both federal and regional offices), and these special screenings have led to regional EPA offices using Gasland as a training video.
- The film was was screened at the Department of Justice for the entire environmental enforcement division.
- Gasland Part II is designed to turn up the pressure on regulators, highlighting three marquee cases where the EPA ignored scientific evidence that showed fracking contaminated groundwater, and caved to political pressure and dropped the cases.
In the U.S., the influence of the films has led to the writing of the FRAC Act, introduced by Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who said, “Gasland is a very important film about the risks posed by hydraulic fracturing — a method of drilling for natural gas that currently lacks proper oversight… We cannot allow drilling to move forward without rules in place to protect drinking water and our overall environment.” This act aims to repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Partners have been able to use the media buzz generated by the release of the films and increase in awareness about fracking to help them get 200,004 thousand public comments on the NY SGEIS, 750,000 signatures on a petition to ban fracking on public lands, and 250,000 signatures on a petition to reopen investigations into fracking water contamination that were dropped by the EPA. Fox and his team have supported local moratoria on drilling in New York, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Colorado and elsewhere. Eight members of Congress and many environmental groups including Food & Water Watch, We Are Power Shift, and Earthworks have now taken up the campaign, recently submitting a letter to EPA head, Gina McCarthy to reopen the cases highlighted in the second film. The Obama Administration also has vowed to curb methane leaking.
Internationally, Fox and his team have been actively involved in local campaigns in France, Bulgaria, Quebec, and elsewhere. South African anti-fracking groups screened Gasland in Cape Town shortly after the first exploration applications for the Karoo basin were submitted. In southern France, anti-fracking collectives simultaneously launched with a screening of Gasland, which was released in French cinemas two months before a national moratorium was adopted in mid-2011.
Fox writes: “We were aiming for the oil and gas industry to recognize the inherent dangers of their drilling practices and put citizen welfare over corporate profits. So far their reaction has been complete denial.”
- While the industry has yet to respond positively, “many other business to realized the dire need to get off of fossil fuels. Over 1,000 New York business have come together to form Businesses Against Fracking New York.”
- Brooklyn Brewery launched a “Don’t Frack my Beer” campaign.
The film has served as a rallying point for both national environmental organizations and the creation of local groups. The Sierra Club alone organized 200 house parties and 40 screenings in hard-hit communities. The filmmaker reports: “Through our touring we were able to provide connective tissue to anti-fracking groups across the world and galvanize a massive basis of people against fracking.”
Many new organizations were formed after people saw the film or to handle the increased number of people now active on the issue—to name just a few: Artists Against Fracking, Berks Gas Truth, New Yorkers Against Fracking, American’s Against Fracking, Californians Against Fracking, Frack Action, Stop Gaz de Schiste and Britain and Ireland Frack Free.
Pictures of flames shooting out of a tap in Josh Fox's Oscar-nominated first film about the natural gas boom helped make fracking a household word in America.
Gasland Part II, scheduled to air on HBO on 8 July, aims to expose the money and political power driving the rush to gas – although it does also feature pictures of a homeowner in Texas lighting his garden hose on fire.
"This isn't just about fracking at all anymore. This is about our system of government, and this is about climate change," Fox said in a telephone interview.
"If what we are seeing all across America is people able to light their water on fire, why hasn't our government done anything about it, why have our regulatory agencies failed to protect us?"
The answer, in brief, is the millions energy companies spent on political candidates and on lobbying Congress, Fox said. The oil and gas industry has spent $780m (£511m) on lobbying since 2008, according to the Open Secrets website.
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing, uses huge volumes of water and sand laced with chemicals to flush the gas from rock formations.
Its use with horizontal drilling enabled energy companies to unlock vast reservoirs of natural gas trapped in the rock, doubling estimates of recoverable reserves, and turning America into an energy superpower.
But the energy boom comes at a heavy environmental cost, Fox argues.
"We are talking about 1 to 2 million wells in the United States. This is transformative for huge sections of our country. The oil and gas industry has leased a combined total land mass bigger than California and Florida combined," he said. "The industry is controlling huge sections of the US now."
Or as Steven Skyler Lipski discovered in the second film after moving into his dream house in Texas, with its lavish rooms and remote-controlled waterfall: "Just because you have a nice house doesn't mean that they aren't going to drill underneath it."
The film, like the original Gasland before it, follows a number of families who lost their water supply – and eventually their homes – to the gas boom.
Those direct experiences of poisoned wells and other impacts from fracking are now backed by scientific findings.
Over the years, studies have found growing evidence of contaminated drinking water from leaking gas wells and disposal ponds. Diesel fumes from the truck convoys barrelling down rural roads to well pads have compromised air quality.
Scientists confirmed gas industry wells had set off earthquakes from Ohio to Arkansas.
Meanwhile, researchers found high releases of methane – a far more potent gas than carbon dioxide – from natural gas wells and installations, undercutting claims of a climate change benefit.
Those studies and the release of the original Gasland in 2010 helped merge isolated local protests against fracking – in Wyoming, in Pennsylvania, even in the home state of modern fracking, Texas – into a national movement.
Protests against fracking, fanned in part by Fox's first film, turned some of the big environmental groups off the idea that natural gas could be a "bridge fuel" to a cleaner energy future.
But as Fox discovers in his second journey through America's Gasland, the rising protests and growing evidence of the risks of fracking have not yet translated into major policy shifts.
Barack Obama in his speech last week on climate change continued to promote natural gas as a "bridge" fuel from coal. New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is also pushing for gas, despite his concern for climate change.
Fox blames the power of the oil and gas industry. Gasland Part II goes on to trace how initial hopes of imposing rigorous safety and environmental controls on the industry were frustrated by the industry's political and financial influence.
Investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency into contaminated water wells at Dimock, Pennsylvania, faded away. The EPA also dropped its plans for an independent investigation of poisoned wells in Pavilion, Wyoming.
"We have seen state agencies, local agencies, even the EPA be controlled by politics, and when it becomes a matter of politics, the science just magically disappears," Fox said. "Investigations get rolled back and buried."
Even the stories of poisoned water and flaring water hoses are being forced underground. Over the past few years, gas companies have bought out the properties of home owners whose water was contaminated by fracking fluids, in return for non-disclosure agreements, according to an investigation by Bloomberg news.
Fox's solution? Protest – along the lines of what activists have been doing in New York State. "Why we are not seeing action is because of a system of entrenched influence that has been going on for decades," he said. "But the fracking movement has great possibilities for continuing this re-invention of democracy."