Skip to content

And The Oscar Goes To…

by Editor on February 27th, 2011

The Oscars are tonight and I have no plans to watch, as usual. Unlike in most years, I do feel a sudden compulsion to see one movie win. My pick: Gasland deserves the Oscar for best documentary, for being (as my wife aptly noted) a cross between An Inconvenient Truth and Erin Brockovich.

Directed by Josh Fox, the movie is disturbing and compelling, a race against an unseen clock to expose the devastation to drinking water and the environment caused by hydraulic fracturing (aka “hydrofracking”), a process for extracting natural gas from underground rock formations. The race is one that affects millions of people living along the east coast and those states just inland, to see whether the process of leasing land for hydrofracking and allowing new wells to be drilled can be stopped before the hydrofracking contaminates the water supply for about 16 million people. (So far, the outcome does not look good for those of us living in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and even Delaware.)

There are many, many problems one can point to in our society, from the financial shenanigans that helped bring about our recent depression, to our fundamental failure to confront “third rail” political issues like the funding of Social Security or Medicare and healthcare. What makes this story about hydrofracking especially powerful is that it connects all the dots on the spectrum: corporate malfeasance, political intransigence, bureaucratic expediency (because, yes, bureaucracies can be efficient when they want to be), hard science, loose medicine, and personal tales of loss in the face of all of the above.

Meanwhile, as if reporter Ian Urbina was watching the movie with me yesterday, the New York Times is running a story today about hydrofracking and its associated problems—though as usual (in service to “objectivity”) the article does what the documentary does not, in pointing out that there are always at least two sides to the story and that questions about “facts” remain.

In this case, it seems to me there are three sides: government officials who say all the right things about being watchdogs for the public good (while clearly failing); energy companies that downplay the known science (and working to hide what isn’t yet known) because it’s better for business that way; and environmentalists and average citizens who are witness to the devastation wrought by hydraulic fracturing, not least through the demonstrably flammable water emanating from the tap. Those scenes are a consistent highlight of the movie. Sadly, the Times neglects even to mention Gasland; this is all the more ironic given the scope of coverage the news organization is dedicating to the Oscars.

Our collective failure to confront this and other issues is more complicated than what is, or is not, reported in the news media. (Though that’s certainly one good starting point for a discussion.) Where An Inconvenient Truth may have been more abstract—it’s difficult to really grasp the implications of planetary changes you cannot see with your own eyes, as this recent episode of This American Life (#424, aired 14 January 2011) so ably demonstrated—Gasland is direct and in your face. A hard-to-avoid truth: your drinking water, and mine, may soon be ruined. If that’s not worth fighting for, what is?

From → Environment, Politics

  1. Thank you for your well written post. I also combed the article looking for a mention of the documentary Gasland and was surprised it wasn’t there. Ironic too that the article was front page news in the NY Times on the day of the Oscars. Liked your insight that the newspaper does a lot of coverage on the Oscars making the slight even odder. The articles by Ian Urbina have continued with no mention of the film. Seeing is believing as they say. Good that it is front page news. Hydraulic fracturing is frightening stuff — hopefully people will become more aware of it as this is happening on such a large scale right in our own backyards.

  2. Leslie Freudenheim permalink

    You’re right on about GasLAND and the NY Times failure to point out numerous regulatory failures which may ultimately lead to poisoning America’s water nationwide.
    The NYT also refuses to focus on bio-methane, a natural gas made from recycling waste, a constantly renewing resources. Europe and China are way ahead of us on this.

Comments are closed.