Thoughts About the Movie “GasLand”

31 07 2012

This evening I took a break from lowbrow movie entertainment (“Carver” and “Anatomy”) to check out some documentaries. I resisted the urge to watch one containing the behind the scenes footage of pro wrestling (I think The Wrestler covered that nicely) and instead watched two compelling docs: Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 (4 stars… a triumph!) and GasLand.

Well.

The Steinway one was fascinating, and I teared up a lot because I’m sappy like that. Especially the scene where the grandfather remarks about how his talent must have passed on to his grandson, whom he watches give an impromptu recital upon delivery of his very own Steinway piano. Very moving, and even if the thing is essentially an infomercial for Steinway & Sons, the attention is well deserved and you’ll wish all infomercials could be as tasteful. Truly, it is a documentary but Steinway does well to present their company, and their product in the best possible light.

As for GasLand, I read that it was about the sordid truth about natural gas extraction in the USA, and having relocated back to the Midwest after 11 years in Texas, I did recall some of the buzz about the deceptive advertising about the Barnett Shale. I knew people who lived on the edge of it, and the picture wasn’t so rosy once the actual work began. Looks like I got out just in time, according to the movie.

In fairness to all parties, I realize that films like this must be viewed with the understanding that any and all claims are “according to the movie”. However, people lighting tap water on fire is pretty compelling evidence, anecdotal or not.

The movie starts out with that ADD-ish jerky camera motion and slashy editing, but in due time is evens out and what we’re left with is a stark picture indeed. In short – and I can’t stress enough my endorsement of this film – we are told quite a bit here in the USA that regulation is horrible, the government is in the way and doesn’t “create jobs”, and my favorite, the free market will determine what’s okay and what isn’t. If the “free market” dies off from benzene poisoning (or similar), who will be around to say that’s not okay?

I have long felt that a) there’s no such thing as a “free market” commercially, and b) businesses of all sizes have shown time and time again, from the international conglomerate on down to the single proprietor that if something isn’t mandated, more than likely it’s not going to get done. GasLand lays this bare as once again, the Earth gets raped for a commodity. A finite commodity.

I think about the latest craze in “reality” TV programming, where people rape the Earth looking for flakes of gold. On occasion the camera zooms out and you see the extent of the strip mining. For flakes of gold. Yes, the flakes add up to ounces, but really? What’s being lost in the pursuit of what is hoped to be gained?

Same goes for natural gas. I will pause to note that natural gas isn’t “evil” and all other forms of commercial energy are perfect, but it’s made very clear both in this movie and taking even five minutes to do some fact checking that when money is the goal, all other concerns are at best secondary. My heart went in my throat when I saw the Grand Teton range in Wyoming looming in the background of natural gas drilling sites. I love that range and never want anything to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of those mountains and that land for as long as it exists to enjoy. In the race to secure commodities, truly nothing is sacred.

Spoiler alert: The film ends with New York City’s drinking water supply in jeopardy, and I thought “this is typical… the rest of the country goes to hell until New York City is threatened and then it’s a problem.”

Sadly, even that isn’t enough of a problem to ebb the flow of fracking and/or natural gas drilling in general.

I would urge everyone to get educated about this topic, but really, you have to do more than that. I mean, it’s really high time to examine why it’s imperative (in this case) to suck every last drop (?) of natural gas out of the ground. When it’s all gone, then what? We’re told that the USA will require x amount of energy to meet everyone’s needs over a span of time. I don’t exempt myself from this as I say that it is our hand holding power cords and plugging them in to our home outlets. Or the ones at work. Anywhere and everywhere.

We can’t beat up on so-called “foreign oil” this time. Our commercial energy sources are diverse, and often contain a blend of coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, and occasionally wind or solar.

Watch the movie, please.

That’s a start. But only a start.

The rest, as the filmmaker says, largely depends on us.

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