Review: GasLand


Directed by: Josh Fox
Released: November 18, 2010
Grade: A-

In April 2008, Josh Fox’s parents received a letter in the mail.  It was an offer by a gas company to lease part of their land and use it to extract natural gas.  Josh wasn’t sure of the risks involved so he decided to make a few inquiries.

When he realised the scale of the deception that was being perpetrated by the gas companies in America, Josh decided to spread the word.  He was initially going to make a short Youtube video but it ultimately grew into a full-length documentary.  It won a special jury prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and Josh has been touring the world with his film ever since.

I realise there always two sides to any story.  When I was telling a good friend about the persuasive material in GasLand, he was quick to shoot me down.  Despite not having seen the film, he sided with the gas companies and sprouted the view that sometimes a few people need to get screwed over for the benefit of the wider population.

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but I will say that GasLand is a very convincing documentary.  There is a scene in the film where someone turns on their tap and puts a cigarette lighter underneath.  The water bursts into flame!  I don’t know a lot about chemistry but I know that I wouldn’t be drinking any kind of water that catches on fire.

Scientific tests on the water showed that it contained many hazardous chemicals.  The chemicals used in the gas extraction process had seeped into underground wells which provided household water supplies.  This wasn’t an isolated incident.  Josh travelled from state-to-state and found numerous other examples.  The tainted water had left many people with serious illnesses.

If you think the gas companies would admit to the problem, then think again.  If anyone threatened to go public, they’d either (1) deny all involvement and bring in their highly paid lawyers, or (2) fix the problem (sometimes by bringing in truckloads of outside water) and get the family to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  It’s obvious that the gas companies didn’t want this story in the mainstream media.

Josh’s film features interviews with many of the affected families and those who have done testing on the contaminated water supplies.  He looks at the ineffectiveness of environmental protection agencies.  He also points out some of the lobbying done by gas companies to earn exemptions from key pieces of environmental legislation.

It’s shocking, it’s hilarious but most importantly, it’s eye-opening.  GasLand is one of the year’s best documentaries.  I now just have to find a way of convincing my friend to see it…

You can read my interview with director Josh Fox by clicking here.