Now Fox is back with a sequel, “Gasland Part II.” Like the earlier film, this one, which aired last week on HBO, has some powerful images. There is the wealthy Texan who walks out of his mansion and over to his water well and lights up the water pouring out of a garden hose. There is the mayor of DISH, Tex., who leaves town because he says chemical fumes are making his family sick; he calls fracking “the biggest assault on property rights I’ve ever seen.” And there is a homeowner who takes a break from packing boxes to sit down at the piano and play the famous Doors tune “Light My Fire.”
There is an element of peeing in the punch bowl about Fox’s films. Fracking — a combination of horizontal drilling and water-intensive hydraulic fracturing — unlocks vast oil and gas reserves bottled up in layers of shale rock. It is driving down U.S. natural gas costs, luring energy-intensive industries from abroad and driving many polluting coal plants out of business.
Fox, however, portrays fracking as something that mars the scenery, sparks heavy truck traffic, injects toxic chemicals into the Earth and, above all, contaminates water aquifers.
Is Fox’s message nuanced? Hardly. Are there flaws in his argument? In places. For example, the state of Colorado disputed the reasons for the kitchen-faucet fire. But the flaming faucet burned questions about fracking safety into people’s minds, and Fox and other fracking foes have prodded politicians and regulators to take closer looks at the real risks.
In “Gasland Part II,” Fox visits familiar flash points in the national debate over fracking, such as the farms and forests of Dimock, Pa., and the ranches and plains of Pavillion, Wyo., where there has been strong evidence of contamination of water aquifers from gas drilling.
“Gasland Part II” also widens the lens to indict the political system for failing to protect landowners from contaminated water.
The film opens to the sound of President Obama’s voice and later returns to Obama. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” the president says in his 2012 State of the Union speech. “My administration will take every action to safely develop this energy . . . without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
Fox believes that the political process has failed.
“I felt like I could see it: A horizontal well bore down into the Earth, snaking underneath the Congress, shooting money up through the chamber with such high pressure that it blew the top off of our democracy,” Fox says in his narration.