A Closer Look at the Shift to Natural Gas

Last Updated:
Tue, 2013-09-03 13:44

In the past decade, there has been growing opposition to the process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” which is used to drill into shale and bedrock to create natural gas wells. Much of this opposition was stirred up as a result of journalist and filmmaker Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland. In this documentary, Fox tours around the U.S. interviewing families who have been impacted by the negative effects of natural gas drilling on their property. Most of the cases in the film involve well contamination that is allegedly linked to serious health complications for many family members.

The families typically end up having to ship in water for drinking and bathing. The most well-known clips from Gasland are those in which homeowners light their faucet on fire while the water is running due to the presence of methane in their wells. Many criticize Fox’s documentary, accusing him of fabricating many of the stories and scenes in the film. However, in his defense, these critics usually have a connection or interest in natural gas energy production, so it is often hard to take these criticisms seriously.

This issue became even more controversial following the release of President Obama’s Climate Plan last month. The President’s plan focused on shifting from coal-fire power production to natural gas power plants in order to reduce carbon emissions. While burning natural gas does contribute far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal, the process of obtaining natural gas is not always so “clean.” Many would-be supporters of the President’s plan are now torn between the benefits of cutting coal out of the picture and the damaging effects that fracking has had for families living near natural gas wells across America.

While I do recommend that you watch Gasland when you get a chance, I recently came across a much shorter documentary called Unearthed: The Fracking Facade by South African filmmaker Jolynn Minnaar, which does a great job of incorporating interviews of expert scientists from all sides of the issue. This film centers around the frequently repeated natural gas industry quote: “With a history of 60 years, after nearly a million wells drilled, there are no documented cases that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has led to the contamination of groundwater.” Minaar masterfully deconstructs this quote and reveals many of the problems that natural gas drilling companies have been able to hide using carefully crafted rhetoric and non-disclosure agreements.

For more information about fracking, please see Unearthed: The Fracking Facade below.

By Peter J. Bock & Nolan Canter


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