Watching Gasland at the Little

I had heard some good things about it, so I headed over to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see GasLand. Alas, due to being "short listed" for a possible Academy Award for it, director Josh Fox was not available in person and instead joined a question-and-answer session afterward via Skype (which actually works pretty good.)

Fox lives in his family home in rural Pennsylvania and received a letter from a company asking for a lease of his property for hydrofracking — a technique for extracting natural gas from a specific kind of shale deposit by pumping a chemical slurry through a mineshaft at high pressure to fracture the shale. Not knowing anything about the process, he started filming (presumably shortly after) he started trying to contact the companies involved to ask some questions. Coming up dry, he decided to do some more research and found that fracking has been used in other areas and there was a correlation to contaminated water supplies. As you've likely heard about the film, the dramatic demonstration is tap water that can be set ablaze: the water supplies became contaminated with natural gas which then sputters and bubbles out the tap.

What is incomprehensible to me is that during George W. Bush's term, he signed a law that exempted hydrofracking companies from the clean air and clean water acts. Now, water supplies and air is highly contaminated in hydrofracking communities, yet the companies involved refuse to acknowledge that it is their work that causes it. The simplest explanation to me is that the companies know it is difficult to legally prove the source of contamination, so they offer no cooperation in assessing their role in the problem which makes it nearly impossible for residents to successfully get corrective measures taken. Gasland contrasts this with hydrofracking experts being questioned before Congress and insisting their methods are completely safe — despite that they are pumping known carcinogens and volatile organic compounds underground to fracture shale adjacent to natural aquifers.

My own take is that given the choice between contaminated tap water and expensive natural gas, I'll take expensive natural gas any day. If push came to shove, I could bundle up, insulate my house better, use localized electric heat, or start burning wood. But I would be unable to perform the filtration and fractional distillation necessary to extract safe water rapidly enough that I wouldn't die first from dehydration.

The argument is that there is plenty of water so it doesn't matter. And even though our bodies need a rather pure and clean water, there is presently enough, at least in the United States. But polluting these water sources is no good for anybody. In fact, as Gasland points out, the proposed hydrofracking in Pennsylvania and New York sets the stage to potentially pollute the aquifers that supply New York City, Philadelphia, and Delaware: some 15 million people.

That got me to thinking.

I think everyone has had fantasies of the "post-apocalyptic utopia": the one where the population is decimated, you and all the people you care about survive, and there is now a surplus of resources at your disposal — either a natural disaster, or in recent years, zombie survival fantasies. When I put the pieces together, I wonder if the wealthy, powerful people that head these companies believe they can achieve this sick fantasy. I don't doubt they are in a position to secure clean water, food, and shelter for themselves and all the people they care about. By supplying cheap natural gas, they are in a position to further amplify their advantage over everyone else. And if they also poison the populace — or at the very least make them dependent on corporate-supplied water — they may actually be in a position to live as kings while the world crumbles and dies around them.

While my prediction seems astonishingly dire and alarmist, I really can't conceive of a simpler rationalization. As I had mentioned, if I were working for one of these companies and they outlined the system, my first question would be to ask how the environment would be protected. And I certainly could not make a claim as those who were questioned by Congress. I really can't fathom how people think this is okay, unless I assume their goals include extinguishing the vast majority of human life on this planet.