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Frack-mentation, Setting Water on Fire, and Other Atrocities

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A brief, opinionated look at two recent and excellent films now in circulation.


30 August 2011: Back in antiquity or even earlier, homo sapiens must have considered setting water on fire a miracle, an oxymoron come to life.

These days, there's nothing to it, and unfortunately, where it's depicted in the film, it's not a magic trick.

Josh Fox's 2010 film GasLand shows one scenario after another of tapwater and well water being set aflame easily, because water meant for human consumption has been so polluted by the epidemic-level of fracking--from Pennsylvania to Wyoming and elsewhere along the abundant shale formations discovered to stretch across at least
one-third of this country (judging from the map displayed in the film, anyway).

"Fracking" is a short form of the term "hydraulic fracturing," which refers to the process of boring into shale to reach the natural gas within. And add to this the hideous face of a familiar villain, Halliburton, which has innovated a new fracking methodology that is proliferating along with the carnage.

By the end of the film, however, it is evident that at least token efforts are at work to alleviate this miasma.

The enticement, the "sexiness" is energy independence; the method is lethally wrong, laying waste nature at every level from human to "lower" phyla to flora.

Those who argue that fracking puts people to work should have a look at some of the workers filmed, clad in uniforms coated in black grease, whose damage potential has not yet been measured, to my knowledge. I admit that I did not watch the whole thing; after 90 minutes (out of 106) I more than got the idea of the rottenness and its lethality.

Why not spend the money on solar power? Why not? Nuclear power is certainly off the list for any of us with a survival instinct. . . .

The list of lethal chemicals involved in the process and corrupting the water supply is horrifying for even those of us uneducated in chemistry; the side effects graphically depicted are tragic and in need of wide publicity.

The film, made in 2009 as Fox toured afflicted areas, won three awards, one from the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

The offspring of hippies, Fox delves well into the culture, with an ironic cut of Pete Seeger singing "This Land Is Your Land," to the filmmaker's own skillful banjo playing.

I have to admit to some amount of langueur at the stereotypical armature of jeans-clad filmmaker-hero in hiking shoes interviewing weepy, confessional "plain" folks, but their tragedy resonates. So many of them are children of rusticity and rolling farms or ranches for generations; it's not so easy to pull up such roots even in the midst of such carnage, but the choice seems clear and many seem to have opted to stay, even where nondisclosure contracts keep them from speaking out.

A good amount of sang froid is recommended to those who view the DVD, a joint effort of the International Wow Company and HBO Documentaries.


Not to mention that I found the film The Help mesmerizing, a necessary reminder that we're as racist and feudal as ever.

Some elements of the plot challenge credibility--where was the KKK when they might have been expected, for instance, but the film does look toward better times, not only for the author who received a huge career boost, but for all of us so in need of advancement toward higher moral ground.

Let me count the ways, and how far we have to go.


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Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, (more...)

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