Excerpt from Documentary: Gasland.
You’re here in Traverse City. You are on a tour, you’ve got this new film, [and] interest is high. Where are you going? What’s happening right now?
Josh Fox: “Gasland” premiered in a national way on HBO on June 21, but prior to that, and subsequently, we’ve been touring all the affected areas—and there’s an enormous amount of affected areas. We’ve been kind of barnstorming through New York and Pennsylvania, and now we’re about to go out west. We’ve done screenings all over the country. What they are for us is a kind of effort to support the grassroots. I mean, there’s a movement about this issue unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life—200 organizations in New York and Pennsylvania just cropping seemingly overnight, but [especially] over the last year and a half, because there’s so much interest about what’s going on with the Marcellus Shale. I know here in Michigan there’s the Antrim Shale; pretty much the whole state could get fracked. Everywhere I’m going we’re met by these huge crowds of people who are incredibly worried about their water supply, about their air, about their health, about the character of their areas getting taken over by this on-shore drilling, which is, you know, as I show in the film, incredibly toxifying of the landscape.
You’re making the tour. You’ve got a film. Urgent calls, off the record tips…Tell me more about the evolution from filmmaker to reluctant investigator. You say “reluctant investigator” in the story. When did your personal journey really become part of a larger journey, integrated with stories of others, and how did this affect you?
Josh Fox: There wasn’t a lot of information or not enough information about hydraulic fracture and gas drilling when I was approached to lease. The way this whole process started was that my family was asked to lease our land in the Upper Delaware River Basin—we’re in Pennsylvania, but it’s the New York-Pennsylvania border—and that’s a part of a watershed area that provides water to about 16 million. It’s a pristine area. It’s beautiful, and it’s not something I wanted to see industrialized. But at the same time, the industry comes in, and they say, ‘Well, it’s not that invasive. It’s a minor procedure. You’re hardly even going to know we’re here.’ And then the environmental groups from all over my area were shrieking, talking about the injection of toxic chemicals into the land, problems with water contamination, problems with air. I just needed to find out for myself exactly what was going on and take it very, very seriously. The question was always, ‘All right, well, maybe I’ll interview some people.’ And then the minute that started, it seemed like the whole country started to respond. We got calls and e-mails from people just after contacting one or two people. Then, all of a sudden, there’s this incredible outcry of wanting to be heard coming from the West, because people weren’t really being listened to. I actually had no idea what I was going to find.
‘The Bush-Cheney government had proposed a bill … that exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act.’
I started off doing a five-minute [film]. My idea was like a five-minute film that was going to give people some information on the topic. When I discovered what was actually happening—that the Bush-Cheney government had proposed a bill (and got it through Congress) that exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act—that was in 2005—then I found that there were exemptions to the Clean Air Act, the Superfund Law, the Clean Water Act, which is separate from the Safe Drinking Water Act. I couldn’t believe what I had uncovered. Then I got completely sucked in. It’s an amazing story. I’m very worried about our drinking water supplies. I’m very worried about the toxification of the landscape. When I first started to see this, it was like people in Dimock, Pa.—one of the first areas that was drilled in Pennsylvania—could light their water on fire. Their kids were getting sick. Their animals were getting sick. It was this insane mystery, and everybody around there was totally afraid and freaked out about what had happened, because land men had come in, had promised them riches and then had trashed the place. The town had been completely taken over, and turned into a sacrifice zone and an industrial zone. Then I found this story repeating itself over and over, and over and over again in Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico. I got desperate e-mails from people in Michigan. All of Michigan is over a huge unconventional gas field. I would be worried.
In a sense, you’ve become the frack star. You’ve gone from behind the camera in producing this piece to evolving to being the central hub of organizing and grassroots. How’s that changed you? And then even looking forward, what role do you feel that you and “Gasland” will have played in this issue?