Water on Fire
Water on fire from GasLand (2009)

There are parts of the world where water can be set on fire. Where the water–cool, clear and coming out of the tap–can be set on fire by holding a lighter to it. This isn’t a fantasy and and this isn’t far away in India or Japan or Mongolia where American companies have tainted the land with their presence or their loose laws. This is in Pennsylvania. This is in Arizona, Nevada and more than thirty states in the USA. You know what happens when you drink water that can be set on fire? You get sick. You get very sick. You get daily headaches and your children are in danger of dying. If you have pets or farm animals, their hair begins to fall out from how sick they are.

I’ve long been critical of the United States, for what–from this side of the border–look like very good reasons. Their cavalier disregard for the health and safety of their citizens over the eight years of the Bush administration have sadly continued to this day. If you’re worried about me using this review as a platform to discuss my political philosophy, don’t. GasLand is entirely apolitical and so’s my review. It’s not a matter of politics or political affiliation when you see water that used to be clean come out of a well with flames licking at its sides. It’s not a political matter when people are drinking poison out of their taps. It’s not a political matter when the government fails to protect its citizens from itself–it’s just wrong.

Richard Nixon signed the Clean Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and a few other environmental protection acts into law in the early 1970s. After the Americans voted George Bush back into office, Dick Cheney signed into law a set of loopholes to allow American natural gas companies to mine natural gas under American soil. They do this through a method called Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking for short. It sort of sounds like a euphemism for the other thing that Cheney did best to the American people. When the industry itself can only come up with a word that sounds like a euphemism for rough sex to make their invasive, dirty, poisonous and deadly procedures sound friendly, everyone in that room knows that it’s just evil.

GasLand is the personal story of Josh Fox, self-styled natural gas detective. His story starts back in the early 1970s, when his parents and a bunch of their hippie friends built a house in remote, secluded and quite beautiful Pennsylvania. Decades later, after he has become the owner of the house, he receives a notice in the mail that says he could lease his land to a natural gas mining corporation for almost a hundred thousand dollars. I don’t know what spurred his next step, what triggered his curiosity into investigating the rest of this, but his next action was to go to his neighbouring county to speak with people who had already leased out their land to gas companies. Every house he visited, every family he spoke to, horror stories of poisonous, muddy and volatile water. Flammable water. Water that makes your cat’s hair fall out, and the same for your horse.

Gas wells are erected in the middle of America, in the natural migration corridors of several endangered species, all of whom have experienced extreme drops in population since 2005–since Dick Cheney fracked America. These American species, these American families are so valuable to American corporations and American politicians that those same corporations and politicians are prepared to bleed them out through poisonous water and air as well as long, expensive lawsuits. These people have lost their senses of smell and taste, some are in constant pain, some experience paralysis. This is directly because of natural gas mining and natural gas corporations. There is gas in streams, creeks and homes. In taps, cows, horses and everywhere you never want natural gas to exist.

This is less a review than it is a relaying of facts. When I watch GasLand, I don’t see politics or Republicans or corporations. I see people. Josh Fox wisely focuses almost exclusively on the people affected by natural gas mining. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert said that film criticism is not reporting on facts, but reporting on how those facts made you feel. GasLand is much the same–a movie could be made of the bare facts behind fracking or the diseases these people suffer because of it. I’m sure movies have been made that relay nothing but the facts behind how deeply Dick Cheney ruined more of America than any other Vice President in history. But none of those movies would make me as outraged as GasLand does.

This story–all of these stories–make you outraged. All of these individual stories, all of these individual people, families, wells, counties–all of it–all of this is almost unreal. It’s hard to believe that parts of America are now so toxic that it’s necessary to wear gas masks to walk outside. There are thousands of people suffering hundreds of symptoms of natural gas posoning and what does anyone do to stop it? Electing Obama hasn’t helped, because not enough voters are aware of the issue to make it an issue in their local politics. Americans, the short-sighted lot they are, will frack a healthcare bill to hell and back and repeal it and put it back into law a dozen times while their citizens, their friends, die of natural gas poisoning every day.

GasLand is one hundred and five minutes long, but it was edited down from over two hundred hours of raw footage. Think of the other people, whose testimonies, whose stories you haven’t heard. Of the hundreds or thousands of people, across what is supposed to be the greatest nation on Earth, across what is supposed to be the nation leading the world into the future. Of the stories you’ll never hear, of headaches, of depression, of permanent brain damage, of black regions in their brains when x-ray scanned. Think of all of those people you’ll never hear from the next time you fill out a ballot for your political candidate of choice, who doesn’t think gas is an issue. Think of them, because you won’t hear from them. Because by the time you’ve elected the next fascist prick into Presidency, those people will be dead. FOUR STARS