Josh Fox's New HBO Documentary GasLand

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A clip from the documentary Gasland in which someone lights water from a faucet on fire in an area where natural gas has leaked into the oil supply. Courtesy HBO

It’s not hard to rage at BP, what with CEO Tony Hayward reminding us almost daily about how the company has bungled the gulf oil spill. What’s difficult is to point the finger at ourselves, to look at our own energy-consumption practices and think about how each of us could make tough choices in the short term that would benefit our environment and security in the long term. More difficult still is breaking this tired cycle. We blame Big Oil when energy exploration leads to disaster, then sheepishly go back to our old habits, like Sisyphus towing his boulder with a gas-guzzling pickup only to watch it roll down again.

Some folks think that natural gas, which is plentiful in the United States, is the solution. They might want to take a look at a shabby yet sobering documentary called GasLand (HBO, June 21). Filmmaker Josh Fox is personally vested in the subject: the film begins after he’s received a letter from an energy company offering nearly $100,000 for his land in the Delaware River Basin. Instead of jumping at the windfall, as did some of his neighbors, Fox documented a road trip covering the 24 states with access to gas shales. Time and again people told the same story: gas had seeped into their water supply, so much in some areas that setting one’s running faucet ablaze is a local parlor trick. An even harder trick: drinking the local water without getting sick.

GasLand heaps the blame for the problem on the usual suspects: greedy corporations, corrupt regulators, Halliburton. But by reframing this as something other than an oil-only issue, GasLand demonstrates that there is no magic bullet, no energy source without its fair share of risk. The moral of the story: when we pay lip service to our own complicity in the energy crunch, rather than try to contribute in meaningful ways, we all get mucked up.

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