Filmmaker Josh Fox, director of the documentary Gasland, has released a short film called The Sky is Pink, drawing attention to the risks of the natural gas drilling method known as hydrofracking. Fox’s Gasland which won Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards, is an account of his journey across the country to discover the environmental impacts of fracking firsthand.
Fox’s new short film shines a spotlight on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and challenges him to ban the drilling method in New York. The video comes out just as the New York Times has reported that Cuomo was considering allowing hydrofracking in five New York counties. Just this week, a coalition of over 100 groups including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council sent a statement to the governor urging him not to allow drilling at least until more testing is done in response to the Times report.
Hydraulic fracturing began in Texas in 1997, and the method has been approved and used in 34 different states. The process involves drilling an oil well over 8,000 feet below the surface of the earth and then drilling horizontally. Millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals are shot down through the well under intense pressure to loosen up the natural gas that is embedded in the shale.
Citizens of New York have much reason to be concerned about the prospect of hydraulic fracturing being allowed in the state. The fracking chemicals which are mixed with millions of gallons of water and shot down into the earth contain known carcinogens and radioactive material. Some of the chemicals included are tauline, benzene, ethane, uranium and methane.
As documented in Gasland, these chemicals can migrate from the fracking site into public drinking waters due to leaking of the oil casings. Studies have shown that leaking is a consistent problem in well casings and they fail six percent of the time. There have been 1,000 reports of contaminated drinking water near fracking sites. Perhaps the most famous scenes from Gasland are of people who can literally light their tap water on fire because of the migration of methane from the fracking sites into the water table.
Another cause for concern is that wastewater from hydraulic fracturing could be sent to sewage treatment plants. This is dangerous because wastewater is highly contaminated and often radioactive and sewage treatment plants are unequipped to deal with or even test for these problems. In Pittsburgh, natural gas companies literally dumped this wastewater into Monongahela River causing a public health disaster.
Josh Fox’s latest video was a bold and aggressive move to bring attention to the issue in a state where the governor is being lobbied heavily by natural gas companies like Chesapeake and Halliburton to allow such drilling in New York. Natural Gas Drilling was also exempted from the Clean Water Act and is unregulated by the EPA due to the energy bill passed by the Bush Administration in 2005. Many refer to this as the “Halliburton Loophole.”
Even if hydraulic fracturing were to allowed in New York, the economic gains would be short term at best and would only impact a very small portion of the population, i.e., those employed by natural gas companies or those willing to lease their land to these companies as fracking sites. The risks on the other hand are very serious and long-term. Contamination of water systems would not be reversible and would spell serious problems for generations to come.
Humans need water to survive. New York has some of the nation’s cleanest drinking water and it borders two of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world (Lake Erie and Lake Ontario). Even in this economy, it seems terribly irrational to risk contaminating such a vitally important resource in the interest of short-term profit.