June 21, 2012 by SCNCC
Banjo plucking filmmaker Josh Fox released a new documentary on Wednesday, The Sky is Pink. The 18 minute film is a post-script to Josh’s 2010 film Gasland and a preview of Gasland 2, set for release later this year. Gasland helped to galvanize an environmental movement and turned fracking into a profane word befitting the obscene extraction method that it is.
Noting President Obama’s game of Taboo in his State of the Union address–in which he lauds the future extraction of natural gas from shale rock–Deborah Mitchell, a marketing expert at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Business explained why proponents of fracking won’t call it by its name. “When you hear the word ‘fracking,’ what lights up your brain is the profanity… Negative things come to mind.”
What’s profane about fracking? It’s nothing less than the wholesale vampire-rape of Earth. Millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand, and toxic chemicals are pumped into shale rock to suck out the natural gas within. Where frackers frack, water, air and soil contamination ensue. The natural gas industry refuses to disclose what chemicals are injected underground but, as documented in Gasland, scientists have uncovered several volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in fracking fluid including benzene, toluene, and xylene. Heavy concentrations of hydrocarbons, which can induce lung and neurological illnesses and increase the risk of cancer, have been detected in air near drill sites.
Researchers at Cornell University studying fracking’s carbon footprint have found that shale gas extraction has an impact on global warming equal to or greater than coal and oil. Biologist Robert Howarth said, “The [carbon] footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”
Then there’s methane gas, which can migrate from fracking wells into aquifers. Famously in Gasland, Josh films Colorado landowner Mike Markham hold a Bic under his faucet and ignite his tap water. The iconoclastic footage of the fireball shooting out of Markham’s spigot helped spark the wide scale grassroots resistance to drilling that has spread across America.
Towns, cities, and recently the state of Vermont have outlawed fracking. Landowners have refused to sign leases. Communities have banded together and blockaded drilling and water withdrawal sites. In New York, tens of thousands have mobilized and signed petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection urging an outright fracking ban. Instead, the New York Times unveiled a plan from the governor’s office this month that would lift the moratorium on fracking signed by former Governor David Paterson and open New York’s economically decimated southern tier to the gas industry. Sandra Steingraber with New Yorkers Against Fracking accused Cuomo of using the financial crisis to create an ecological crisis, “Sending a polluting industry into our most economically impoverished communities is a violation of environmental justice. Partitioning our state into frack and no-frack zones based on economic desperation is a shameful idea.” The gas industry pumped $3 million worth of campaign donations into Albany between 2005 and 2010 for the privilege of pumping fracking fluid into New York.
When Gasland was released in 2010, the question of whether the state would be opened up to fracking was still up in the air. Now we know that Cuomo has a map of New York up in his office where he sticks derrick-shaped pins on a donation by donation basis.
The title of Josh’s new film, The Sky is Pink, derives from an interview with Doug Shields, leader of Pittsburgh’s city council, which passed a ban on fracking after drillers contaminated the city’s water supply. Shields describes for Josh how the gas industry has thrown their money around in order to cast doubt on scientific evidence surrounding fracking. Science says the sky is blue. The gas industry says it is pink. Suddenly, there’s a debate. “They’re coming in and telling me the sky is pink all day,” says Shields, adding that in the fracking hub surrounding Harrisburg, PA “the sky actually is pink.”
“Govornor Cuomo,” Josh asks, “what color is the sky over New York?”
Nationally, Obama issued an executive order in April establishing an intergovernmental fracking task-force. The order calls on a slew of federal departments, including Homeland Security and Defense, to work together with the Environmental Protection Agency to promote and increase US gas extraction. It’s an election year and Obama will need money from the energy industry, which is looking towards natural gas to replace the dwindling and increasingly remote supplies of oil under the earth. He’ll have to prove he’s more gaseous than his republican rival, Mitt Romney.
Given Obama’s recent enthusiasm for fracking, the question might also be what color is the sky over America? People from across the country who will be gathering on July 28th in DC for the Stop the Frack Attack march say “blue”. Let’s hope our sky (and drinking water) stay that way.