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Award-winning environmental documentary 'Gasland' to screen March 15

March 2, 2012
 
EAU CLAIRE — "Gasland" (2010) — "one of the most effective and expressive environmental films of recent years" (Variety) — will be presented March 15 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The film will screen at 6:30 p.m. in Davies Theatre, immediately followed by a discussion. A reception will take place in the Skylight Lounge of Davies Center. Admission is free and open to all.

"Gasland" won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was a 2011 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature. The film also received four Emmy Award nominations after its broadcast on HBO, and filmmaker Josh Fox received the Emmy for Outstanding Direction of Nonfiction Programming.

"Gasland" focuses on communities across the United States that have been affected by oil and natural gas drilling via hydraulic fracturing, a method used to extract fossil fuels using water, a mix of chemicals and silica sand principally mined in the Midwest.

Josh Fox grew up in the forests of the Delaware River valley, on the border of New York and Pennsylvania. In 2009 he learned his land was on top of the Marcellus Shale — a giant reservoir of natural gas that stretches across the Appalachians — and that he would be paid $100,000 for the natural gas drilling rights to his property. Fox resisted the urge to accept and instead set off to investigate the risks of agreeing to the deal.

 Gasland
 Gasland
"Gasland" will screen March 15 at 6:30 p.m. in Davies Theater.
Part mystery, part travelogue, "Gasland" documents Fox's cross-country odyssey to visit drilling sites and find out if the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing is actually safe. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of fracking was exempted from the national Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act by the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The process involves combining sand with water and a cocktail of undisclosed chemicals, then forcing the mixture deep underground to fracture shale deposits that hold gas and oil that could not be mined conventionally.

"Freed from customary laws, natural gas companies have drilled like wildcatters in 34 states where huge shale fields contain gas deposits," reported Variety film critic Robert Koehler. "This is seat-of-pants investigating that yields astonishing and disturbing findings, not least of which is how the residents can customarily light a flame near their tap water outlet and set the polluted water on fire. As Fox ventures west, to Colorado, Wyoming and Texas, states riddled with natural gas drill sites, he documents horror story after horror story. For all of its engaging information, the film itself is a piece of beautiful cinema, rough-hewn and poetic. 'Gasland' may become to the dangers of natural gas drilling what 'Silent Spring' was to DDT."

Fox's documentary has spread public awareness about the risks that fracking poses for human and environmental health. The debate has now moved to Congress, which is considering legislation that would require the chemicals used in the fracking process to once again be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A component of the fracking process largely overlooked in the national debate is "frac sand," the soft sandstone needed to unlock underground natural gas and oil. Nearly three-quarters of this silica sand comes from the Midwest, much of that from western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota. In November Eau Claire County responded to health and environmental concerns with a moratorium on sand mining, set to last through May, pending study on the need for new regulations.

Special guests at the reception following "Gasland" will include author Ellen Cantarow, whose January 2012 article on fracking appears on the website of The Nation.

The program is sponsored by the Chippewa Valley Sierra Club, JONAH of the Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, the Save the Hills Alliance and the University Activities Commission of the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate.

More information about campus films is available online and at the Activities, Involvement and Leadership office, Davies Center 133.

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JS/DW

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