The film follows director Josh Fox on a journey across 25 states, as he interviews people who claim nearby hydraulic fracturing operations have poisoned their drinking water and given them health problems. Starting in his hometown of Milanville, Pa., he drives to the heart of natural gas exploration, the Jonah Gas Field in Wyoming, meeting with angry and disheartened residents along the way.
Fox is effective in capturing the stories and emotions of ordinary citizens. In Dimock, Pa., he films a homeowner taking a match to his tap water, which bursts into flame. The homeowner says the water is contaminated with methane. The same spectacle plays out at a home in Weld County, Colo.
At Divide Creek, in Garfield County, Colo., Fox meets Lisa Bracken, who keeps the frozen corpses of a bird and a rabbit, she says were poisoned from drinking the creek’s water, in her freezer. In 2004, Encana Gas and Oil had to pay a $371, 000 fine to the state because one of their leaking gas wells poisoned the creek, but Bracken maintains there has been further contamination since.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it’s known, involves pumping millions of gallons of water, mixed with an assortment of chemicals and sand, down a natural gas well. The pressurized solution pushes apart rock, which can be as deep as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface, allowing natural gas to escape.
In the film, Fox focuses on the legal loophole, known as the “Halliburton loophole,” that exempts gas companies from the Clean Water Act and allows them not to disclose the list of chemicals they use in fracking operations. This could change, however. On March 15 this year, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act was reintroduced to the Senate. If passed, the Act will require companies to publicize the list of chemicals they use during hydraulic fracturing.
The film was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature and won awards at the Sundance Festival and the Yale Environmental Film Festival.