Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

AUGUST 18, 2011 8:33AM

Gasland Aftermath—We have No Laws

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Burning Water

Image:  Gasland 

The second most amazing thing about Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary “Gasland” is that it got made at all.  The approach can only be described as amateur-verité.  The financing, the everything, really—DIY. He deserves a heap of kudos for this triumph of beginner’s mind; of one individual’s dawning awareness of a seemingly amorphous problem transformed into a kitchen sink triumph.  Fox understands story.  Taking the tactic of “who do you believe: them or your lying eyes?” to its logical extreme, he presented his views with the simple truth of burning tap water and touched a nation.

            Fox, a grassroots theater director with no formal documentary film experience prior to “Gasland,” has screened the film extensively for the nation’s environmental community.  In an interview this week with the Baltimore City Paper’s Angela Appleton, Fox laid out the central issue he unveiled in the film:

The EPA’s been screening the film, regional EPA, federal EPA. They’ve been screening the film in Congress, at the Department of Justice. All of the regulators are shocked, but they also feel very disheartened in that their hands are tied, because they don’t have laws to enforce. The Safe Drinking Water Act should pertain to the gas industry. They’re exempt. The Clean Water Act, they’re exempt. The Clean Air Act, they’re exempt. The Superfund law, they’re exempt. All of these basic fundamental American public-health protection laws, they have found a way to get exempt from them through orders of Congress. I showed the film to the entire Department of Justice environmental wing at their annual retreat and they gave it a standing ovation . . . but the lawyers who enforce our environmental laws on behalf of DOJ have said time and time again, we have no laws to enforce. And that is the problem. This is going to take an act of Congress or a presidential executive order or governors’ orders.

            A standing ovation from the DOJ environmental wing is worth exactly…nothing, it turns out.  “Gasland” highlighted a 2005 legal maneuver that the mainstream media seems to have missed entirely.  That naughty bit, “the Cheney clause,” exempted gas industry from all the laws noted above as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act.  This exemption may prove to be one of the most dangerous environmental exemptions ever considered now that we are in the throes of a phenomenal gas gold rush.  It’s like exempting the cigarette industry from tobacco legislation.

            The “Gasland” interview with Dr. Theo Colborn, who offered an analysis of some of the 596 chemicals associated with fracking—hydrological fracturing—stands as one of the highlights of the film—along with lighting faucet streams on fire, of course.  Those chemicals, identified by certified, independent labs, have been the subject of some of the most furious industry denials related to the film.  Even these chemicals comprise just 50 percent of the estimated number of products used in fracking.  And, according to Colborn, every one of the chemicals already identified are toxic in some measure at one threshold or another.  Industry shills, shown in the film in a pointless and depressing U.S. House subcommittee hearing for U.S Representative Diana DeGette’s well-intentioned and ill-fated FRAC Act, would have you believe that nothing more injurious than, say, vinegar, is being poured down those wells to facilitate the “mini-earthquakes” that unlock the gas.

            But the stuff released underground, migrating gas and byproduct deposits commingling with ground water, and the so-called produced water; liquid waste laced with the 596 chemicals mentioned above, is truly scary, is making people sick, and may lead to future cancer clusters and neurological illness rates that are off the scale.

            Why haven’t we seen these effects earlier?  We have to some degree.  But outpatient medical clinics rarely look very far afield in treating mysterious neuropathies that lack evident causation.  That, and the fact that the number of active wells is increasing in some regions at a rate of 300 percent a year according to the EPA.

            Without wrapping fracking into the environmental coverage offered by The Clean Water Act, The Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund law, we’re stuck in no man’s land as far as protection goes—and the nation’s top environmental regulators know it.  In an era in which states are desperate for income no matter the cost, free-range fracking is a perfect kind of lottery for big royalty bucks at little cost to the states—unless you factor in the aggregated health costs of a couple generations of people whose water will, over time, kill them if they drink it.

            As Fox puts it, with no less eloquence than some of the great whistleblowers of our time, people like Ralph Nader and Wendell Berry:

This is a page taken out of the cigarette companies’ book. We take for granted right now that cigarettes cause cancer, but for 40 years, the industry lied. The industry went out there and perpetuated myths that cancer was naturally occurring—the same language is used by the gas industry. This is “naturally occurring” water contamination.

            What Fox has on his side—our side—is direct observation and logic. Will this little documentary light the fire that will right the wrong?  No.  But it may have lit the fire that grows over time if a sufficient number of people take a page out of the Tea Party manual and start showing up at legislative town hall-type gatherings to vent their outrage.  And you know what?  Many of the rural people who have been most severely impacted sound otherwise like Republicans or Reagan Democrats to me.  They look almost identical to some of their rural Tea Party counterparts except that they are sicker.  They are rugged individualists betrayed.

            Without such action, direct action, we can expect no action on the part of any government entity.  It’s all part of the Cheney-Halliburton legacy, potentially one of the more shameful episodes of oblivious mass-scale poisoning since the industrial revolution began.  For that to be so, all we need is for New York to capitulate to gas interests and open the New York City drinking water watershed on the upper Hudson to fracking.  And that prohibition remains ever so precarious and under assault by a lobby without a conscience.

* * *

Ga"Gasland" screens for free at the Creative Alliance, Baltimore on August 18, 2011.

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The more I read about the processes and chemicals used in fracking, the more I'm coming to believe that it's a huge environmental mess.

Calling it the "Cheney clause" reminds me of how the former VP argued that his office was neither part of the executive nor the legislative branch. So no prosecutor could touch him.
We've fallen down the rabbit hole.
The poisoning of America, and those who warn us.
We get blamed. sigh
My mother was living in a HOT ZONE site in Kenosha. Blames me for telling her.
My ex-husband is dying of a rare liver cancer.
He went to three mile island to pick up PC's for National Semi-conductor. Blames me for warning him.

What's a journalist to do?

Rated ♪♫•**•.¸♥¸.•*¨*•â™Şâ™Şâ™«•**•.¸¸♥ D
Thanks once again, Dick Cheney!

And you know, they always come back with, "Well, you use natural gas, don't you? Do you want to be cold all winter?" Of course we don't want to be cold in the winter. But do we only have two choices? Heat our homes and get cancer, or be cold and not get cancer? Isn't there a middle ground?
Thank you for sharing this. I hadn't heard about Gasland before. You are right, without the protection of the law, who is to stop the destruction of ecological resources and peoples' health for personal/corporate gain?
Thanks for depressing me even more.
Alan, you are welcome!

Jeanette, yes, they come back with terrorism arguments, job arguments, national security arguments, states rights arguments and every single argument sidesteps the fact--the plain and simple fact--that fracking is poisoning our water.

Abrawang, yes, neither fish nor fowl. Unfortunately, with the kind of illegal and unregulated dumping of fracking waste water going on the way it is, neither fish nor fowl will survive his legacy.
Sadly, another in a long line of corporatized abuses of the environment and the people of this country in the name of the Root of All Evil: The Love of Money. Isn't it amazing that the people who are making these profits are literally killing off their customer base? And that's okay, because the quarterly profit statements look Great!

It makes you want to keep and bear arms.

rated and regards
How does Dick Cheney get away with this and everything else. He should be in jail, really. Thanks for sharing.
i continue telling americans: get democracy! but it's just habit, i know from 40 years experience that you haven't got it in you.

so you have 'no laws,' you are screwed by the 'cheney clause,' and your reaction is always the same: nothing to be done.

there's a word for a species that does not react to assault:

By the time americans realize that water is the most precious resource on the planet, it will be too late. thanks, Steve. R
And we thought we were rid of Cheney. Guess again. I've seen excerpts of the film on TV and it sounds truly frightening. Thank goodness there are few good documentary filmmakers left in this society. Based on your review, I'd like to see the whole film but dunno where to find it. Netflix maybe? Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront, Steve.

Food, Inc. was also really distrubing.
Brokenwig, yes, Netflix.
GASLAND is truly a revelation for anyone not familiar with fracking; I wasn't when I stumbled across the documentary on HBO a while back. It’s appalling how so many Americans support totally destructive practices with no regard for environment or their fellow citizens whatsoever. It’s equally appalling that so many Americans refuse to take their votes away from the politicians (Dems and Repubs) that back these practices. The only power you have is to deprive them of your vote, but too many are still stuck in the two-party trap of “either-or” and refuse to vote any other way.

Finding this late, but it's a very good reminder of what our corrupt government is capable of. In fact, I first heard about Gasland when Mark Ruffalo showed up on talk shows to promote the film. Since then, I've noticed a rash of corporate media ads by ANGA (America's Natural Gas Alliance) threatening that if we regulate them, jobs will disappear, then recently, admitting that there is an issue with fracking but reassuring us that the process is safe. You can see that the film HAS had an impact on the discussion if ANGA is acknowledging the resistance. If the big money behind natural gas succeeds in soothing us, much like BP did after the spill, then all of Fox's work will have been for nothing. We have to call our reps to demand the legislation that is lacking.