Natural gas fracking is focus of eye-opening film

On Aug. 18, a group of about 30 people sat at the Lee Road Library, mostly in stunned silence, watching the film “Gasland,” a screening sponsored by the Burning River Anti-Fracking Network. Written and directed by Josh Fox, the movie records his journey across the country to view the effects of hydraulic fracturing. Also known as “fracking,” the process is the gas and oil industry’s latest attempt to extract more money from the earth. 

The problem, as Fox learned, is that despite the industry’s claim that fracking is the way to a safe and clean energy future, the process destroys the land, water and air wherever it is used. It involves forcing water filled with more than 500 chemicals, many of them toxic, both vertically and horizontally into a shale formation. The process loosens the natural gas that resides there, and poisons the earth and water below and above the surface.

In some cases, fracking is used to coax more gas out of existing wells; in others, new wells are drilled. Thanks to former Halliburton exec and vice president, Dick Cheney, the fracking industry is exempt from regulations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

Residents in the states where fracking is common show Fox how their tap water catches fire; how their wells--which had run clear for decades--run brown and black; how their farm animals and household pets are losing their hair; and how their local streams and rivers are so toxic that dead animals line their banks. In addition, people are ill with neurological conditions and cancer, or just plain unending poor health.

Wherever it has operated, the fracking industry has denied all culpability in the destruction of land, river systems, water wells, livestock and human families.

Its trail of deceit is coming to Ohio. According to Ben Shapiro, a grassroots anti-fracking activist, the oil and gas industry is spending millions to get a foot in the door in Geauga County, which has the second largest number of existing gas wells in the state, all potentially frackable. Some  Ohio municipalities--Canton, North Canton, Yellow Springs, Hartville Village and Munroe Falls among them--have enacted fracking bans (as have Pittsburgh and Detroit), which may face court challenges from state government as well as from corporations. Governor John Kasich favors fracking, as does President Obama. Permit applications for drilling are rarely denied by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Plans are underway in Cleveland Heights to present a ban to city council. There are gas wells on the former Oakwood Club property, on land owned by the Shaker Heights schools, and potentially at other sites in the Heights. Anti-fracking activists foresee legal battles ahead to protect both public and private lands.

The film is broadcast on HBO, and is available at the library. The website,, describes fracking and what’s happening in Ohio and other states. To get involved, “like” Burning River Anti-fracking Network on Facebook, or e-mail

Josh Fox was offered $100,000 for the rights to drill for gas on his land. After he finished the film, he turned it down.

Catherine Podojil

 Catherine Podojil is a writer and editor who lives in Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 4, Issue 9, Posted 12:01 PM, 09.01.2011