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'Gasland' Sequel Has More Fracking Horror Stories


It took just a few years for the word fracking to enter the American vocabulary. It's short for hydraulic fracturing, which is controversial for its environmental effects, but fracking also dramatically boosts oil and natural gas production. Many people first heard about fracking in a 2010 documentary "Gasland." And now director Josh Fox is back with a sequel, as NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: In "Gasland," the most memorable scene was a man in Colorado lighting tap water on fire. In "Gasland Part II," Josh Fox is back with more fireworks. This time, it's a homeowner in Texas holding up a garden hose and flicking a lighter.


BRADY: In the documentary, Steve Lipsky says a company drilled under his dream house, and now there's natural gas and toxic chemicals in the water.


BRADY: Lipsky says the lab told him the water was so polluted, he shouldn't use it.


BRADY: Filmmaker Josh Fox focuses only on the most dramatic examples of people harmed by drilling and fracking. There are places where gas naturally exists in groundwater. The industry uses that fact to cast doubt on claims from opponents. And filmmaker Josh Fox is clearly an opponent.

JOSH FOX: There's no safe drilling.

BRADY: Every scene in "Gasland Part II" bolsters Fox's belief that the world should stop using fossil fuels and switch to renewable forms of energy.

FOX: It is imperative as practical people, as moral people, as decent people, as people concerned about public health that we turn around 180 degrees in the other direction. And that's, of course, what I'm advocating.

BRADY: Fox has a loyal following among environmentalists. The oil and gas industry, though, is critical of his work, pointing out that it ignores the economic benefits of fracking. Scott Kurkoski is an attorney in Binghamton, New York.

SCOTT KURKOSKI: Because when we examine what's actually happening in the movie "Gasland," or the things that he's trying to portray, we see that things are just not true.

BRADY: Kurkoski represents the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. Its members want to bring drilling and fracking to the state. They see landowners across the border in Pennsylvania cashing huge checks from gas companies, and they want in on the boom. Kurkoski says Fox distorts the truth by only talking about the downside of drilling and fracking.

KURKOSKI: It's very hard to deal with for many of our landowners, who can see the prosperity right across the border, and many times right outside of their window.

BRADY: So far, New York doesn't allow fracking, and Kurkoski says the influence of Fox's first "Gasland" movie is a big reason why. It introduced the topic of fracking to thousands of moviegoers and framed the debate in favor of opponents. Amy Mall with the Natural Resources Defense Council says "Gasland" had helped groups like hers get stricter regulations on fracking.

AMY MALL: It gave a voice to the real people and the communities who are on the frontlines of this battle. And really, otherwise, we're not being heard enough.

BRADY: Mall says the oil and gas industry spends lots of money to advertise its message. Now, she says, Josh Fox has leveled the playing field a bit. "Gasland Part II" begins airing on HBO tonight. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.