'Gasland' Showing Draws a Crowd
Wednesday night’s screening of the movie “Gasland” brought a near-capacity crowd to the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines.
Lauded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an Oscar nomination, “Gasland” paints a threatening picture of the explosion in natural gas mining across the country that sometimes means actual explosions.
Even before the lights dimmed, many who showed up were clearly suspicious and mistrustful not only of the mining industry but also of government oversight.
“You don’t trust the government, do you?” one skeptical woman asked in the lobby as she handed in her ticket.
This screening was underwritten by local groups Save Our Sandhills and Sustain-able Sandhills and by Internet service provider Connectnc.com. It was organized by Suzanne Cole-man, who describes herself as “just a concerned citizen.”
Coleman stressed that neither she nor any of the sponsors were endorsing claims made in “Gasland” but wanted its concerns aired in an objective setting. The showing was followed by a screening of a four-minute industry short, “The Truth About Gasland,” described as a rebuttal by the American Natural Gas Alliance.
While a number of scenes in “Gasland” met with scattered applause, gasps or murmurs of approval, several moments in the “rebuttal” brought scoffing laughter.
Coleman described “Gas-land” as “very timely.”
“We are privileged to bring it to you,” she said. “Tonight you are going to be watching the documentary by Josh Fox and — in order to be ‘fair and balanced’ — we secured from the gas industry their four-minute video rebuttal … and then, for those of you who would like to learn a little more about gas drilling and its impact on Moore County specifically, we invite you to stay afterward for a brief panel discussion, where they will take questions.”
There were three panelists, though each of them made separate presentations rather than joining together in shared discussion.
First was Hope Taylor, who is the executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina (CWFNC) — a Durham-based “environmental justice” organization — and a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council.
CWFNC opposes hydraulic fracturing (“fracking” for short) and is seeking signers to its petition for a ban on that mining method “at least until a comprehensive national study (EPA) is completed in 2014.”
Taylor wants such a ban until the state’s ground and surface water resources are fully protected “as well as air quality, public health and safety” by new state regulations and policies.
In an extensive PowerPoint presentation, Taylor showed the locations of shale beds that extend through Lee County and well into Moore County — as far as the Carthage area — where many seek to extract natural gas using currently prohibited horizontal drilling and fracking.
The method, as she illustrated, means drilling a vertical shaft, and then turning it at right angles and setting off explosive charges in the horizontal tube at intervals. The shaped charges fracture shale above and below that shaft, creating fissures that release gas trapped in the shale.
Taylor compared the shaped charges to IEDs used in the current Middle East conflicts. That brought an objection from Thomas Blue, the panel member who followed her.
He said shaped charges are used, and have been used, by many industries and for a long time. Blue stressed how very little anyone can actually know, or reliably predict, about the results of underground drilling.
Blue is an engineer and land surveyor and considered a leading expert on hydrology, storm water and watershed response in the Sandhills.
Blue is currently pursuing a PhD in environmental soil physics.
Jordan Treakle, mineral rights coordinator for the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) — a Pittsboro-based organization that advocates for family farmers — followed Blue. His subject was one that “Gasland” hit hard: farmers who own only surface rights to their farms.
As issues over gas drilling heated up, RAFI began coaching landowners on property rights and warning against “predatory mineral rights leases.” He cautioned members of the crowd against slick operators currently sending very one-sided leases in the mail, knocking on doors and offering signing bonuses that are well below — sometimes 100 times below — amounts offered in other parts of the country.
A landowner signing some of these leases could wind up paying huge sums in damages because of liability assumed without realizing it, or billed for development charges that could exceed any royalties they might receive, he said.
Over the past year, Treakle has been working with N.C. Agricultural Extension Centers, including Moore County, to inform farmers and rural property owners in the shale regions about mineral rights contracts and the potential impacts of drilling.
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story