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by Eric Kohn
April 21, 2013 8:32 PM
21 Comments
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Tribeca Review: 'Gasland' Gets a Sequel, But Does It Offer Anything New? Looking At 'Gasland Part II'

"Gasland Part II."

Josh Fox's 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary "Gasland" compellingly exposed the damaging impact of a form of natural gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, on small town America. Framed by Fox's wry perspective, the movie clearly demonstrated how fracking and the oil companies responsible for it endanger the safety of anyone living within its vicinity. "Gasland" contained damning evidence -- but apparently not enough to instigate much change, because now Fox has completed "Gasland Part II," which ably demonstrates the deleterious environmental ramifications of fracking on a much larger scale. Although overly dense and at times unfocused, "Gasland Part II" successfully continues Fox's crusade against the ill effects of natural gas. 

The director returns to the personal stakes of the previous film by discussing the endangerment of his family home in Milanville, Pennsylvania, where water has been frequently contaminated by the arrival of countless drilling sites adjacent to their property. This time, however, Fox uses that investment in the issue as a jumping-off point for exploring much broader issues associated with gas companies' dominion over the planet's ecological future. Fox's exposition is a cluttered, scattershot affair that shifts from one location and case study to another with little narrative fluidity, but the collage holds together mainly due to his dark wit, snappy editing and musical cues that give the message an added kick.

READ MORE: 5 Best Bets on TV This Week: Josh Fox Revisits "Gasland," FX Crosses 'The Bridge,' and Netflix Goes to Jail

A smirking banjo player whose drive to disturb the progress of greater corporate powers lends him the appeal of a chic Michael Moore, Fox repeats many of the complaints from the previous installment with a new series of faces and a larger canvas. This time, he's seemingly aware that no small victory can stop the forces at work. "As we know, in sequels," he says in a monotonous, Shatner-like voiceover, "the empire strikes back."

Early on, "Gasland Part II" takes the issues of the previous feature to a global level. An early bit finds the director visiting the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 4, 2010, flying in a helicopter at low altitudes that reveal the extent of the damage. He soon learns that the company has been using chemicals to sink the oil rather than mollify its effect on the environment. "We've lost the Gulf of Mexico as an ecosystem," a chemist points out in a fleeting interview, "but not as a source of fuel." 

"As we know, in sequels," Fox says in a monotonous, Shatner-like voiceover, "the empire strikes back."

That first indication of a neglect for long-term environmental health reverberates throughout the movie, as Fox explores the export boom in natural gas obtainment that has turned fracking into a bigger issue than ever before. His travels take him as far as Queensland, Australia, where he discovers flammable water not unlike the resources found at U.S. fracking sites. He also explores the unlikely presence of fracking in the middle of Los Angeles and other instances of its debilitating impact, including earthquakes in Arkansas. 

The pileup of examples is unsettling, exhausting and not always cohesive, though Fox certainly makes a good case against the future perils of fracking around the world: A study shows that some 50% of oil and gas well are likely to leak their damaging chemicals into water supplies over the course of three decades. Even the supposedly valiant efforts of the Environment Protection Agency to monitor fracking has been stymied by the influence of oil companies on how their sites are monitored, as one revealing phone call to Fox makes clear. 

The director's activism naturally stirs up trouble, and while most of "Gasland Part II" lets its countless subjects lead the way, the story eventually returns to his personal antics: The finale involves a well-documented 2012 incident in which the filmmaker was arrested on Capitol Hill after attempting to film a congressional hearing on fracking; he handles the situation well, but ultimately gains nothing except another illustration of how much his hands are tied -- by getting them cuffed. In this David versus Goliath tale, Goliath still has the upper hand. "Gasland Part II" runs longer than the earlier installment, but ultimately it has less to say. Fox sounds the same alarm with a bizarre mixture of confidence in the message and an awareness of the vanity involved in delivering it. 

Criticwire grade: B

HOW WILL IT PLAY? HBO will air "Gasland Part II" tonight at 9pm. Due to mixed reviews and the existing familiarity of the material, the movie may not gain the same level of exposure of its predecessor -- but the activist community involved in the project should help it maintain a solid broadcast reception.

Editor's note: A version of this review originally ran during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

21 Comments

  • Anonymous_Geologist | June 14, 2013 10:15 AMReply

    There are 8 wells in Damascus Township, PA (Milanville, PA is a city in this township). 3 of them were drilled in the 1950's and the rest in the 2008-2010 time frame. All are wildcat wells, meaning they aren't producing because the formations there are not profitable or don't produce enough gas to make them worth drilling. I have drilled many wells and I am extremely environmentally conscious. I am very aware of climate change and pollutants and always strive for safety. This comes first in all the work that I do. Due to this diligence, I have never had a well that contaminated groundwater or anything else. This work can be done safely if more of us have this mind set. I am not political, and have no allegiance to any party. I am a sceintist. I work on this stuff every day. My dream is to see all of us off hydrocarbon and nuclear energy. The industry has touted natural gas as a bridge to sustainable energy but is doing very little to make this a reality. I plan to take the knowledge I have gained about geology and drilling wells and go into geothermal. Every geologist knows we have a limited supply of hydrocarbon. It's getting more challenging to fin every year and our technologies are cutting-edge.We are lucky if we have another 50 years left of getting this stuff out of the ground at a price that is affordable. In the meantime, we all need to push for the alternatives. This is the honest truth, people.

  • Curious | May 2, 2013 4:27 AMReply

    Have folks here seen FrackNation? It'd be interesting to get Eric Kohn's views on this documentary.

  • ziggyff | June 8, 2013 10:48 AM

    the righty loons here who think Frack Nation is self funded are just too simple-minded to believe...Big Oil and Gas spent over $1 billion on repubs last election but they hid it well...you think they cannot do so with a little movie....They keep the ingredients that they add to water that they plunge into the ground a secret and for the obvious reasons...now if Obama kept something a secret you know how much uproar there would be??...just look at a secret CIA op eration at Benghazi... Big oil spends nothing on cleanup prep...just recently their "cleanup" crews were surprised to learn oil spills from Shale sink and had no method to clean it up at a recent spill in Michigan..it's still sitting there...at least the part not in their drinking water is

  • BJ Drher | May 21, 2013 12:10 PM

    Fracknation is not paid for by any oil company. The science is in folks fracking is a safe form of completing oil and gas wells. With over 50 years and a million wells fracked and there being no smoking gun I would say its safe. They've been fracking in PA for decades!!!! Fracking has lowered your heating bill by 70% it's lowered oil prices by 30%. It's good for America. I've fracked hundreds of wells and as a conservationists myself I don't see anything we can use for a better energy bridge.

  • GoodCitizen | May 2, 2013 3:29 PM

    FrackNation is not a documentary but a propaganda funded by the PR machine of the natural gas industry. Please don't waste your time. Or you may watch it to learn how the natural gas industry spins the glory of fracking, while ignoring how many people's health and their water/land/air have already been hurt by fracking.

  • gotgas | April 25, 2013 6:47 PMReply

    Gasland 2 is nothing more than the same old lies from the first movie. Methane migration occurs naturally. Here in NY i have neighbors who can light their tap water on FIRE..No DRILLING anywhere near our area. Dimock PA the water is SAFE(as per EPA)..Gasland 2 more LIES!!....Josh Fox is a loser!!.

  • seanstanley | April 26, 2013 1:44 AM

    Gasland and Gasland 2, both, are well-researched documentaries, by a concerned citizen. Take me as an example. I believe that any reasonable and concerned citizen will be swayed by it, if given the opportunity. The viewing experience made my blood boil, which has never happened in the past. It appeals to one's common sense, by showing the real people's real stories: how their health, water resource, and way of life has been negatively affected by fracking. The natural gas industry can no longer deceive the general public using propaganda to paint fracking as a harmless and safe practice. The real people's real experience has informed us otherwise. I would like to ask: energy independence at what kind of cost? cleaner energy really? (new studies have proven that methane, leaked by fracking, is much more potent greenhouse gas) job creation at what kind of cost?

  • Ray Devine | April 25, 2013 6:11 PMReply

    air emissions lower due to replacing coal with natural gas
    methane leaks highly discounted
    fracing since Truman, with tens of thousands of wells tested for leaks....the very few leaks are from casing, which can happen with or without fracing
    water on fire is from "bugs" i.e. biogenic gas in wells, not uncommon on places thousands of miles from fracing
    jobs, taxes, each direct job creates two more
    look at Boulder COlorado- the state's first oil town...it's been decimated by industry, as has Santa Monica CA
    I guess the frac crews are automatons, because where are the clusters of cancers/maladies? Don't you think lawyers would be coming hard after an industry that averages 7 ROI and pays 44% effecitve tax rate (three times that of BHO)? Look up MIT research

  • a geologist | June 4, 2013 2:41 AM

    He is not a geologist, many of his ''facts'' are false, it is like talking about farming to a kinesiology major.

  • Jason | April 23, 2013 11:25 AMReply

    Why is the film maker telling lies to prop up a phony agenda? Why? What will it get you? Money from your low-info sheep? Is that all? Isn't that what you're against though? Rich people?

  • KevinR | April 24, 2013 2:26 PM

    So you haven't seen the movie yet but you're sure he's telling lies? Maybe you should try to do some research of your own with an open mind and see what conclusions you come up with. Here's a hint, any pro-fracking information you find will almost always come from the Oil and Gas industry, there are no independent, non-industry funded, organizations that will say it is safe in its current form.

  • maymac | April 23, 2013 5:39 PM

    Josh Fox, a concerned citizen, has no motive to lie but to enlighten us with the truth. It is the natural gas industry whose motive is profit has made every effort to blur the truth.

    They try to paint a sunny picture of fracking (i.e. energy independence, cleaner energy and job creation) while hiding its harmful effect (waste of water, toxic chemicals, industrialized landscape).

    Through Gasland I and II, we learned the heavy environmental and healthy cost of fracking, by listening to real people's real stories.

    I would like to question the merits of fracking--energy independence at what kind of cost? cleaner energy? (according to the latest scientific study, fracking can generate large volume of methane, which is another greenhouse gas) job creation at what kind of cost?

    Mr. Jason, please don't just call people liars. Why not present the facts and evidences instead of calling names. People are not liars just because you call them names.

  • NYNatGasAdvocate | April 23, 2013 10:55 AMReply

    Had the chance to catch the TriBeca premierre of GL2.....it is distrubing that the director continues a narrative and presents as "facts" issues that have been widely debunked by none other than the EPA, several state and local enforcement agencies, Cornell University, University of Texas, MIT, and a host of other energy experts. Everytime the truth emerges after exhaustive investigation and reveiw of purported claims...those in the activist community decry corruption, influence, pay-offs and corporate greed. All populist themes exhibited throughout the film. HBO should ensure a more thorough fact check of these stories and claims prior to airing this summer. It is apparent that the director has built a following over the past few years. This installment is designed to tap into the occupy sentiment while taking libertities of fact with creative editing, presenting statments out of context and blurring the lines between scientific consensus and activist white papers. It is clear that this work is intended to advance the concept of an utopian renewable energy world and to gloss over the complex realities of energy development, delivery and use. If you enjoy having your anti-fossil fuel, anti-corporation world view re-enforced - you will love GL2. if you are looking for information to clarify the myriad of confussing public discussions on natural gas development.....turn the channel to another netowork.

  • maymac | April 23, 2013 5:49 PM

    Is this another hired gun of the natural gas industry? Does this ideology-driven and overly generalized criticism intend to spin the facts and blur the truth?

    If you can, why not criticize the film specifically.

    Why is the natural gas industry so afraid of "a" documentary and so intent to discredit its maker? Why did they have to force those who complained to sign confidential agreement once they offered compensation to them?

  • Scott | April 22, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    "lends him the appeal of a chic Michael Moore" ... Michael Moore just got owned by a guy with a banjo.

  • Peter Wynne | April 22, 2013 11:45 AMReply

    If watching "Gasland II," your reviewer Eric Kohn came away with the impression that the Fox Family property in Milanville, Pa., is adjacent to countless drilling sites, he was deceived. The Delaware River Basin Commission has blocked drilling in the Milanville region since 2008, and the nearest gas wells are upward of 30 miles away in the Susquehanna River Basin, where such drilling is allowed. And even there, the number of wells is far from countless.

  • Scott | April 23, 2013 8:44 AM

    Lone Bear, if that is, in fact, your real name, none of the companies in question drilled those wells you speak of. Pipelines are indeed HIGHLY regulated. Your insistence that they aren't exposes your ignorance. They are what carry the cheap affordable natural gas to buildings in highly populated areas, such as The Dakota building in Manhattan where Yoko Ono lives. As for your illness, I pray for you and your family but you blame it on an industry that doesn't exist in your area except for a few leases and are just waiting for a chance to blame it on someone so you can make money. Who is the money grabber here?

  • lone bear | April 22, 2013 1:50 PM

    peter the only deception is the gas company that continually stated there were no chemicals involved! I have seen your pro drilling comments before and you and your ilk are the ultimate in deception as far as the DRBC they have not made any decision on drilling and there has not blocked drilling josh is surrounded by people who were decieved into signing leases as well as where I live also, also, old wells are NOT REGULATED AND PIPELINES THE SAME, Old well have leaked into my private water well and have had tumors and 2 cancer operations noe because of your greed I am broke but will be ready and able to join a class action lawsuit for a buy out even though they will never buy us out just claim emenient domaine, as far as jobs you know full well these are NOT GIVEN TO LOCALS only to look at license plates all out of state. These "jobs" when you get hurt claim you are "independant contractor" and many attorneys are suing gas companies for the compensation they are due. just think of the chemicals they are breathing in for 12 hours a day, not to mention for miles and miles that are in the air, and water, PA Constit. states "The RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO HAVE CLEAN AIR AND WATER" Or have you forgotten that because you see the mirage of $ that you will never get! This has proven to be a ponzi scheme the sooner you wake up and wise up the better!

  • MayMac | April 21, 2013 11:08 PMReply

    I just watched the Gasland II this afternoon. It is an alarming issue should be pounded again and again until it becomes a mainstream issue. In II, we can see how powerful the natural gas industry is–they simply have the ability to buy out elections, politicians, to destroy anybody dares to against them and to spread misinformation in their favor. It is sad to see in our very eyes at this very moment that this powerful industry continues to stretch its reach to destroy our water, air and land and way of life. Thank Josh for keeping the issue of fracking alive.

  • eternalfriendly | April 23, 2013 5:57 PM

    Jason,

    As you stated, please "try to come to the fight with facts," not simply labeling people.

  • jason | April 23, 2013 11:30 AM

    Low info sheep. If there were payoffs and what-not going on, your silly liberal friends would find out and expose them. Believe me - the effort is ongoing and fruitless to date. Try to come to the fight with facts rather than your emotional cry baby ways. Now go occupy an outhouse.