Maranda Pleasant: Hey. It’s been a long time coming.
Josh Fox: [laughs] Sorry.
MP: No, it’s good. I didn’t realize what a rock star you are. Every time I say your name, people say, “God, I love him! I love that movie.” It doesn’t matter if I’m in Los Angeles, Boulder, or Austin.
JF: Well, it’s called cable television.
MP: [laughs] I don’t have a television, maybe that’s why.
JF: You can watch it on your computer! Anyhow, it’s been an unbelievable couple of years. From learning about this issue, which was in relative obscurity, to traveling all across the country [and] seeing the devastation of fracking, it’s a constant exploration and investigation of something that is happening all across America.
The issue started getting a lot more attention when they came east to the New York City watershed and the Delaware River Basin in the state of New York. Of course, the movie is the direct consequence of that move on behalf of the oil and gas industry to try and invade territory that is a watershed area. It drew attention to how much destruction they’re doing all across the country. All of which needs to cease.
MP: When I mention fracking while traveling, a lot of people have no idea what I’m talking about.
JF: There’s a really big difference between living inside the frack zone or living out of it. It’s a giant mess. It certainly seems like a fifth to a quarter of the whole United States. That sort of area, talking about 65% of Pennsylvania, half of New York capital, all of West Virginia, huge sections of Texas, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico. A huge fracking dome [is] opening up in California.
If you live in the frack zone, or near it, I guarantee you think about it once a day or one hundred times a day, because it starts taking over your life. If you live outside of it you might be completely oblivious and not realize that when you’re turning on your light switch or lighting your gas stove, you’re participating in something that’s incredibly oppressive. This needs to change.
MP: My friends in Australia said that the government came in and said, “You own the first twelve inches of your land. We own everything under it.” So, a lot of people are losing their land. They said that when they turn on their faucet and they light a match, [the water] will catch on fire. Their entire water supply on their land is now ruined. There’s no way to fix it.
JF: “Gas migration” is the industry term for it. Gas getting into your water is extremely common everywhere this industry goes. It gets into aquifers. It gets into lakes and streams. The Susquehanna River is bubbling in several locations. You have gas leaking up out of cracks in the ground.
What’s equally frightening is that it’s actually going into the air, as well. Once they fracture that bedrock, they simply can’t control where the gas goes. Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. People are breathing in organic compounds [that are] making them sick. And then you have this phenomenon where water catches on fire. It shouldn’t do that. [laughs]
The gas industry comes in. They either lease plans from you under false pretenses, don’t disclose exactly what they’re going to be doing, or they come into areas where they’ve already obtained the mineral rights or public land. [They] drill a deep well and then inject toxic material down that wellbore at such high pressure that it fractures the bedrock. We’re talking about this mini-earthquake that happens under the ground. They inject 2 to 9 million gallons of water through the well, and that actually fractures the underground strata. And in that rock is the gas.
Once you’ve done that, you’ve pulverized that landscape. What you’re doing is drilling through to the aquifer. The aquifer [is] the water table people need to keep secure. Nature has this incredible system of water purification under the ground. Ground water is much better to drink than surface water because it filters out the bacteria that can cause all sorts of problems. You’re puncturing through that water table as you’re drilling down.
Then of course, you have a pipe that’s going through the aquifer, which is [made of] one inch of cement. That cement is very soluble; it breaks down at alarming rates. And that is where the gas and other gassy chemicals are being sucked up through that pipe. Those pipes leak. The cement leaks, and then the gas migrates at very alarming rates.
My new short film called “The Sky is Pink” goes into detail. It was specifically aimed at New York, but the information in it pertains to everywhere they’re fracking. We need to learn a lot about the situation of how often these gas wells are breaking down. They’re breaking down immediately upon drilling in 50% of the wells, and 50% of them break down over a thirty-year period. Which means it is absolutely a certainty that you are going to have water contamination. Very, very bad water contamination in just a single generation. These areas where the gas companies are targeting to drill are going to be permanently despoiled from the standpoint of the water and the land. There’s really significant evidence to show that these things will continue to steam off gas for years and years. You’re basically trading the value and character of the land, safety, and health, for a short period of [extracting] gas. But the gas companies don’t care.
MP: What kind of profit do they make on that?
JF: They make a lot of money doing it. If you don’t have to pay attention to any of the aspects of sustainability in any way, you can make tons of money. And that’s exactly what’s happened. They are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, our primary protection law for our drinking water. They’re exempt from aspects of the Clean Water Act. They’re exempt from the Clean Air Act. They’re exempt from the SuperFund Act. In many ways they’re exempt from NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. These exemptions were granted to them by Congress over many years of, frankly, Republican administration dismantling the basic health and safety laws that have protected Americans since the ‘70s.