Three years after the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland secured fracking a place in the global lexicon, director Josh Fox returns with Gasland Part II, which premiered this weekend at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. The sequel opens with quick cuts of Republicans and Democrats extolling the virtues of natural gas drilling, setting viewers up for a rollercoaster ride through government and corporate accountability. Like his first film, Fox spotlights the various health problems and water contamination issues facing individuals that live near gas wells. Part II, which will premiere on HBO this summer, also charts the EPA’s progress and interviews members of the the scientific community. Rolling Stone spoke with Fox about gas infrastructure and what it’s like to get kicked off Capitol Hill.
What was your motivation to make a sequel to Gasland?
The story wasn’t over. We wanted to track whether or not there would be change, and what, if anything, was in the way of that. We also wanted to examine how this crisis is being handled by the government.
What new information did you learn?
Because there’s so much gas leakage in the fracking process and in the delivery systems, gas infrastructure is actually worse than coal in a 20-year time frame. It’s leaking methane into the atmosphere, and methane is a greenhouse gas that is 105 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the 20-year time frame.
In the second round, does it feel like you are still banging your head up against the wall?
I don’t feel like I’m banging my head against the wall. When the gas industry comes to you, and you realize that your 19 acres of land is totally surrounded by people who have sold their rights to the gas industry, it’s extraordinarily isolating. That’s banging your head up against the wall. Making a film like this, seeing people trying to stop fracking in New York, that’s just amazing.
What do you think will happen in New York?
It would be very unwise for Governor Cuomo to go forward at this time, when fracking is so unpopular. I’m not going to make a prediction, but I do think what we are seeing here is that the public in New York state – and all over the country – has been voracious in getting scientific information and has been using that as a tool to participate in democracy in the right ways.
The documentary begins with the BP oil spill. Why did you start the film there?
The BP spill was the greatest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. Yet somehow, gas companies like BP and Halliburton ran interference on reporting that story. Gasland Part II is about who gets to tell the story. Do the oil and gas companies get to tell it? Do reporters get to tell it? Do the people who are experiencing it get to tell it? In the film, we tried to take a look at whether or not we have true democratic procedure when it comes to oil and gas.
What has been the biggest turning point in the past three years?
The EPA decided to do a two-year study of groundwater with respect to fracking. To me, though, the real turning point was the moment when President Obama, in the 2012 State of the Union, came out wholeheartedly trumpeting the virtues of shale gas. He never said the word fracking – that’s the dirty word. But that was when we saw a shift in policy and a trickle-down effect through the federal government.
How did being a known entity change the production?
I got arrested trying to tape a congressional hearing, which I believe was my right as a member of the press. The house committee on science and technology was attacking the EPA on an investigation that we had been following for several years, and we were told, “You can’t come in.” And by adding, “No, you are an HBO documentarian,” they basically signaled to us that they knew exactly who we were. But we did manage to get interviews with Lisa Jackson [the former head of the EPA] and 12 members of Congress, which I don’t think would have happened before.
What on the horizon makes you optimistic?
The battle in New York has inspired people across the world to keep fighting. We had victories in France and parts of Australia. What you are seeing is a growing consciousness about the issue worldwide. But what’s really great is the huge level of public participation, and having a government [in New York] that’s actually operating like a democracy.