The main reason for attending the Dumfries Friends of the Earth Scotland sponsored screening at the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre was to educate myself on the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ which the FOES describes as a controversial technique often used to exploit unconventional sources of gas, such as shale gas, or in the case of Scotland, coal bed methane. But disappointedly what we were presented with was an American documentary Gasland (2010), written and directed by Josh Fox, which had a very one-sided view of this technique. According to the hand-out advertising the film the process involves drilling deep into the earth, pumping in a high pressure mix of water, sand and some dodgy sounding chemicals, some of which are not biodegradable, to create fractures in the rock and release the gas. Which I must admit does not sound too environmentally friendly! Nonetheless I would have appreciated hearing both sides of this hotly debated issue.
But the main difficulties I had with this film is the same problem I’ve had with two other recent documentary’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013) and Mea Maxima Culpa (2012) in that they all overstretch their point by repeatedly bombarding their audience with the same information. This makes what should be an interesting and informative subject into a monotonous dirge that could have been put right by some intelligent editing.
Thankfully an old friend of the RBC Film Club, Ian Gasse introduced Mr Paul Daley who represented the Friends of the Earth Scotland who kindly took a lively Q&A session following the film that, as sometimes is the case, was better and more informative than the main attraction. He started by admitting that what we saw in the documentary will not necessary happen here and explained that in Scotland its different from America where this kind of removal of shale gas always involves fracking but coalbed methane extraction does not, at least in the early years of development. But he went on to warn us that as the gas flow starts to decline wells are often fracked to increase productivity. An example was given that in the case of Australia the industry estimates that up to 40% of coalbed methane wells end up being fracked. Then he alerted us to the perceived dangers of fracking that included a risk of chemicals seeping into local water tables, poisoning drinking water for humans and animals, contaminating agricultural land and minor earth tremors!
Thanks to our local independent cinema we at least had a chance to learn something about this matter even if I’m unsure whether the film dealt with the facts or a single mans obsession. To be honest it’s not a black and white subject, lots of grey areas, but our wonderfully caring government is offering tax breaks to private companies that are carrying out this work so it will continue. But I think, after listening to the packed Q&A session, if our delicate planet can survive without this form of energy extraction then it should do so even at the cost of driving down energy bills.
For more information see http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/fracking