Gasland Picks Up Steam With Oscar Nomination

As environmental issues become increasingly mainstream, they are starting to become a fixture on the big screen as well.

Last year, The Cove, a film about the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, won the category. The Cove is a lavishly produced action thriller documentary that helped the plight of dolphins to cross over from the animal rights arena to a global media platform.

On Sunday, February 27th 2011, a couple of features related to environmental issues are competing in the best documentary category. And one of them deals with energy issues.


Gasland is a documentary about fracking, which is a very aggressive form of gas exploitation. It is a short for hydraulic fracturing which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at very high pressure into shale to fracture the rock in order to release trapped natural gas encased there. But there are concerns and increasing evidence that it contaminates groundwater and homes.

Director Josh Fox had the idea for the film when an exploration company in 2008 offered to lease his land for drilling for $100,000. He decided to make a film about it instead.

Gasland is generating a lot of buzz, partially due to the energy lobby’s efforts to dismiss it, according to a report published by The Guardian. According to the report, Energy in Depth, an industry group set up by Halliburton, BP, Shell and others, has been busy attacking Gasland, saying it is inaccurate about this method of gas drilling. It even wrote to the Academy asking them to remove the film from the competition.

But images of blazing taps has caught the imagination of many and fracking has found a high-profile detractor in actor Mark Ruffalo, who’s also nominated for an Oscar (best supporting actor) because of his role in The Kids Are All Right. Ruffalo is serious about it and even visited Congress to support a bill for government regulation of hydraulic fracturing. One of the legal problems with fracking is that former vice-president Dick Cheney in 2005 freed drilling companies from reporting on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Fox insists it is time to wake up to the dangers of fracking because it has been “flying under the radar for long enough”. He says hundreds of small-scale incidents have taken place in the United States.

Still according to the Guardian, natural gas is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as a source of electricity. In 2010 it accounted for 25% of U.S. electricity, up from 12% in 1996.

Sun Come Up

The short documentary category also includes an environmentally-themed film. Sun Come Up deals with the consequences of global warming and rising sea levels. It follows the relocation of some of the Carteret Islanders a peaceful community living on a remote island chain in the South Pacific Ocean who has become the world’s “first environmental refugees”.

The move comes with painful decisions and a tough adaptation process as the Carteret Islanders seek refuge in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea 50 miles across the open ocean. To make matters worse, Bougainville is recovering from a 10-year civil war and have a very different way of life.

Image credit: Energy Refuge