In this remarkable video by Adam Pletts for Al Jazeera, [7:59] a former real-estate construction manager turned media activist states, “It was impossible before the revolution to make a media centre or publish any photo or video against the regime.” Sitting on the floor, snacking and smoking cigarettes in a village guarded by the Free Syrian Army, a team of media activists points to coverage by Reuters on the T.V. and have differing opinions about editing the team’s video content for distribution. One main debate surrounds how much “flesh and blood” is too much to show before it’s too shocking for people to even watch. The former construction manager, who now serves as media coordinator, states, “This discussion is normal and necessary. For 50 years the regime took only one side and never listened to the others sides. So if I behave the same way now, I will be behaving like the regime.” But later [16:05] he seems to contradict himself: “I am an activist, only an activist. I am with the revolution, so I will only tell this side.”
Triple Divide is a tremendously moving film. To hear landowners and farmers speak of having their land rights and human rights violated was powerful and upsetting. I appreciate their willingness to honestly describe what they're going through. Their testimonies, along with the demonstration at the beginning of the film of how fracking representatives approach landowners, give audiences an idea of our collective vulnerability to the manipulations and deceptions of an uncaring and immoral industry. However, at the end of the film, one man's clarion call reminds us that we can always develop our collective strength. I love the bold and inspiring declaration of the landowner who says he will not succumb without a fight. That's what we all have to do to the extent that we are able: intelligently and peacefully resist. I think it's great that the film emphasizes the importance of high quality and exceptional streams and bodies of water that are being threatened by fracking operations and a lack of state protection. Perhaps the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should be prosecuted for failing to punish industry/ company violations of the commonwealth laws in its state and endangering these vital water sources, aquifers, and thus the public health. Hopefully, residents will place more pressure on the DEP to execute its responsibilities in a more transparent and timely fashion. Triana Energy should refer to themselves not as "21st Century Explorers" but as 21st Century Colonizers. In fact, all of the natural gas companies depicted in the film could be labeled as 21st Century Colonizers as their profit-driven and short-term interests drive their destructive exploitation of already established communities.
I drove through Pennsylvania on the turnpike early Saturday. Past the billboards for “Affordable coal energy: Increasingly green and always red, white and blue” and “Wind dies, sun sets. You need reliable, affordable, clean coal electricity.” Past the giant wind turbines on the mountain ridge near Somerset. I picked up my brother in Pittsburgh, a frack-free zone, and headed for the western Pennsylvania premier of the film “Triple Divide” at the Butler Area Public Library. This part of the state is not frack-free. “Triple Divide” the documentary is impressive and disturbing storytelling about the free-for-all that is fracking in Pennsylvania. Triple divide the natural phenomenon sends the waters in fracked Potter County, Pa., into three North American watersheds. At this juncture, the Allegheny River heads west to the Ohio River and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico, the Genesee River finds its way north to Lake Ontario, and the west branch of the Susquehanna River winds southeast through Maryland and into the Chesapeake Bay. As filmmaker Melissa Troutman says in the movie’s narration, “For the triple divide, everything is downstream.” These rivers form the ecological foundation for life in the region, not to mention providing drinking water for millions in and beyond the region.
The environmental groups who signed on to the partnership include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Heinz Endowments, the Clean Air Task Force, EQT Corp. and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and will work with big oil and gas companies such as Shell Oil and Chevron Appalachia in the new center. The project will cover Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio — "where a frenzy of drilling is under way in the huge, gas-rich Marcellus and Utica Shale formations," the Associated Press reported Friday. "If Shell Oil, Chevron Appalachia and other companies are found to be abiding by a list of stringent measures to protect the air and water from pollution, they will receive the blessing of the new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, created by environmentalists and the energy industry," AP reports. However, as the Sierra Club was quick to point out, no amount of fossil fuel extraction, no matter how safe it is deemed, could be safe for the planet, based on what we know about the current fossil fuel induced climate crisis.
Fracking can leave an unsightly, uneven, and dangerous trail - altered earth, polluted water, toxic waste, and neighbors with reported health problems ranging from dizziness to death. Jenny Lisak, co-director of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air (PACWA), curates reports of people impacted by shale gas extraction and development in the “List of the Harmed.” The list is ever-growing and gives names, locations, and symptoms as reported by those exposed to the shale gas industry’s negative effects. As of March 20th, 2013 there are 1,123 reported incidents on the “List of the Harmed.” FracTracker, a nonprofit that offers shale gas-related data storage, analyses, and mapping, recently visualized the “List of the Harmed” in an interactive map. “Part of the reason the FracTracker Alliance wanted to map the list is because it helps people understand the geographic distribution of incidents. We find that putting data on a map provides people with an intuitive understanding of impacts that are being felt in their communities in ways that columns and rows of raw data sometimes do not convey,” explains Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology at FracTracker.
Oil in California is nothing new — it’s the third highest oil-producing state in the U.S. (after Texas and North Dakota, which recently displaced Alaska for the No. 2 spot). The Monterey area has been drilled for years, profitably, though production has been steadily declining since its peak in the mid ’80s. However, as you’ve no doubt read in recent breathless media accounts, drilling technology has advanced. Two techniques have been combined: hydro-fracturing, whereby fluids (a mix of water, sand, and chemicals) are injected into drill holes to break open tight rock formations, allowing liquid fuels to seep out; and horizontal drilling, whereby drills can travel laterally from drill sites, sometimes miles, allowing a single drill site to cover vastly more area. This is the “fracking” you’ve heard so much about. It puts all kinds of previously inaccessible fossil fuels within reach, albeit expensively. (Oil seems stuck near $100 a barrel, though; with prices that high, all kinds of crazy schemes are economic.)
On January 9, 2013, in otherwise quiet Highland Township in Elk County, Pennsylvania, officials signed a community rights bill into law stopping the deposit of fracking waste within the township. Seneca Resources, the drilling and fracking arm of National Fuel Gas of Williamsville, N.Y., had planned to inject its “production fluids” (oil and gas drilling and fracking waste) into an injection well about 2,200 feet from Crystal Springs — a main source of water for James City — according to the Kane Republican. Injection wells have a history, both long and recent, of failing to contain waste and increasing the risk of exposure to drinking water supplies. So, residents of Highland Township asked their municipal officials to say “No.” A Community & Environmental Rights Movement Highland Township is the latest on a list of over 140 other communities that have said ‘no’ to factory farms, waste incinerators, corporate water withdrawals, and now fracking by passing rights-based ordinances. Marsha Buhl, president of the Highland Township Recreation Association, collected signatures from more than 230 township residents in order to ban the injection well.
With high-profile activists like Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon taking a stand against fracking, the controversial drilling practice has been pulled from the periphery and placed in the public's main line-of-sight at a scale sparking movement from Hollywood. Promised Land, a film starring Matt Damon as a salesman for a natural gas company, hits theaters tonight, lending cinematic drama to the issue of fracking. While the large-scale exposure is valuable, Melissa Troutman, co-creator of another film on fracking, is careful to iterate an important fact, "Promised Land is a story, but this [Triple Divide] is a true story." Triple Divide, a documentary by Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman of Public Herald, carefully investigates the effects of fracking in the Marcellus Shale Region of Pennsylvania from the ground up, focusing its lens on the true accounts of neighbors who have lost their water well to contamination from drilling, and farmers, like the ones in Promised Land, who have lost their land to pollution from a nearby well pad. In their first live interview about the film, journalists Joshua and Melissa discussed Triple Divide and the impact of fracking with Stefanie Spear, Founder and Editor of EcoWatch, a news service designed to promote and build a community of grassroots environmental activism. You can watch the full interview above or at EcoWatch.
For us at Public Herald, 2012 was the ‘Year of the Snake.’ We’ve been intimately connected to water while shooting and editing our first documentary film Triple Divide, that began as a small project in 2011 but blossomed into a 95-minute Public Herald Studios production about fracking in the Marcellus Shale region. Like the water snake, we’ve been holed up in our Pennsylvania editing “den” for much of the year, only venturing out to devour necessary sustenance — truth and creativity — as the drama of deep shale extraction unfolds. Snakes get a bad rap, even in the oil and gas industry. Timber rattlesnakes are an issue near drill rigs in the mountain regions of northern and central PA, but are also protected as a vulnerable keystone-state species due to habitat destruction. “So what?” some may say, “what’s so bad about less poisonous snakes?” But snakes are only poisonous if you’re bitten. And the best prevention from a bite is being aware of, and intimately connected to, one’s surroundings.