Documentary filmmaker Josh Fox has reaped praise and criticism for his film Gasland.
Now, he’s won what he calls a very timely award.
The Manayunk Development Corporation honored Fox this weekend with its My Eco-Champion Award during the second Manayunk EcoArts Festival.
The award recognizes individuals who create awareness about green projects and advocate enviromental protection.
Gasland explores the environmental and economic effects of the country’s booming natural gas drilling industry.
Fox, a Pennsylvania native, focuses on what is happening in his home state as drilling companies descend on the Marcellus Shale. The expansive, underground rock formation – which runs from West Virginia through Pennsylvania to New York, contains what may be the country’s largest source of untapped natural gas reserves.
Fox said that winning the award in Philadelphia was significant because of its timeliness. In October, the Delaware River Basin Commission will vote on whether to permit natural gas drilling along its namesake watershed.
“This crisis has gotten extremely real,” he said, noting that the upper Delaware River watershed is “where you guys get your water.”
The film’s most iconic scene finds Fox in a Colorado kitchen igniting a family’s tap water. The couple contends that the shocking display comes courtesy of increased methane levels, the byproduct of living so close to drilling sites. A similar scene occurs in Dimock, Pa.
Critics of Gasland, including gas industry officials, contend that Fox exaggerates and distorts the potential harm from gas drilling. They contend that methane has always existed in water supplies in northeastern Pennsylvania, even before drilling started.
Fox disagrees: “Every once in a while you have a little bit of methane in a private water well, but in a very low concentration, nowhere near flammable.”
The filmmaker doesn’t think Philadelphia’s water will become flammable, but he is concerned that chemicals used in a process known as hydraulic fracturing will find their way into the supply.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” shoots highly-pressurized water mixed with chemicals into the ground as a way of releasing natural gas from rock formations. The process is the key to unlocking the Marcellus Shale gas deposits.
“There’s a human health concern and there’s an economic concern,” Fox said about the spread of fracking. “Philadelphia would have to completely overhaul its water treatment facilities.”
The MDC also awarded Philadelphia Streets Commissioner Clarina Tolson a My Eco-Champion Award. Tolson was applauded for her efforts to ramp up recycling in Philadelphia.
“This earth is the only one that I’m aware of and we have to do our part to make sure that it is around for as long as it can be,” said Tolson.
City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., one of last year’s honorees, announced the winners along with MDC Executive Director Jane Lipton.
Jones, whose district includes Manayunk, introduced a resolution into City Council last winter that called for a moratorium on Marcellus Shale gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed. The measure, which has no legal force and simply reflected the views of Council, passed unanimously.