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NY Natural Gas Drilling Foes in Celebratory Mood

December 15, 2010

ALBANY, N. Y. - "Gasland" is a documentary that shows people living near natural gas wells lighting the water from their kitchen sink taps on fire. It's said to be on the short list for an Oscar nomination.

Filmmaker Josh Fox spent last summer showing the film in communities around New York State. He says he is pleased that Gov. Paterson has extended a moratorium on hydraulic drilling, known as "fracking," over concerns for the environmental impact.

"It's clear to me that New York is awake on this, and that moratorium that just went through is a huge, huge victory."

The Marcellus Shale Field that runs beneath the Catskills is targeted for extensive drilling by gas companies. They contend fracking is safe and see natural gas as a so-called bridge to an alternative energy future.

Actor Mark Ruffalo has a home in Sullivan County and met Josh Fox when the film won the Special Jury Prize at last winter's Sundance Film Festival. Ruffalo says he didn't consider himself an environmentalist – until now.

"I find myself raising a family on top of the Marcellus Shale where they want to put 100,000 wells in there, you know, in the next five years. And that peaked my interest, to say the least."

Fox says a Pennsylvania Homeland Security official had to resign after having screenings of Gasland put under surveillance and reporting the findings to the gas industry. Nothing of the sort happened in New York, apparently, but the screenings contributed to public awareness of the issue, says Fox.

"We toured extensively throughout New York State all summer, and obviously, the film premiered on HBO - it was a huge effect. But everywhere we went in New York State, we had sold-out crowds. We did, I don't know how many dates - tons and tons of dates."

Fox and Ruffalo commented at a party for the release of Gasland on DVD this week, which they hope will continue to open eyes to the controversy.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY