Sweet Briar College will host Josh Fox, maker of the documentary films “Gasland” and “Gasland Part II,” as the 2014 Julia B. Waxter Environmental Forum speaker. Fox will present “The Case for a Total Ban on Fracking” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, in Murchison Lane Auditorium. Admission is free and non-ticketed with open seating.
Fox’s provocative 2010 documentary “Gasland” and the 2013 sequel explore the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” to extract oil and natural gas trapped in shale deep below Earth’s surface. Although not a new drilling technology, fracking for natural gas has helped fuel the recent energy boom in the United States. But Fox believes, and seeks to illustrate in his films, that hydraulic fracturing is too damaging to the environment, particularly to watersheds in areas where drilling occurs.
Assistant professor of environmental science Tom O’Halloran has shown “Gasland” in his Introduction to Environmental Issues class for several years, and led the effort to bring Fox to Sweet Briar as this year’s Waxter Forum speaker. Fracking is, O’Halloran notes, “one of the biggest environmental issues of our time.”
It became a matter of concern to Virginians two and a half years ago when the U.S. Forest Service’s draft 15-year management plan for the George Washington National Forest included a prohibition on fracking. Oil and gas companies, fearing it would set a precedent for banning the practice on public lands, objected, stirring a debate that hadn’t yet reached the state.
The forest lies mostly in Virginia, including in Amherst County. Along the state’s western border, the GWNF overlies the outer edge of the Marcellus Shale — the source of the most productive natural gas drilling in the eastern United States. The portion in Virginia is considered less attractive for drilling than the middle of the shale formation that underlies parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Fox alleges drilling on private lands in states where fracking is allowed has contaminated local water sources and threatens watersheds.
Since the public response to the proposed fracking ban began, the Forest Service has delayed issuing its updated management plan, which governs what activities are allowed in the forest. As of Dec. 12, 2013, the analysis and review was ongoing, according to the USFS website. Drilling for oil and gas using any technology is allowed in the nearly 1 million-acre forest, but Roanoke-based public affairs officer JoBeth Brown says she isn’t aware of any leases or interest in developing wells in the GWNF.
According to his publicist, Fox will tell his personal story and speak about hydrofracking and his latest film, “Gasland Part II,” during his visit to Sweet Briar. He’ll discuss grassroots efforts across the country to stop fracking, as well as what gas companies plan to do with future gas production.
For more information about Fox or his films, visit blueflowerarts.com/booking/josh-fox.
For more information about the event, please contact O’Halloran at [email protected] or (434) 381-6389.