By Robert A. Vella
Last night, Viceland aired the anti-fracking documentary Dear President Obama – written and directed by Jon Bowermaster and narrated by Mark Ruffalo. Although I’ve been closely following the use of hydraulic fracturing technology to produce oil and natural gas domestically in the U.S., the revelations presented in this extraordinary film were nevertheless quite shocking. I was most disturbed by the complicity of the American political, bureaucratic, and judicial establishment which enabled powerful energy corporations to callously destroy the lives of millions of citizens with little-to-no recourse. Their lands were seized or devalued, their vital water resources ruined, and the health and safety of their families were sacrificed all in the pursuit of short-term profit. In addition to the well-known association between Big Oil and Republican politicians, it was surprising to learn how involved and hypocritical the Democratic Party has been in this corporatist energy scheme – specifically, the Obama Administration, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and California Governor Jerry Brown.
The film documents the terribly egregious impacts to local communities in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, California, and elsewhere, while also exposing the societal costs of boom-and-bust economic policies as well as the existential exacerbation of climate change through the unavoidable release of methane (an incredibly potent greenhouse gas). The methane issue is proving to be a painful embarrassment for natural gas proponents who had advertised it as a “bridge” fuel between dirty coal and clean energy development. The film cites scientific evidence suggesting that the collateral release of methane is so great that the net effect to climate might have actually been lower had we relied on coal instead.
Dear President Obama concludes with the case of New York which banned fracking statewide last year not because of any brave leadership by Governor Andrew Cuomo, but because of a combination of grassroots organization backed up by scientific research. In other words, the people and science triumphed over corporatist politics.
The Secular Jurist is recommending this film as MUST SEE because it reveals not only the largely hidden human costs of fracking, but also the corruption of America’s institutional systems which caused it.