by Jeremy Moule
Most people probably think of "Gasland" when they think of fracking documentaries. But really, it's just one of several good films on the topic.
This week, I've had the opportunity to watch a couple of them. One of them, "The Sky is Pink," is a free, short film put together by "Gasland" director Josh Fox. It's essentially Fox's critical response to the fracking plan floated by Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration. Under the plan, high-volume hydraulic fracturing would be allowed in the deepest parts of the Marcellus Shale - in simple terms, the Southern Tier counties - and only in communities that approve of the technique.
The other film, "Split Estate," is from 2009, which means it predates "Gasland." It's based in Colorado and, as the title implies, it deals heavily with the legal concept of split estates. That's where one person owns the surface rights to a piece of property and the federal government or someone else owns the subsurface mineral, oil, or gas rights. As the documentary points out, that means that sometimes drilling rigs unexpectedly pop up near people's homes. And those people have to deal with consequences like contaminated water.
Whether the split-estate scenario exists or is pervasive in New York, I'm not sure. New York does, however, have a compulsory integration law (a Department of Environmental Conservation fact sheet is available here). The law is complicated, but it can force mineral-rights owners into gas leases when a driller has mineral rights for surrounding properties. The film serves as a broader cautionary tale about how some people benefit when a well is imposed somewhere, but others suffer. For that, it's worth checking out.