When a natural gas company offered to pay Josh Fox $100,000 to explore for natural gas on his land, he didn't, like most of us, immediately start planning an overseas vacation. What he did do was pick up his camcorder and start asking questions. And while Josh Fox is no aesthete – his camera work is enough to give some cinema purists a stroke – what he does possess is curiosity, passion, and a little bit of anger.
And you'll be angry, too, when you see what Fox uncovers. The mining procedure of hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) involves the use of water to drill into the earth. A large percentage of that water is contaminated during the process but is merely left by the mining companies to be absorbed into the ground or run-off directly into the river systems of the region.
Fox travels all across America, encountering people and communities who, once relatively happy and carefree, or at least with nothing to fear from their water supply, now have to buy their water from Wal-Mart. The water supplies being contaminated by the fracking water, running out of the taps brown in colour, toxic and literally flammable.
That governments and corporations give no concern for the little people when there is a buck or two million to be made should come as no surprise to anyone. The Bush administration circumvented the Clean Air and Water Acts to allow companies such as Halliburton to drill in these regions, consequence free. They're also exempt from the Right To Know Act (so you don't know just what chemicals you are drinking) for good measure.
And, such is the US legal system, the onus is on those affected communities to prove that their water system was not contaminated before drilling commenced. Why should a mining magnate care if his company's drilling is poisoning the water of a community hundreds of miles and several states away? His kids aren't going to be drinking the water, so, what the hell!
The scary coda to the film is that hyrdraulic fracturing is already occurring in some Australian regions. And when governments increasingly seek to put profits before people, what's a little dirty or flammable water in an outback community when the overall goal is a sustainable Australia?
Like the recent trend of American documentaries – Food Inc., the Michael Moore oeuvre – Josh Fox aims to shock and alarm. Not to instill fear and dread, like his namesake Fox News, but to inform. Knowledge is power.