Movie review: 'Gas Rush Stories' to unveil segment 14


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Shale gas drilling is deeply dividing the farming community in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, and nowhere are those rows hoed harder than on organic farms, according to the latest entry in a documentary film series by Pittsburgh-based journalist and filmmaker Kirsi Jansa.

The organic farming documentary is the 14th installment in Ms. Jansa's series "Gas Rush Stories" and focuses on the uncertainties and risks facing Pennsylvania's thriving organic farming community.

'Gas Rush Stories'

Where: Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room, Oakland.

When: Wednesday. A reception begins at 7 p.m. with the screening at 8 p.m.

Information: 412-681-5449.

Ms. Jansa, a native of Denmark, said she started the documentary series in 2011 to explore the shale gas drilling issue from the perspective of those who oppose it but has broadened it to include the stories of those who have benefited from it, too. And she chose the short documentary series format because shale gas drilling is a many-faceted story that's become too polarized to explore from just a couple of perspectives.

"There are so many different sides that I was inspired by the story of the blind king walking around an elephant to discover what it looked like," she said this week. "I'm sort of walking around Marcellus Shale and showing how people see it from their different perspectives.

"What I want to do is promote constructive conversation instead of all the shouting that often goes on."

Ms. Jansa's latest film captures the gritty farm scenes and rural beauty of southwestern Pennsylvania and juxtaposes them with the conflicting contexts of the "eat local" organic food supply movement and the reality of widespread Marcellus Shale gas drilling taking place across a broad belt of the state's agricultural and forested lands.

The filmmaker takes viewers to Stephen Cleghorn's Paradise Garden & Farms, a 50-acre goat dairy and creamery in Jefferson County, where the Marcellus Shale gas under the farm was leased by the previous owner and Mr. Cleghorn is concerned that drilling operations could contaminate his water supply. If that happens, he said, "the livelihood of the farm would be destroyed."

Also profiled is the 88-acre organic meat and egg farm near Bessemer in Lawrence County, owned by Maggie Henry, who sells her eggs, chickens, turkeys, cattle and pork to the East End Food Co-op, several Pittsburgh restaurants and at the Farmers at the Firehouse farmers market in the Strip District.

Deep shale gas drilling is occurring near her farm and in the middle of a historic oil field where there are more than 1,500 abandoned and uncapped wells. Ms. Henry is worried that those old wells will provide pathways for gas from new deep wells to contaminate the groundwater aquifer that supplies her farm.

Should such contamination occur, an organic farm could lose its certification for three years or longer, said Ms. Jansa, who is a community news partner in the Post-Gazette's "Pipeline" website, which chronicles coverage of the shale gas industry and provides a link to her earlier shale documentaries.

Several of those "Gas Rush Stories" focus on farm issues. One highlights a traditional cattle farm where a shallow water well had gone bad and another tells of a grain farmer whose experience with the drilling industry has been positive, she said.

"Every farmer takes a risk when their land is leased for drilling. If there's a spill or a leak, organic farmers run the risk of losing their certification. They also are worried about what chemicals are in the stuff the drillers use in the 'fracking' process, about the safety and well-being of their animals, what's happening to the food they take to market and the views of their customers."

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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