‘Dear President Obama’ Investigates Our Fracked Up America

They told me I’d loose my teeth.  I pulled my own.”, Sal sullenly intoned and attempted to show a sense of control over a disease that will soon take him.  Sitting at his kitchen table with a despondent expression and watery downcast eyes, the man gazed at his hand.  His sullied worn hand, evident of past hard labor and his working class life, rolled a collection of blood-stained teeth like dice – teeth he’d lost in the last year.  The West Virginian blames his cancer and the resulting teeth loss on chemical exposure during his tenure as a fracker.  Sal’s story, along with many others, is revealed in Dear President Obama: The Clean Energy Revolution is Now, a film that investigates the harmful effects of fracking and the petroleum industry’s influence in the country’s political system.

A critical view on President Obama’s administration is set early in the film.  “So do not tell me that we’re not drilling, we’re drilling all over this country.”, the president pronounces while boasting about America’s natural gas surplus.  Under his administration 80,000 new oil and gas wells have been drilled and popularity of fracking has surged.

Traveling to both coasts and the heartland, the documentary gives a very American perspective on the fracking controversy by interviewing the farmers, industry workers, and rural residents most affected by fracking wells.  Their unsettling accounts include uranium contaminated water in Pennsylvania, earthquakes in Arkansas, benzene in the blood of Coloradans, cancer in West Virginia, flammable well water in Texas, massive methane leaks in Porter Ranch, and hydrocarbon vapor poisoning in Los Angeles.  As the organic farmer in Pennsylvania stated, “[Fracking] can’t be done responsibly.  It’s not being done responsibly at this time. . . . There is a major human rights story unfolding before us.”

The journey ends in a rebellious New York State, where governor Cuomo bans fracking amid a storm of protests and public scrutiny.  Mark Ruffalo, the film’s narrator, is seen holding a milk carton of polluted Pennsylvania well water as he speaks to anti-fracking protesters.  Near the film’s denouement, we catch glimpses of a promising future – radiating solar thermal towers, spinning wind turbines, and fleets of electric cars teases out a notion that the clean energy revolution is ours to loose.

The film, directed by Jon Bowermaster and narrated by Mark Ruffalo, played recently at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater during the 2016 Green Film Festival.

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