Haynesville Documentary

From Ruston Daily Leader, October 7, 2010

Stories of Haynesville Shale have been buzzing around for the last year or so.  It is always exciting to hear Louisiana in the news in ways not related to disaster.

This past Tuesday Louisiana Tech’s School of Architecture, College of Engineering and Sciences and the Department of Social Sciences sponsored a film screening for “Haynesville,” a documentary peering into the energy predicament in the country today.

The Haynesville Shale deposit is primarily located in four parishes in Northwest Louisiana—Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, and Red River, and has been touted as the largest natural gas discovery in North America (roughly 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas).  Its potential economic impact on North Louisiana is huge—leases on land in the area are reportedly increasing from $150 an acre to $30,000 over the span of a few months.  However beyond economy, it has potential to have long lasting, prolific impacts on the health of families, state and country.

The documentary was directed by Gregory Kallenberg and Mark Bullard—Kallenberg and Bullard were present at the film screening on Tuesday to present their work.  They have been travelling all over the country and parts of Europe with their story of Northwest Louisiana’s gold rush.  It has also been shown at the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen and the Sheffield International Documentary Festival.

Kallenberg and Bullard hail from Austin, Texas; however, Kallenberg is from North Louisiana originally.  At first blush, it is hard to imagine a documentary concerning natural gas to portray an honest, unbiased depiction.  Issues of this magnitude definitely bring to mind questions of how we define power.  Unfortunately money seems to be one of—if not, the—primary entitlement to power.  It has granted some incredible and perhaps undeserved power to those in the oil and gas industries.  And because money begets money, the power stays put.

One particularly salient point in the documentary was the story of Kassi Fitzgerald’s fight with ExxonMobil and Chesapeake for the rights of the landowners.  Because of the extraordinary perks that come with representing a huge corporation, companies like ExxonMobil can afford the best lawyers in town.  It is important that we keep asking ourselves how these industries could be blocking our growth as a nation.

Kallenberg’s intent for the film seems to be based on a desire to inspire positive change.  He says that he did not come at this project as an “energy guy”but rather, as a magazine journalist who simply enjoys finding a good story.  He recalls first hearing of the Haynesville discovery while sitting in a Strawn’s in Shreveport.  He talks of overhearing the recounted stories between townspeople, which seem reminiscent of the whispering buzz you can imagine spread during the California Gold Rush.  He says that after hearing some of these stories, he wanted to get “a good essence of people during an energy boom.”  He says, “Once we put context to it we came up with some big ideas.”

Part of the reason the energy discussion has stalled is due to the conflicting discourses.  On one side there are those who push for the drilling and inevitable revenue.  On the other side there are those who say you must not drill for environmental reasons.  And there are environmental issues to discuss, primarily issues of water contamination.  Kallenberg believes that the answer to the energy issues must be found in the rational middle.  It is now the duty of the state regulators and environmental scientists to be vigilant about doing what is just.

Haynesville Shale has gotten some praise for its potential to take the focus off of oil obtained from foreign countries so that we may be dependent on our own resources for energy.  Natural gas has been lauded as a way to facilitate sciences and innovators the cushion to continue to research and create renewable energy technologies.  Though it seems to be in accordance with history that we only create out of necessity.

The hope is that Louisiana will take this opportunity to make conscientious decisions about how we go about handling this resource.  Kallenberg closed the evening by mentioning that Louisiana is in a position to make demands on our government and corporations.  He said in his concluding remark, “Louisiana oddly enough has the opportunity to be an example to the rest of the world.”


Update on September 2011: Just read a post that exposes Kallenberg’s family history involvement with the oil and gas industry. The article also cites OpenSecrets.org to show that “the festival’s sponsors include some of the most powerful players in the natural gas arena: Apache Corporation, BP, El Paso Corp, Energy Future Holdings Corp, and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) — the largest natural gas industry lobbying consortium in the United States. ANGA spent over $3 million lobbying the U.S. Congress in 2010 and has already spent over $1 million lobbying Congress in 2011.”

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