SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 11, 2010
Director: Gregory Kallenberg
The 96 townships contained a rural area in northwestern Louisiana, were told in 2008 that they were sitting on top of an energy goldmine – the Haynesville shale. This gas field is estimated to contain 170 trillion cubic feet (or the equivalent of 28 billion barrels of oil). As we are told by Haynesville, that is a lot of gas – it can also equate to a lot of money. Cue the Beverly Hillbillies theme song.
Haynesville tracks three people with varying perspectives and experiences of the discovery of the Haynesville shale. The first, Mike Smith, loves guns, hunting and freedom. (I would venture to guess that he is probably a Libertarian.) His 300 acres of land transforms Mike into an instant millionaire. The second, Kassi Fitzgerald, is a single mom who becomes a community activist upon learning that one of her neighbors was ripped off by an oil company. For no charge, she begins to represent an ever-growing consortium consisting of her neighbors’ small plots which allows for stronger bargaining power with the oil companies. Thirdly is Pastor Reegis Richard, whose church and ministry benefits greatly from the Haynesville shale because his congregation has more money to donate. To Pastor Richard the natural gas reserve is a gift from God – specifically so that he can realize his dream of rebuilding his childhood school, transforming it into a Christian academy.
Kallenberg does a very nice job of keeping everything in perspective – especially in relation to the U.S.’s energy dependency. (Though the primary three subjects’ stories are all engrossing, Haynesville really succeeds with this support element.) He uses a wide array of respectable talking head environmentalists and energy industry experts, who one after another explain why the U.S. needs to wean itself off oil and coal and how natural gas (including the Haynesville shale) may represent a bridge between the “dirty” energy of the past and the clean “renewables” (wind, solar) of the future. Some of these points given by the experts could really use more and/or clearer visual aids so that these statements will really pack a punch. (A confusing example: one visual aid is a plain map of the U.S. with a line drawn from L.A. to New York City – this is meant [I think] to represent a quantity of natural gas but instead it seems to represent a distance being traveled [by gas driven cars?].)
Haynesville also leaves some unanswered questions, which hopefully means there will be a sequel of some sort…or maybe Kallenberg will continue to build on this documentary and make it longer? I, for one, really want to know what happens to Kassi and her neighborhood consortium.
Either I have not been keeping up with current events in the wide world of energy, or the historic discovery of the largest natural gas field in the United States (if not the world) somehow slid under the radar of national news. So, first of all, I have to thank director Gregory Kallenberg for making this documentary. As much as I hate how the world relies so much on coal, oil and gas for energy; knowing that such a significant natural gas reserve exists eases my mind in a strange sort of way. My ease is partially because the world (especially the U.S) is obviously not prepared (nor are we currently preparing ourselves) for our coal and oil reserves to be exhausted – I won’t even mention the issues regarding the climate changing effects that the use of coal and oil have on our world – and partially because natural gas is the lesser of the evils when it comes to utilizing the earth’s minerals for energy.