Written by Brian Welk
14 Monday 14th June 2010
In Alberta, Canada, massive amounts of oil are being extracted from the soil through a complex process different from regular drilling. It’s putting pollution in the local river, harming animals and people, it’s using up massive amounts of fresh water that is hurting small businesses, and as the process continues, an enormous carbon footprint is left behind that only accelerates the deterioration of the natural resources in the area. All this and more I learned from H2Oil, an informative, tough and brisk documentary that opened this weekend.
The film reveals that America’s greatest source for oil is not Saudi Arabia but is actually Canada. When oil prices skyrocketed after the start of the Iraq War, an extreme project went under way to clear out wildlife in Alberta so soil could be dug up and processed to extract the oil that enriches it.
The effects of this are remarkably widespread, affecting the environment, the economy and the health of the locals. In a brief 73 minutes, H2Oil does an astounding job of providing large amounts of information, however dour or science-heavy it may be.
Some of the stirring human elements of the film included a tribe of Native Americans experiencing increased cancer rates. Canadian oil companies denied they had anything to do with making the water cancerous, despite the existence of fish with massive tumors that were found in the river.
Another instance of this local neglect was with two bottlers of fresh spring water. They complained to the environmental arm of the Canadian government that the oilrigs in the area were draining their reserves and rapidly melting the massive and ancient glaciers in the area, but were given the cold shoulder.
The emotional aspects of H2Oil, while maybe not given all the screen time they deserve considering the length of the film, are certainly a driving force behind what makes the film so compelling. But more importantly is how relevant it appears following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The film obviously has no statement about this very recent incident, but it tears apart the global obsession with oil itself. It explains that water is an even more precious resource than oil is, and is even more expensive. Yet in Canada, the government is willing to use up four gallons of fresh water for every one gallon of oil that can be produced.
We have so much Green technology at our disposal to lower the global carbon footprint, and yet as these oilrigs ravage the Canadian landscape that took thousands of years to develop, none of it is being utilized. The truth is that society needs to change their attitudes about oil and energy in general before all of our resources are gone.
To start off the discussion, director Shannon Walsh spoke with us about her film, the impacts of the tar sands in Alberta and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
What attracted you to this subject as both an activist as well as a filmmaker?
It was actually a personal relationship that started the whole story. The water bottlers (in the film) are old friends of mine. They were pretty nervous about losing their water supplies, and they asked us to see if we could give them some support, but when I started learning about what was happening in the tar sands, I just couldn’t turn back. I saw this as one of the defining issues of our time. So I had to visually represent this and get the word out.
What is the biggest threat facing this region in regards to the tar sands?
Well, do you value the contamination of water more than people’s lives? It’s really hard to say. There’s almost no way to look at any aspect of it and not recognize the stupidity of the industry as it affects so many different parts of the region.
What was it like directing your debut feature film?
It was really hard, especially with a topic like this. I was surprised how difficult it was to talk to the industry and how much there was to learn. But it’s really rewarding to spread the world, and I’m really happy that people are now joining in.
What can people do to change their mindset and habits towards how they use oil?
We do have to spend time in our lives in becoming part of these discussions. This is a huge issue and to actually transition our culture against oil will take a lot. I think we should start locally in own communities and find ways to reduce our habits and find ways to live sustainably.
What do you have to say about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?
After hearing about the tar sands, it’s like, could this get any worse? It’s really hard to hear all the news because they are destroying every little bit of what we have left. If this isn’t a wake up call, what is?

And if you would like to see it, you can download a voucher right from our website that can be used at any VUE Cinemas where the film is being shown for a buy-one-get-one-free ticket. 

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