Many people may have seen or are familiar with Gas Rush Stories, a series of short documentaries about natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. According to the website, these stories are important to tell because “whether we live near a drilling site or downstream, whether we receive royalties or paychecks from a gas company, we are all impacted by this gas drilling in ways good and bad.” But how many of you know how Gas Rush Stories came to be? How many actually know the woman behind the curtain, Kirsi Jansa? If you have ever coordinated an event or been a speaker at one like I have, you have most certainly run into a wonderfully impassioned Finn standing behind her video equipment. Here is her Gas Rush Story…
A few weeks ago I sat down with Kirsi to get a better understanding of her work. Originally, I thought she was an extreme advocate against natural gas drilling, but like many other people with that perception, I was way off. Looking back, I don’t even know where I developed that idea about this energetic and passionate journalist. Kirsi has been covering environmental and public health issues for some time. A couple of years ago, she saw the need to develop a forum for people to share their experiences of this new industrial development in the northeastern United States. She sold the pilot idea as a project to the Finnish Broadcasting Company. The project eventually evolved into a series of documentaries on shale gas that presented various facets of the issue. She continues the project to this day and is looking for additional funding to develop an extension of the series called Rethinking Energy Stories.
It’s all who you know – and who you can access
Unfortunately, as those of us who work in this field know, the climate that surrounds unconventional natural gas drilling is tense at best. Kirsi has found it very difficult to access people with the true know-how. She says that the culture in the U.S. does not support bridging the gaps between industry, regulators, academia, and the public. (If you follow U.S. politics you will see this behavior mirrored in the inability or unwillingness of many politicians to work across party lines.) As a result of this barrier, many of her initial short videos showcase the negative aspects of drilling – partly because that is who agreed to speak publicly about it at the time and partly because that is where she saw the gaps in information being presented. Trouble accessing industry and regulatory experts only intensified when her stories were slammed as “advocacy-ridden.” Kirsi believes that her personal opinion on whether drilling should continue is irrelevant to the experiences being presented. “Even though I have concerns and critical questions, I want to you tell your story,” she relayed to me during our frank conversation. Through sheer persistence and fortitude, Kirsi later was able to cover other perspectives and issues such as frac fluid recycling with Reserved Environmental Services (RES), water management with engineering professor, Dr. Radisav Vidic, and even a short documentary in Germany.
In Need of a Transparent Dialogue
Kirsi feels that the lack of transparency inhibits true participation in the public dialogue regarding the nature of unconventional natural gas drilling. People need unbiased sources of information that allow them to develop their own opinions organically. The problem is that there seems to be no neutral party in this game, since all of us involved live and work in this economy. Unconventional natural gas extraction may offer many benefits (economic boosts, domestic energy production) but also many drawbacks (environmental spills and pollution, health risks). Through her stories, Kirsi hopes to highlight the need for us to listen to each other in order to develop a broader, more comprehensive picture of such a complicated issue.