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January 10, 2014
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Film star Debra Winger in Nevada County to promote fracking documentary

A famous name and a famous face afford a lot of opportunity to promote a pet cause — and Debra Winger definitely has both.

But when she talks about the practice of hydraulic fracturing, she is not speaking as an Academy Award-nominated actress. She is speaking as a mother of three children, a landowner and a concerned citizen.

“I think sometimes (fame) is detrimental because it sends the wrong message,” said Winger during a Friday press event in Nevada City. “You can’t take away your name if you made some money on it, but I think it’s important to figure out how to use it best.”

Winger is in town this weekend to promote the film “Gasland Part II,” for which she is credited as a creative consultant. It will be shown as part of the South Yuba River Citizens League’s 12th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

The documentary details the political processes surrounding fracking and the effects the practice has had on areas that have become “gaslands.” Gaslands are areas where energy companies have dotted the landscape with wells for extracting natural gas from the earth.

About eight years ago, Winger was made aware that her Catskills, N.Y., home sits on top of the Marcellus Shale, a vast, untapped supply of natural gas similar to the recently discovered and equally controversial Monterey Shale in California.

“I’m raising my kids, and this is my only home that I own and the only land that I own on this earth, and I’m supposed to be a steward of it,” said Winger.

“While I’m alive, I’m the steward of this land I bought, and putting chemicals into the earth sounded like a bad idea to me. I thought we’d learned that. You can’t really put chemicals in the earth and hope they go away.”

That feeling, combined with the realization that she would be powerless to stop an energy company from drilling under her land without her consent, led Winger to join the debate around fracking and to lend her support to Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary “Gasland,” to which “Gasland Part II” is a sequel.

Given the goals of the film to raise awareness and inspire action, the Wild & Scenic Film Festival is an ideal venue for hosting a screening.

Festival Director Melinda Booth said the event is an awareness-builder about the environmental movement that seeks to use film to inspire activism.

“With these environmental issues, these public health issues, it’s really hard to see how we’re going to come through and see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Booth. “But we aim with what we have here to have you leave inspired, as well. There is hope. There are things we can do.”

Joining Winger at the festival are Ramsay Adams and Wes Gillingham, the co-founders of Catskill Mountainkeeper, an environmental advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the Catskills region of New York.

All three spoke passionately about the effects fracking has on the environment and had strong words for an energy industry that promotes natural gas reserves such as the Marcellus Shale and the Monterey Shale as the path to American energy independence.

“They’re taking 8 million gallons of clean water, mixing it with thousands and thousands of pounds of chemicals, pumping it into the ground with enough force to break up the rock 8,000 feet under the ground, and I’m the extremist?” said Gillingham. “Watch ‘Gasland 2,’ and you will realize that you need to take action. We need to hold these people’s feet to the fire. We need to make changes in the government and in the agencies to protect ourselves.”

Both Gillingham and Adams spoke of the need to get involved in local issues, and though Winger does not much care for the phrase “not in my backyard,” she also stressed the importance of maintaining a local focus when supporting causes.

“It’s important to see what is really relevant to you because, in the end, that’s what’s sustainable,” she said. “Find what’s sustainable emotionally for you. Otherwise, you get burned out working for causes.”

What sustains Winger now is the mission to protect the land and the next generation from what she calls “a dirty fossil fuel,” which she says will neither help the environment nor lead to energy independence. For her, the fight began on the land beneath her feet but will continue across the nation.

“There isn’t a place that’s happy with fracking,” she said.

“Show me a place that’s happy with fracking, because it doesn’t exist. (The energy companies) will show you individuals. They will take you on their selective tour. There is not one gasland that you can go to where you don’t find suffering on some level — whether it’s people, animals, land or the future.”

To contact Staff Writer Anthony Barstow, email abarstow@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.


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The Union Updated Jan 12, 2014 01:18PM Published Jan 13, 2014 03:12PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.