The United States is on its way to complete energy independence thanks to the shale revolution. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are on the rise, but thus far they've been dwarfed by the plentiful reservoirs of shale gas and oil under the arid landscapes of Texas. Bolstered by the Trump administration, the industry's future is growing rosier by the day. Produced by the VPRO Backlight documentary series, Shale Cowboys portrays the pioneers who have helped to usher in this energy renaissance, and examines the environmental and human health risks it has brought forth.
At one time not long ago, these lands were considered largely barren of energy value, and the U.S. relied heavily on foreign countries to fulfill their insatiable energy needs. That narrative changed rapidly once a team of expert geologists discovered a way to tap shale and other previously impenetrable rock formations for their oil and gas reserves. Today, the U.S. is not only producing this energy at an alarming rate, but it's also become a major energy exporter.
Fracking is the name of the process by which these energy sources are extracted. It's a practice that's proven both lucrative and controversial since its invention in the late 90's. Fracking has lined the pockets of many struggling land owners throughout Texas, built an industry worth untold billions, employed hundreds of thousands of American citizens, and altered the energy profile of the entire country. Technologies have allowed companies to extract these reserves cheaper and more efficiently than ever before, and costs have become increasingly competitive with other parts of the world.
But this bounty of riches has also come at a price. The promise of clean, renewable energy has taken a backseat to this emerging oil and gas boom. Meanwhile, fracking has the potential to pollute fresh water reserves, promote earthquake activity, and harbor a harmful and long-term environmental impact.
According to the industry experts profiled in the film - most of whom are direct financial beneficiaries of fracking - the benefits far outweigh any potential risks. Shale Cowboys drills deep to explore each facet of this divisive industry.