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Split Estate

Imagine discovering that you don't own the mineral rights under your land, and that an energy company plans to drill for natural gas two hundred feet from your front door using the controversial technology known as fracking. Imagine another shocking truth: you have little or no recourse to protect your home or land from such development. SPLIT ESTATE maps a tragedy in the making, as citizens in the path of a new drilling boom in the Rocky Mountain West struggle against the erosion of their civil liberties, their communities and their health.

Exempt from federal protections like the Clean Water Act, the oil and gas industry has left this idyllic landscape and its rural communities pockmarked with abandoned homes and polluted waters. One resident demonstrates the degree of benzene contamination in a mountain stream by setting it alight with a match. Many others, gravely ill, fight for their health and for the health of their children.

SPLIT ESTATE zeroes in on Garfield County, Colorado, and the San Juan Basin, but the industry is aggressively seeking new leases in as many as 32 states. They are even making a bid to drill in the New York City watershed, which provides drinking water to millions.

As our appetite for fossil fuels increases despite mounting public health concerns, SPLIT ESTATE cracks the sugarcoating on an industry that assures us it is a good neighbor, and drives home the need for alternatives -- both here and abroad.

'Split Estate effectively dramatizes the concentrated costs regularly borne by those who reside on or near the underground energy resources that most of us take for granted. Even reasonably knowledgeable viewers are likely to come away with a heightened understanding of both the politically privileged position of our nation's extraction industries and the role that concerned citizens can play in holding those industries accountable.' Christopher H. Foreman, Professor, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Author, The Promise and Peril of Environmental Justice

'Split Estate is an excellent and timely look at a critical issue in energy development. Our nation's headlong rush into energy development on public lands sounds fine--until the drilling rig sits outside your backdoor. The government's retention of mineral rights on millions of acres of private land will continue to destroy the lives and dreams of Americans until Congress confronts the split estate problem. Thanks for exposing this dirty little secret legacy from the past.' Jack Tuholske, Fulbright Scholar, Professor of Law, Vermont Law School

'The latest wrinkle in our nation's addiction to fossil fuels is the discovery that we may be able to unlock vast reserves of natural gas by 'fracking' previously impermeable formations. Split Estate is a valuable commentary about the impacts of this development...The film puts faces and personal stories to the dilemma, whether in home videos of flaming bubbles in a creek that provides drinking water or in the faltering steps of a once vibrant, now debilitated woman.

Photographs do not lie, and crisp aerials vividly show the extensive footprint of the drill pads and how they pock the landscape. Infrared night images show that volatile organic carbons, invisible by daylight, are constantly escaping from the gas storage tanks into the air. Animated overlays of drilling activity on satellite images and maps make the statement that the problems of expanded drilling are compelling.

In addition to the feature film, the DVD contained extras that are especially helpful from my standpoint as an educator. These extras provide more information about the legal issues involved and efforts for community action...Split Estate is a powerful tool for helping us reflect on how we will balance the true costs of developing natural gas as our nation's 'bridge fuel to the future.'' K.K. DuVivier, Professor of Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Author, The Renewable Energy Reader

'Highly recommended for collections with an interest in environmental issues, especially those with a focus on the western United States.' Tom Ipri, University of Nevada, Educational Media Reviews Online

'Eye-opening...This riveting program sounds the alarm on current energy practices.' Candace Smith, Booklist

'The split estate model may work well for gas firms, [but] not so well for people living on affected tracts of land...Split Estate represents a thorough, engaging, and important peek into hydraulic fracturing and natural gas extraction...Environmental health and social impacts are presented with vivid compassion for those living in the middle of a split estate. Recording their experiences creates a compelling case against hydraulic fracking in its current, deregulated form.' Stephanie Malin, Rural Connections

'Split Estate is an eye-opening examination of the consequences and conflicts that can arise between surface land owners in the western United States, and those who own and extract the energy and mineral rights below. This film is of value to anyone wrestling with rational, sustainable energy policy while preserving the priceless elements of cultural heritage, private enterprise above-ground, and the precious health not only of people but the land itself.' Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico

'Split Estate is a moving portrait that highlights important questions regarding the safety of hydraulic fracturing near our local communities.' U.S. Representative Diana DeGette, Colorado

'Tells a powerful story about Americans living with the dirty side of oil and gas development in their own backyards. As oil and gas production expands to more and more places throughout the country, it is essential that communities have the information they need to support policies that protect our health and environment.' Amy Mall, Senior Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council

'You tell an important and compelling story. You have captured brilliantly the issues and are helping tell the story that needs to be spread to a much broader audience.' Gwen Lachelt, Executive DIrector, The Oil and Gas Accountability Project

'A must-see film for any elected official who deals with natural resources issues and the impact that oil and gas extraction can have on a community. Anyone who sees the film will be changed by the experience - for the better.' Brian Egolf, New Mexico State Representative

'I urge our elected leaders--especially those who make decisions about energy development and environmental health in the Rocky Mountain West--to confront and tackle the critical issues raised in this film.' Sandy Buffett, Executive Director, Conservation Voters New Mexico

'We are fighting for our lives here in the Marcellus Shale in NY and PA. Your film may save us.' Diane MacInnes

'From the first viewing, it appears the documentary has teeth that quite literally draw the viewer into the grips of the devastation told by Debra Anderson and the people she interviewed...This can become a vehicle to tell the truth about the devastation of natural gas development, and perhaps persuade those who do not understand this, to say 'no' to this leviathan.' Kathleen Dudley, co-chair Drilling Mora County, NM

'A harrowing documentary of the predatory ruthlessness that fuels America's endless thirst for oil and gas...Energy companies can and will drill for natural gas right outside a family's front door...Above all, Split Estate is not only the plight of the few -- it is about the long-term health and environmental costs of America's addiction to oil, and drives home the need to find alternative energy sources here and abroad. Highly recommended.' The Midwest Book Review

'Our DOAS [Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society] chapter purchased the DVD Split Estate for showing in the community...and a lively discussion followed....Here in New York State we are facing a similar prospect, as natural gas drillers are preparing to drill and hydro-frack hundreds of wells both vertically and horizontally, hoping to make millions of dollars in the process. We DO have an opportunity to protect our land and health, and to preserve the beauty of upstate New York State. We DO OWN our mineral rights, and need to protect our homes and land from the driller's lack of concern. We CAN protect our civil liberties and communities and health! One of the best ways to do this is to educate and inform others about the massive hydro-fracking push throughout our area.' Jean T. Miller, The Kingfisher, newsletter of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society

'Split Estate is one of those films that makes you shake your head in disgust...Train ever watchful eyes on corporate practices, on the quality of life they're willing to sacrifice. Maybe you think we need those riches under our good ol' American soil. Maybe these enterprises haven't scratched your surface painfully enough yet. Maybe they haven't started drilling under your quality of life yet.'
Chuck Jaffee, The Union


Main credits

Anderson, Debra (film producer)
Anderson, Debra (film director)
Anderson, Debra (cinematographer)
Anderson, Debra (film editor)
Day, Joe (screenwriter)
Garrett, Avery (screenwriter)
Wendt, Jean (screenwriter)
MacGraw, Ali (narrator)

Other credits

Cinematographers, Debra Anderson, Dave Bowden, Doug Crawford; editor, Debra Anderson; music by Tim Anderson, Chris Jonas, Music Box, Michael Stearns, Molly Sturges, Run Sunsinger, Joe West.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Air Pollution
American Studies
Climate Change/Global Warming
Environmental Justice
Natural Resources
Science, Technology, Society
Social Justice
Toxic Chemicals
Western US


fracking, oil drilling, natural gas drilling, health, environment, Rocky Mountain West,; mineral rights, natural gas, drilling boom, civil liberties, communities, Garfield County, San Juan Basin, Clean Water Act, oil and gas industry, benzene, good neighbor program, New York state, 1872 mining law, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom Udall, John Kerry, Daniel Teitelbaum, Conoco Phillips, hydraulic fracturing, Theo Colborn, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, EnCana, EPA, Weston Wilson, Bill Ritter, Ken Salazar, Lance Astrella, Ken Gurdes, toxics, pollution,"Split Estate",Bullfrog Films

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