COLORADO SPRINGS, February 24, 2013 — Gasland is a 2010 film about fracking (slang for “hydraulic fracturing”). It features 11 residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania who are suing gas producer Cabot for allegedly polluting their well water. In the process they have become instant celebrities among environmentalists. Ignored in the film are 1500 residents who said their water was just fine and signed a petition that ultimately cancelled a pipeline project to bring them water from a neighboring town.
Activist/director Josh Fox made Gasland and mobilized the usual Hollywood celebrity suspects to denounce fracking.
Featured in the film is one couple’s now-famous flaming faucet, where the husband lights the methane in the water with a match.
The only problem with this theatrical journalism is the fact that methane occurs naturally in the area and, as film maker Phelim McAleer discovered by interviewing long-time residents, was in the local water long before fracking.
All this and more is described in the documentary Fracknation by directors Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, who also wrote and produced Not Evil Just Wrong and Mine Your Own Business. The movie was previewed in Colorado Springs yesterday at the closing of the Leadership Program of the Rockies annual retreat, with the directors present, providing commentary and answering questions.
McAleer is shown on camera tirelessly tracking down the scientific facts of the issues involved in the fracking debate. Indeed, one reason McAleer and McElhinney made the film was the lack of both real fact and a real debate.
The fact is that fracking is not a new technology, the first well having been drilled in 1947. Since then there have been over one million wells drilled and the technology has improved greatly.
Fracking for natural gas occurs at depths of one to two miles beneath the surface—far, far deeper than well water. Unsurprisingly, no ground water contamination has ever been found.
Both Pennsylvania state regulators and the EPA tested the water in question and found no contaminants. When confronted with the results of the EPA study, the couple who filed the suit reacted not with relief but with disbelief and anger.
Why should we care about the controversy surrounding a simple and proven technology that produces an abundance of cheap and clean natural gas?
One reason is that Gasland has achieved cult-like status among progressives and is shown in high schools around the country. Several members of Sunday’s audience confirmed that their children had been shown the film, one saying that the entire school had been assembled in the auditorium to see it.
Another reason is that oil shale discoveries in the United States, including the Niobrara deposits in Colorado, have raised the possibility of a long-lasting cheap supply of natural gas. But in Colorado Springs, the Sierra Club is trying to shut down the coal gasification plant and environmental activists are trying to ban fracking in the county. The state of Colorado already has some of the most strict regulations in the country, according to El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton.
Along the way, the movie explores the benefits and challenges of providing cheap energy. In a trip to Poland, McAleer visits with a Polish woman, a survivor of World War II and the post-war occupation of Poland by the Soviet Union. Now a retiree, she spends almost her entire monthly pension on energy costs—including expensive natural gas piped in from Russia.
British journalist James Dellingpole is interviewed saying that he believes the anti-fracking movement in Europe is funded by Russia, who sees fracking-produced natural gas as a serious competitor to Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled natural gas producer. Amazingly, an engineer in Sunday’s audience was on a conference panel with a Gazprom executive, and he confirmed that Gazprom recognizes the threat.
Unlike Fox’s efforts, which can count on liberal/progressive activists to fund his efforts, Fracknation was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. The filmmakers offered executive producer credit to anyone who supported the project; more than 3,200 people contributed $212,265, easily exceeding their $150,000 goal within just three weeks of launching. Every name is listed in the credits, which scroll for seven minutes.
Americans for Prosperity intends to bring McAleer and McElhinney back to Colorado Springs for another public screening later this spring.
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