US pro-fracking documentary stirs both support, criticism

24 January 2013 00:54  [Source: ICIS news]

US pro-fracking documentary stirs both support, criticismHOUSTON (ICIS)--Trade groups and activists had a lot to say on Wednesday, both for and against pro-fracking documentary FrackNation following its premiere on AXS TV on Tuesday night.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting a water-and-sand mixture into deep shale rock formations to free up previously inaccessible natural gas.

Directed by journalists Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, FrackNation challenges Josh Fox’s anti-fracking documentary Gasland and claims it reveals lies and exaggerations made by environmental and anti-fracking activists. Fox's film notoriously shows tap water being set afire from what the filmmaker claims is flammable gas that has contaminated the water supply because of fracking.

“There is a lot of opposition to fracking, but fracking has never been proven to contaminate groundwater – ever in America, period,” McAleer said by telephone on Wednesday. “Anti-fracking activists have been found guilty of fraud or misrepresentation in their involvement to create skepticism.”

McAleer said the film has had “nit-picking” bad reviews, but the overall response has been overwhelmingly gracious.

“I’m surprised by the volume of positive responses,” McAleer said. “It’s really impossible to keep up. I think there is a huge advocacy out there, and people are so happy now that the truth is out there, in their eyes.”

Keith Mauck, publisher of, said FrackNation “was exactly what we needed after Gasland” because it did a good job of telling the other side – those who were in favour of natural gas.

Gasland presented the industry in a highly negative light in a way that was dishonest,” Mauck said. “I think this film neutralised the story of Gasland, and I think the viewer will come away in a positive way, seriously doubting the premise behind Gasland.

“If FrackNation can get into the hands of people who are deciding, it can influence public opinion for natural gas drilling,” he added.

The Western Energy Alliance showed the documentary on Tuesday to about 400 people, including its members and their friends. McElhinney was also in attendance.

The film received a standing ovation, and the group has been receiving comments that were emotional, impactful and thought-provokingly positive, said organisation President Tim Wigley.

“In Gasland, Josh Fox absolutely flat out misrepresented the truth and flat out lied,” Wigley said. “[McAleer] did a good job using Josh Fox’s own words and governmental people that it was just scare tactics.”

Gasland respresentatives did not immediately respond to media inquiries on Wednesday.

The Montana Petroleum Association also showed the documentary on Tuesday to about 150 people, including legislators and representatives from the state Department of Natural Resources. McAleer was also in attendance.

“We wanted to have a conversation going and keep the dialogue going,” said Jessica Sena, a spokesperson with the association. “Some were applauding the film - hoots and hollers. ‘Thank you for bringing this.’ ‘I heard about fracking but didn’t know.’ Hopefully, movies like this will get people out and continue to push the dialogue forward to convey the truth.”

The Montana Petroleum Association said it would not support fracking if it was environmentally harmful.

“We can have the treasure state and the big sky,” Sena said. “We can have the economic benefits of fracking and maintain our pristine environment in Montana.”

But not everyone was full of praise for the documentary.

Energy In Denial founder Craig Stevens said McAleer “lied” to his sources by making them believe he was making an anti-drilling movie.

“He spent 20 hours filming people that were negatively affected, but he didn’t put anyone in it except for one,” Stevens said. “The entire film was about money. It was not about people who are sick or dealing with it for eight years. Josh Fox actually covered these things.

“McAleer claims he is a journalist,” Stevens added. “He doesn’t know about something, and then he lied about it. That makes you think a person like that should not be trusted and should not be putting a film out.”

John Armstrong, an organiser with Frack Action, said the documentary seems like a “propaganda piece to discredit science-based argument”.

“The director underestimates the American public,” Armstrong said. “Citizens will dismiss it and look to credible sources in forming opinions about fracking.”

While there are people on both sides of the debate, the former secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection said an accurate movie would be unbiased about gas migration - the phenomenon of gas infiltrating into a water supply.

“The truth about gas migration is that there are two causes for methane in water wells,” said John Hanger, who now serves as an attorney at Eckert Seamons. “One is that it can be naturally occurring – it was always there. The second cause is that there was a mistake in gas drilling that allowed it to contaminate people’s water wells.”

Hanger said he has not watched FrackNation but hopes it “simply isn’t biased as well”.

The documentary will be rebroadcast on AXS TV on 26 January at 11 a.m. Houston time (17:00 GMT) and on 2 February at 9 a.m.

By: Tracy Dang
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