Interview‘Gasland II’ maker says oil and gas industry undermining democracy

10 July 2013 22:46  [Source: ICIS news]

By Jeremy Pafford

HOUSTON (ICIS)--As one of the most vocal critics of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", in the US, filmmaker Josh Fox is again in the crosshairs of those as fervent in their beliefs on the benefits and safety of shale production as he is in his argument about the inherent dangers it poses.

While his Gasland II follow-up to 2010’s controversial documentary Gasland again tackles fracking, Fox said during a telephone interview on Wednesday that one of its main themes is that more than the environment is at stake – democracy is as well.

“The film Gasland II shows how the democracy has literally been taken away from the people by the pressure of oil and gas at very high levels,” Fox said. “That means democracy at its core out there – in the towns, in the suburbs, in the streets – has to be reinvented.”

Gasland II premiered to television audiences on Monday night on HBO. As was the case with the 2010 instalment, the film portrays fracking in a dim light and tells the stories of families and regions that have suffered from contaminated water and environmental damage due to shale exploitation. But Gasland II focuses as well on what Fox believes is the federal government embracing fracking at the behest of the oil and gas industry.

“In the second film, we were researching something that’s much more difficult to figure out, which is the ways in which the oil and gas industry is influencing, pressuring and pushing around the government,” he said. “That’s a harder question to ask because the people who are involved are less willing to talk. “

Reaction to the film has been mixed, with environmental and anti-fracking groups enthusiastically applauding Fox’s work, while pro-fracking and oil and gas groups have derided it as full of hoaxes and conspiracy theories.

The organisation Energy in Depth, launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), has railed on Gasland II as it did the original, with one headline proclaiming “From Flaming Faucet to Flaming Hose: The Continuing Fraud of Gasland”. The blog post refers to the scene in the first Gasland of a person lighting a faucet said to be spouting methane and the scene in Gasland II of a person lighting a water hose said to also spouting methane.

Filmmaker Phelim McAleer, who with Ann McElhinney released the pro-fracking counterpoint documentary FrackNation in January on AXS TV, has made it a goal to confront Fox in public as well as show FrackNation in towns where Gasland special screenings are being held.

Fox said he expected the criticism this time around – to a point.

“I expected them to argue on their points … but I did not expect that the approach would be 100% dishonest manipulation,” he said.

“The reaction from the industry is disgusting; it’s abhorrent; it’s absolutely sickening,” he added. “What they’re saying is that there is a hoax being perpetrated, and I find it one of the most repulsive, blatantly dishonest, knowingly dishonest press strategies that I’ve ever seen. They’re saying that somehow water contamination was faked. They know that is not true, and they’re doing it anyway. They know the things they’re saying are completely untrue, and they’re doing it anyway. I am just appalled.”

Fox readily points to a host of government and industry documents that he says support his argument that fracking inherently leads to issues such as migrating gas, fracking chemicals and liquid hydrocarbons that threaten water supplies and waterways. And then there is the issue of methane emissions, which are much more potent as a greenhouse gas (GHG) than carbon dioxide (CO2), he said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the federal government are not doing enough to regulate fracking, Fox said. In fact, he said, the pattern has been for the EPA to find contamination issues, for the states and industry to fight back against the finding and then for the EPA to relent.

“We’re talking about a regulatory system that’s in utter collapse and under the thumb of an industry that’s pushing and pressuring them not to do their jobs,” he said.

And then there is President Barack Obama, who has thrown his support behind the shale revolution.

“I think the Obama administration has decided that natural gas is the right way to go, and once they decided that, all of the sudden evidence that is inconvenient starts disappearing,” he said.

Production of oil and gas from shale plays has increased since Gasland premiered in 2010, but Fox remains optimistic that his message about the dangers of fracking is permeating through the country and around the world through his documentary and advocacy work. More importantly, he said, the anti-fracking movement is making waves on a grassroots level.

“Honestly, this is a movement that’s going to be increasingly about people making noise because it’s clear that the government is not being responsible in truly representing people,” he said.

“The fracking movement is reinventing democracy on the local level,” he added. “People are participating in ways that they were not participating before.”

By: Jeremy Pafford
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