SAN ANTONIO – The Eagle Ford Shale is drawing an estimated $30 billion in industry investment this year, and this week the massive amount of oil-field activity also attracted anti-drilling activist and filmmaker Josh Fox.
Fox, the banjo-strumming citizen journalist, appeared at a free screening of his new movie “Gasland 2” Thursday night at Santikos Northwest 14, where he did a Q&A session with the audience and encouraged attendees not simply to oppose drilling, but to support renewable energy.
“People are really being abused by this industry,” he said in an interview this week. “This is a film about our democracy. Another layer of contamination happens — the contamination of our government. This is the oil and gas industry lighting our democracy on fire.”
The first “Gasland” movie was nominated for an Academy Award and features now-famous images of people across the country lighting their well water on fire and talking about health problems.
It also spawned a side industry of competing documentaries such as “FrackNation,” which talks to landowners and scientists who are in favor of drilling, as well as industry websites devoted to debunking Fox’s facts and position.
Celebrity fractivists: True advocates or NIMBYs?
“Gasland 2 is the worst movie sequel since Caddyshack 2, and shows even less interest in real science,” Steve Everley of the industry website Energy in Depth, said by email. “The thesis of the movie is a categorical denial of the facts, all in the hope of confusing the public and advancing a marginalized agenda. Everything Josh Fox has said has been debunked, and no one takes him seriously — except for the handful of hardcore ideologues and conspiracy theorists who were never interested in the facts anyway.”
The Obama administration also has said it is in favor of domestic shale drilling.
Fox said that public health and clean water are at risk from drilling, especially hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process of pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to crack open dense shale and let oil and gas flow up a well.
“It breaks down along political lines,” Fox said. “There are a lot of people who are rah-rah-rah before they come in. They drink the Kool-Aid or the frack fluid. Now they realize they can’t live there because they’re in an industrial zone.”
Fox said the country should move toward developing more sources of wind, solar and other renewable energy as rapidly as possible, and noted that Texas produces more wind energy than any other state. He also said a well failure could create a pathway for methane to migrate.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 72 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide during the first two decades after it is released.
But a broad peer-reviewed study published this month said energy companies are making a big dent in the amount of harmful methane emissions that escape from natural gas wells, and that the emissions were much lower than previously estimated.
The University of Texas study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also revealed bigger-than-expected methane leaks from valve controllers and other equipment at well sites.
“Gasland 2” features several Texas homeowners who live near drilling sites.
Among the most controversial cases is that of Steven Lipsky, who was shown in the movie lighting a vent hose from his well water.
“Sky is pink”: Josh Fox releases new short documentary on fracking
The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order against a nearby oil and gas operator, but later withdrew it and dropped its investigation. The Texas Railroad Commission determined that the methane was from a shallow formation that Lipsky’s water well had tapped.
Lipsky has been embroiled in litigation with Range Resources, and a state appellate court in April left pending the company’s claims for defamation and business disparagement, but didn’t give an opinion about whether it claims had merit.
This week the website Energy Wire reported that the Railroad Commission has opened new investigations into other water wells near Lipsky’s home.
Fox was screening the movie in Dallas on Friday and in Fort Worth on Saturday.
His next documentary subject: worker injuries in the country’s oil and gas fields. Fox plans to release a short film in early 2014.
Express-News and Houston Chronicle archives and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report.
Warner Brothers Theater
"The Campaign" deals with two candidates' bitter race for a congressional district seat, but it also depicts two wealthy political donors -- the Motch brothers. The brothers are a play on the Koch brothers.
Promised Land is a fictional story about a landman for a natural gas company. He has an impressive record of closing deals until he runs into a town wary of the new drilling.
Francois Duhamel / AP
"There Will Be Blood" is another obvious choice. The movie is about oilman Daniel Plainview who is set to do anything to achieve his goals.
"The China Syndrome" is about a reporter who discovers a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant.
"O Brother, Where Art Thou" doesn't scream energy, but the plot centers on a hydroelectric project that's about to submerge some stolen loot.
Murray Close / Associated Press
"Hunger Games" has a subtle energy plot line. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen comes from District 12, a coal mining district.
MELINDA SUE GORDON / AP
"Zoolander" is about a clueless fashion model who is brainwashed to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Derek Zoolander comes from a family of coal miners. In the movie, Larry Zoolander says, "Dammit Derek, I'm a coal miner, not a professional film or television actor."
The Bugs Bunny short "Oily Hare" screams energy from the opening scene. A Texas oilman fights Bugs Bunny over property rights to his rabbit hole. As he says in the movie, "There just ain't no hole in Texas without oil gushing out of them."
"Monsters Inc." is about a city that is powered by scaring children.
"Boom Town", which came out in 1940, is about two buddies who rise to become oil tycoons.
"October Sky" is mainly about a group of kids who build rockets for fun in a coal mining town. The main character, Homer H. Hickam Jr., is the son of the manager of a coal mining operation in town and briefly works in the coal mine.
"Coal Miner's Daughter" is a bit like Zoolander. She isn't in the coal business, but she -- and her story -- revolve around the coal industry.
The plot in "Deliverance" centers on a plan to block the Cahulawassee River valley to make a hydroelectric dam.
Warner Brothers Pictures
"Syriana" is a politically charged movie about the state of the oil industry and those who are affected by it.
Warner Brothers Pictures
"Giant" is about a Texas rancher who visits a couple's Maryland home to buy a horse and falls in love with their daughter. However, energy gets into the mix with a bitter rivalry with an oil tycoon.
American Broadcasting Company
One segment of "SchoolHouse Rock!" is about energy. Remember "The Energy Blues"?
"Hellfighters," which stars John Wayne, is about macho oil well fighters and their wives. You won't get more basic than that.
Twentieth Century Fox
"How Green Was My Valley" is about a Welsh coal mining town and the struggles of one family.
"The Kingdom" opens by explaining how oil drilling has transformed the Middle East. The oil industry takes a front row seat during the movie about a terrorist attack on an American housing compound.
Cinecom Entertainment Group
"Matewan" is about a labor union organizer who comes to help a mining community that is dominated and harassed by a coal company.
"Local Hero" is about an American oil company that sends a man to Schotland to buy up land for a refinery.
John Wayne starred in "Pittsburgh", a film about the coal and steel industries in the city.
ABC Motion Pictures
"Silkwood," which stars Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell, is about a woman who works at plutonium processing plant that was purposefully contaminated.
"Back to the Future" centers around a plutonium-powered DeLorean that can time travel.
"Thunder Bay," which was released in 1953, is about a clash between shrimpers and oilmen. The oilmen are working to begin construction of an offshore rig.
Walter Wanger Productions
Tulsa is set in Oklahoma during the oil boom. The plot centers on the death of man killed by the Tanner Oil Company.
Twentieth Century Fox
Wild River is about a field administrator who comes to Tennessee to oversee the building of a hydroelectric dam on the Tennessee River.
Cars 2 centers on the debate between gasoline and alternative transportation fuels.
"Written on the Wind," which was released in 1956, is about a hard-working geologist for the Hadley Oil Company.
Chain Reaction is about two researchers who work on a alternative energy project. During the movie, they are framed for murder and treason.
Industrial Light & Magic / © 200
Ironman might be about a superhero, but Tony Stark loves energy. In fact, he likes it so much that he is powered by an unique energy source.
"On Deadly Ground" is about a martial arts and environmental agent who takes on a corrupt oil corporation.
"Race the Sun" is another movie about cars and alternative energy.
Marlon Brando starred in "The Formula" in 1980. The movie is about a detective who uncovers a formula developed by the Nazis to turn synthetic products into gasoline.
"Urban Cowboy," which stars John Travolta, is about a guy from the country who learns about life and love in a Houston bar. Bud works at a Pasadena refinery.