New film comes to defense of fracking

Makers of an upcoming documentary that seeks to counter the anti-hydraulic fracturing film “Gasland” have raised over $36,000 through crowdsourcing in a matter of a few days.

The creators of the new documentary called “FrackNation” hope to dispel what they view as inaccuracies in the Oscar-nominated film “Gasland” and give more voice to those who live in the communities that are benefiting economically from natural gas drilling.

Phelim McAleer, formerly a journalist with The Economist and Financial Times, is teaming up with his wife Ann McElhinney, a fellow former journalist, in making the film. The Irish couple in the past have made other films that took a critical eye toward such ideas as global warming and environmentalism, including “Not Evil Just Wrong,” which challenged the ideas in Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

McAleer said he was inspired to make “FrackNation” after he had an exchange at a question-and-answer session with “Gasland” director Josh Fox over that film’s notorious scene showing residents lighting their water coming from their faucet on fire.

“He admitted that people could light the tap water decades before fracking ever started,” McAleer said in a phone interview. “But he decided not to include it in the documentary because, quote, ‘It wasn’t relevant.'”

McAleer said he posted a video of the exchange online, only to have Fox’s lawyers successfully fight to have it taken down because it included a short clip from “Gasland.”

He viewed that as a journalist censorship of another journalist.

“That got me interested in the whole story,” McAleer said. “What is he covering up, and what’s the real story here?”

In video posted online of that question-and-answer session, Fox seeks to rebut McAleer’s criticisms that he had intentionally excluded from “Gasland” reports of gas being in the water and people lighting it long before fracturing started, saying those reports from various places didn’t necessarily have bearing on the particular situation of the residents he shows in the film: “The citizens reported they could not light their water on fire before the drilling and after the drilling they could light the water.”

The debate over fracturing has only gotten more heated of late, especially in Congress, where oil and gas advocates are wary of looming regulations of the practice from the Interior Department and studies of it from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department.

Environmental groups and many Democrats, meanwhile, say the regulations are needed to protect the public from the pollution they claim is caused by hydraulic fracturing, where mixtures of water, sand and chemicals are injected underground at high pressures to break up the rock that holds oil and gas.

McAleer argues that the debate over hydraulic fracturing has been dominated by upper-class urbanites, and he said “FrackNation” will incorporate the views of farmers, workers and other typical residents who strongly support fracturing for the economic benefits it’s brought to their areas but who haven’t had their voices heard as loudly.

“That’s what I’ve wanted to do, get all that information out there,” he said.

Dimock, Pa., has become something of a ground zero for fracturing, he said, ever since some residents there complained about the quality of their drinking water. The EPA’s preliminary testing has found no evidence to suggest the residents’ drinking water is unsafe.

But he said what has received less attention is that far more people have signed a petition saying “there’s nothing wrong with our water, so please stop saying there is.”

He seeks to raise $150,000 for the project, but he said there’s no way for him to find the funding for his film from big studios because they’re not interested in a film that takes a skeptical eye toward “Big Environment.” That’s why he decided to crowdsource with the website Kickstarter, he said.

In just days, he’s already one-fourth of the way there, though it’s not clear yet exactly where the donations are coming from.
He said it’s humbling to have ordinary Americans opening their wallets for an immigrant couple to tell the story of other ordinary Americans.

“It’s like being part of an American dream and American story,” he said.

This post was last updated at 3:50 p.m.