Fracking The Movie(s)
Forget wind power. Forget solar. Forget renewable energy. The release of the natural gas industry’s Truthland documentary is further confirmation of where the real frontline in the energy v environment debate lies: the technique of hydraulic fracturing ‘fracking’ – the process that has opened up a whole new global hydrocarbon energy frontier. And the same technique that is currently transforming America’s dependency on foreign energy imports and its manufacturing industries.
The hard facts are indisputable. The shale gas revolution (which is lately being matched by a shale oil revolution) has already halved domestic gas prices in the U.S. That, in turn, has led to a flat-lining of international gas prices in what is rightly being hailed as the Golden Age of Gas. Ironically, the US is also presiding over a drop in CO2 emissions which makes regulatory efforts elsewhere pale into insignificance, all because cheaper natural gas has led to a significant electrical power switch from coal. Natural gas is rapidly becoming the U.S. fuel of choice to generate electricity. What the fracking of gas and oil offers the US is centuries more hydrocarbons at a significantly cheaper cost than current renewable technologies. And, despite President Obama’s relentless antagonism towards the oil and gas industries (his State of the Union address in January completely ignored hydrocarbons) market forces have ensured that the shale revolution threatens, almost single-handedly, to rescue the US economy. Talk of energy independence, laughable just five years ago, has now become a serious topic of conversation.
With the shale gas and oil capitalist success threatening to drive a coach and horses through policies favoring renewable energy subsidies, so trendy environmentalists are fast re-training their ‘guns’ on the process that has made it all possible: fracking. Such is the magnitude of the shale story that it was only a matter of time before ‘Hollywood’ came calling. The June launch of Truthland is the natural gas industry’s own contribution to the new shale war/fracking genre. Its a genre which has thus far spawned Josh Fox’s highly controversial anti-fracking biopic Gasland and former environmental journalist Phelim Mc Aleer’s fact-driven, but somewhat low-key pro-fracking response (and, in my view, poorly titled), Not Evil, Just Wrong. Such was the dramatic impact of Gasland – which could have been sub-titled ‘Flaming Faucets, Batman!” – that HBO have commissioned a sequel, currently in production. Meanwhile, McAleer has a sequel of his own, for which he has been busy raising funding via Internet donations, the much better titled FrackNation.
One can only wonder at why the boys at Energy-in-Depth (EID) – the PR arm for the US oil & gas industry – took so long to come up with Truthland. But then the energy industry has long been far too timid in tackling the conveyor belt of environmental criticisms that, under closer scrutiny, simply don’t stack up. EID’s 35-minute documentary launched via YouTube and slated for targeted screenings amounts to a point-by-point refutation of a Gasland movie that, as I have pointed out, is simply wracked with egregious misrepresentations. In documentary terms Truthland might be re-titled Shale Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. All in all, however, EID have done a god job on this and I adjure anyone with a concern for actual facts and reason in the fracking debate to watch Gasland and Truthland at one sitting.
EID succeeded in retaining the same ‘looking-out-for-the-folks’ approach of Gasland. Truthland adopts the device of an “ordinary woman” (working a dairy farm on land currently being fracked for shale gas) setting out on a road trip. Her goal: to track down the hard facts from “experts”. Immediately, it is made clear to her that utilizing any energy resource, including wind and solar, carries an environmental cost. Interviewing a whole litany of experts including – embarrassingly for anti-frackers – a key administrator of the EPA, an agency known for its environmental activism, we hear of almost universal acceptance of the fracking technique with appropriate environmental caveats. Just for good measure, hardly anyone has a good word to say for Gasland’s fearmongering. Contrary to Gasland’s assertion that “unregulated chemicals” are being poured into the ground, Truthland shows how 99 percent of fracking fluid is water and sand with the rest made up of, as one expert put it, “household dish detergent”. Moreover we are introduced to the industry’s own FracFocus website where Joe Public is plainly able to key in any well currently being fracked locally to learn the precise make-up of the hydraulic fracking fluid being used.
Further we find that initial reservations and fears expressed by EPA officials, local farmers and even a community pastor in Texas, have all been laid to rest by energy companies clearly only too aware of the need to bend over backwards to engage with the concerns of local communities. And Truthland introduces us to a handful of the 600,000+ provided with new shale gas and oil jobs, including one gentleman standing in front of a sign on his farm reading “Gas saved our A$$”. The EID documentary goes on to show how impossible it is for fracking fluids pumped thousands of feet down to migrate through tons of solid rock to reach drinking water aquifers at 500 feet – pointing out how millions of wells have been fracked over decades without a single documented example of fluid migration to water aquifers. The strength of the reinforced steel used is also made abundantly clear when one engineer sets off explosives in the pipework, failing to even make a scratch.
But Gasland’s scary image of ‘setting water on fire’ via a domestic faucet – and Gasland’s gullible naivet’e in failing to understand how the natural phenomenon was present way before energy companies ever set foot on the land. Just for good measure, one local farmer demonstrates how methane in water is perfectly common and harmless drinking a glass of water from an aquifer where fracking is currently taking place.
When it comes to Fracking The Movie then, you can be sure of two things. First, the average media hack will likely characterize the pro and anti-fracking ‘movies’ as ammunition in a ‘propaganda war’. That may be the case with the anti-fracking movies, but it is far from the case with the pro-fracking responses. The fact is that Fox’s Gasland is replete with gross misrepresentations which both Truthland and Not Evil, Just Wrong have each labored to correct. Second, don’t expect the upcoming Gasland II to correct the fearmongering of Gasland over flaming faucets, the migration of fluids through solid rock and its patent untruths alleging fracking fluids not being strongly regulated. When those with a hidden agenda – propagandists – are exposed by plain facts and reason they are rarely concerned to set the record straight. Instead, they simply move on to entirely new sensationalist allegations.
My guess is Truthland – replete with hard facts – will have a tough time getting publicity, as helpful in the public interest as it is. And expect Fox’s as yet untitled Gasland II to major on the role of fracking ‘causing earthquakes’, even though the UK and US governments have already acknowledged that fracking is safe while occasionally causing minor ‘earth tremors’ akin to a heavy truck or subway train passing close by. But hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story. After all, Fox, Gasland and HBO aren’t in the non-fiction business. Like all sensationalist Hollywood blockbusters, galvanizing the gullible masses via fiction has always been a much easier “sell”.