FrackNation Debunks Fantasyland

FrackNation Debunks Fantasyland

By Gordon Tomb

By the end of FrackNation, narrator and co-director Phelim McAleer is able to say with authority that scare stories about hydrofracturing for natural gas and oil are wrong — period.

In a jammed-packed 70 minutes of video, McAleer interviews a wide range of experts and cites data that debunk virtually everything put forth in the 2010 pseudo-documentary Gasland.

As for Gasland producer Josh Fox, McAleer leaves no doubt that he is a pretense of a journalist who favors theater over facts about a technology that frees gas from tightly bound shale formations thousands of feet underground.

“Josh Fox was wrong about fracking,” concludes McAleer, an Irish writer who was a correspondent for The Financial Times and The Economist before becoming a filmmaker.

“It doesn’t make water flammable, it’s not exempt from environmental regulation, it doesn’t contaminate water, it’s not causing dangerous earthquakes, and it’s not causing widespread illness and death.”

Commenting on his work at a central Pennsylvania screening of FrackNation, McAleer indicts Fox’s reporting for misfeasance, referring to an assertion in Gasland that fracking contaminated drinking water with “weapons grade” uranium.

“What journalist would put that out without checking with experts?” asked McAleer.

A media critic in FrackNation underscores the point, saying that “the crisis is in the media coverage” not in energy production.

Many of the claims in Gasland are so outlandish one could be tempted to shrug off the work as the product of a charlatan, but that would be a mistake.

Gasland is taken seriously by many.  It won an Emmy and was nominated for an Academy Award.  Its sequel is scheduled to be shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Perhaps more substantively, Gasland’s negative reporting is credited with leading to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s drilling ban, denying some Pennsylvania landowners access to profits that, in certain instances, might literally save the farm.

“It’s very dear to my heart, this property, and I think the gas company can take care of it,” says an elderly farmer bitterly disappointed by the commission’s action.  He is one of several such property owners featured in McAleer’s movie.

FrackNation, subtitled, “A Journalist’s Search for the Fracking Truth,” goes beyond being a critique of Gasland’s accusations against natural gas operations in the Northeast, Texas and California.  McAleer highlights the profound effect energy has on human life around the world.

The daily experience of a woman who fought in World War II and now lives in a small apartment in Poland illustrates the ramifications of government-induced high energy prices.   Forced to use costly gas from Russia, partly because development of Polish gas has been stalled by environmental concerns, she struggles to cover living expenses on a small pension.

“These bans (on gas development) have consequences because energy really matters,” says McAleer.   “We take it for granted because we have never known life without it.  We really shouldn’t.”

Watching FrackNation, we find ourselves wishing that a Phelim McAleer had come our way while doing media relations for a nuclear power plant 25 years ago.

A filmmaker of his ilk, however, may not have been possible before the age of the Internet.  The movie was financed with the contributions of more than 3,000 people from 26 countries that McAleer solicited through the website Kickstarter.

FrackNation premiered in January on AXS TV.  Although it has received strong reviews from a number of publications, one wonders about the chances for its often politically incorrect views to garner awards.

Hollywood celebrities parading to Pennsylvania have mostly adopted the anti-fracking narrative.  One such actor is shown in the movie approaching a group of rural Pennsylvanians announcing, “We come in love.”

Nothing wrong with love, but, in this case, there is a greater need for the “fracking truth.”

Gordon Tomb is director of communications for the PA Coalition for Responsible Government. gwtomb@gmail.com

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