Gasland Part II lights up UCCS crowd



Filmmaker Josh Fox, propelled into fracking fame with Gasland, screened a pre-HBO preview of Gasland Part II at UCCS last night. (Editor's note: See our May 22 cover story on Fox's latest film here.)

Though Gasland Part II premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, last night's showing, as part of the Grassroots Tour, was only the seventh for the film — a rare treat for Colorado Springs audiences.

Fox, who made himself quite available to chat with guests pre- and post-film (roaming about the front of the gymnasium casually), fired the crowd up a bit before showtime, also giving a brief call-out to his uncle Bob Rundo and other family who live in the area, all of whom sat in the front row.

Gasland Josh Fox
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Josh Fox shares his buoyant personality while introducing his sequel.

The audience, a few hundred people by my estimation, were palpably responsive to the film: erupting into cheers and clapping when certain film subjects gave poignant commentary; audibly sighing when sad statistics or images of ruined nature appeared; and quickly rising to a standing ovation at film's end.

The story of Dimock, Pa., one of many towns featured for its extreme water contamination ostensibly due to nearby fracking activity — as verified by EPA studies shown in the film — offers a particularly heartbreaking portrait of big industry behavior and shocking injustice.

The EPA at times looks as if it'll step up and play the hero, but scenes that play out toward the film's end, with invisible forces suddenly crushing progress, are completely disheartening.

Gasland Josh Fox
  • Matthew Schniper
  • After the screening of Gasland Part II, Josh Fox joined the crowd in order to tweet the president a simple message: "Dear @barackobama we're from Colorado Springs, #NotFromGasland #stopfracking"

There are several great, laugh-out-loud one-liners in the film, both from subjects and the filmmakers.

"You know things are bad when the mayor moves," quips Fox in a voice-over segment related to Dish, Texas (literally named after the TV provider, who gave the residents free cable service for 10 years), where residents have had to flee and abandon their homes at significant personal cost because of air pollution that was purportedly causing health problems in the population.

Other moments of seemingly irrefutable, damnation-inspiring and depressing awe come from viewing the oil-streak Gulf Coast from the air after the BP spill; learning more about counter-insurgency efforts employed by the gas industry; hearing families in one Arkansas town describe localized earthquakes they believe have been triggered by fracking; and watching enraged people go into silence as they are forced to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to receive compensation by the oil and gas companies.

Gasland Josh Fox
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Banjo master Jeff Scroggins joins Josh Fox for a post-film duet.

One of the only positive moments comes when the audience gets a reprieve from angst just long enough to learn of studies that show how wind power alone could power the world 10 times over, if only we'd move to renewable energies that also include solar, tidal and geothermal power.

But just as films like An Inconvenient Truth and Fuel have proposed hopeful alternatives, there's a certain heaviness that weighs down our collective belief that any significant action will be taken in an era where the energy industry largely funds our elected representatives.

Fox tried to still conclude the evening on a cheerier note with a banjo duet, following a brief Q&A session (punctuated by folks promoting community efforts while urging other audience members to take personal steps such as weatherizing their homes and conserving energy).

Filmed by Indy director of digital media, Becca Sickbert, here's the jam session:

Separate from last night's screening, I was contacted yesterday by Simon Lomax, research director at Energy In Depth, who wished to give his own review of the film (he'd seen it in Boulder Wednesday night) and provide some data that runs counter to Josh Fox's assertions.

What follows is in his words, unedited by me other than to remove greetings between us ("Thanks again for working an industry response into your Gasland Part II coverage," etc.).

By way of background, Energy In Depth is a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, whose members drill 95 percent of the nation’s oil and gas wells. As for me, I was a reporter and editor before going to work for the oil and gas industry, and I spent most of my journalism career covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C.

So, my reaction to Gasland Part II

The sequel is just two hours of bad excuses, followed by worse excuses, for everything that was wrong with the original.

The first film tried to make the case that hydraulic fracturing is inherently dangerous and must be banned. Three years later, the oil and gas industry is still here, and energy production from shale is rising, because scientists, engineers, environmental regulators and senior members of the Obama administration have concluded time and again that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe technology.

In the sequel, Josh Fox basically argues that hydraulic fracturing still must be banned, because he’s more credible than all those other sources. Only, he’s not.

For example, the only memorable scene from the first Gasland movie is a man from Weld County lighting faucet on fire. But even before the “flaming faucet” scene was filmed, state regulators had already investigated and concluded it had nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing. But Fox hasn’t retracted the claim, and he’s even kept the Weld County flaming faucet scene in the sequel. He was deceiving the public then, and he’s deceiving the public now.

Another example is Fox’s claims about breast cancer rates in the Barnett Shale region of Texas. The Associated Press checked it out, spoke to cancer experts from the region, and concluded Fox’s claim was simply wrong. But instead of admitting the mistake, Fox attacked the AP for daring to call him out.

... here’s a link to our detailed rebuttal to Gasland Part II, which was posted within a few days of the film’s premiere in New York last month.

To sum up, Josh Fox’s claims about the oil and gas industry have been thoroughly discredited since the first Gasland film was released. The only people who take him seriously now are the kind of extreme environmentalists who attack other environmentalists for not being extreme enough. And it looks like Fox made his sequel just for these activists, and nobody else.

Please find below some additional sources from outside the oil and gas industry to support my comments (not an exhaustive list, by any means, but hopefully enough to demonstrate that Fox is really fighting against the facts here).

Sources on Josh Fox deceiving the public:

Gasland incorrectly attributes several cases of water well contamination in Colorado to oil and gas development when our investigations determined that the wells in question contained biogenic methane that is not attributable to such development.”

Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, 10/29/2010

“Over a million wells have been fraced in the U.S. since the late 1940s ...There are no data to substantiate the claims made in Gasland that hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater.”

Dr. Robert Chase, Chairman, Marietta College Dept. of Petroleum Engineering, 2/27/2012

“Critics of fracking often raise alarms about groundwater pollution, air pollution and cancer risks, and there are still many uncertainties. But some of the claims have little — or nothing — to back them. For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false, researchers told The Associated Press. … The claim is used in a letter that was sent to New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo by environmental groups and by Josh Fox … David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase … Fox responded to questions by citing a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that doesn't support his claim, and a newspaper story that Risser said is ‘not based on a careful statistical analysis of the data.’”

Associated Press, 7/23/2012

Sources debunking Josh Fox’s claim that hydraulic fracturing is dangerous and must be banned:

“Fracking has been done safely for decades.”

President Obama’s Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, 5/16/2013

“Fracking as a technique has been around for decades. … I have performed the procedure myself very safely.”

President Obama’s Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, 4/22/2013

“There’s a lot of hysteria that takes place now with respect to hydraulic fracking, and you see that happening in many of the states. … My point of view, based on my own study of hydraulic fracking, is that it can be done safely and has been done safely hundreds of thousands of times.

Ken Salazar, former Interior Secretary to President Obama , former Colorado Attorney General and U.S. Senator, 2/15/2012

“The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy. So here's what I've done since I've been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it's been in decades. … We've got potentially 600,000 jobs and a hundred years' worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas. And we can do it in an environmentally sound way.”

President Barack Obama, 10/16/12

“We know that natural gas can safely be developed, and to the credit of the industry there are many companies that are leaning into this challenge and promoting best practices for safer and more efficient production. That’s not always widely noticed or appreciated, but it’s a fact.”

White House Energy and Climate Adviser Heather Zichal, 5/14/2012

“[T]he president supports prudent development of this resource. We don't have to sacrifice public health to develop our resources. We have the ingenuity and we have the technologies to develop these resources in a safe manner.”

Joseph Aldy, Obama campaign adviser, Harvard public policy professor, October 2012

“There have been fears that hydraulic fracturing fluid injected at depth could reach up into drinking water aquifers. But, the injection is typically done at depths of around 6,000 to 7,000 feet and drinking water is usually pumped from shallow aquifers, no more than one or two hundred feet below the surface. Fracturing fluids have not contaminated any water supply and with that much distance to an aquifer, it is very unlikely they could.”

Mark Zoback, Stanford University geophysics professor, adviser to U.S. Department of Energy, 8/30/2011

“In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, 4/30/2012

“Based on the information collected and reviewed, EPA has concluded that the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into CBM wells poses little or no threat … and does not justify additional study at this time.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, June 2004

“No documented case exists of coalbed methane production wells contaminating drinking water aquifers. … EPA does not believe that fracturing activities such as those at issue here result in the endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 5/5/1995

“Hydraulic fracturing has been a key technology in making shale gas an affordable addition to the Nation’s energy supply, and the technology has proven to be a safe and effective stimulation technique. Ground water is protected during the shale gas fracturing process by a combination of the casing and cement that is installed when the well is drilled and the thousands of feet of rock between the fracture zone and any fresh or treatable aquifers.”

Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer, U.S. Department of Energy and Ground Water Protection Council, April 2009

“In fact, based on over sixty years of practical application and a lack of evidence to the contrary, there is nothing to indicate that when coupled with appropriate well construction; the practice of hydraulic fracturing in deep formations endangers ground water. There is also a lack of demonstrated evidence that hydraulic fracturing conducted in many shallower formations presents a substantial risk of endangerment to ground water.”

State Oil and Natural Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Resources, U.S. Department of Energy and Ground Water Protection Council, May 2009

“One of the primary areas of concern which has been raised about state regulation is in the area of groundwater and drinking water protection. There has been a misconception that the hydraulic fracturing of wells can or has caused contamination of water wells. This is false.”

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer, 5/31/2012

“We’ve never had one case of (hydraulic fracturing) fluid going down the gas well and coming back up and contaminating someone’s water well.”

John Hanger, Former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary, 6/13/2012

“To the knowledge of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff, there has been no verified instance of harm to groundwater caused by hydraulic fracturing in Colorado.”

Dave Neslin, former director, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, April 2009

“Hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to the groundwater. … It’s almost inconceivable that we would ever contaminate, through the fracking process, the groundwater.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, 8/2/2011

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