Accuracy in Media

The documentary, “FrackNation,” features freelance Irish journalist Phelim McAleer, directly challenging the anti-fracking documentary, “Gasland,” produced by Josh Fox. And in light of a recently released Hollywood movie, “The Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon, “FrackNation,” a refreshing and factual take on the issue of fracking, becomes all the more relevant.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a process used to extract natural gas or oil out of the earth after fracturing rocks beneath the surface of the earth using chemicals and other fluids injected through high pressure.

In “Gasland,” Josh Fox claims that fracking causes contamination of the groundwater, leading to increases in cancer in local residents, while causing earthquakes and bad air quality. McAleer effectively challenges each point in its entirety.

Fox, according to McAleer, has no basis for blaming fracking for contaminated groundwater. When local residents were interviewed in Dimock, Pennsylvania, they mostly agreed that they knew there were always some minerals, like flammable methane, in their water. The famous scene in “Gasland,” where Fox lit water on fire, ignores this fact and fails to acknowledge that methane in water is commonplace throughout the U.S. When one family, the Sautners, was interviewed, they claimed their water was cloudy like dirt. But, when shown on camera, the water appeared to be clear. The husband, however, insisted the water was still dirty.

McAleer also tackles the accusation that fracking causes cancer.  A retired New York University professor said that he is seeking cancer treatment, but he doesn’t blame fracking for it, just a bad stroke of luck. Studies conducted in Dish, Texas showed that there was no correlation or causation between cancer patients and living in a fracking area, contrary to what Fox and “Gasland” portray as fact.

Earthquakes, according to anti-frackers, are caused by fracking. McAleer consulted noted seismologist at Cal-Berkeley, Ernest Majer, on whether or not that is true. Majer strongly disputed that assertion in “Gasland,” and showed seismological data. Instead of focusing on fracking, Majer said, the anti-frackers should focus on geothermal energy extraction. Geothermal energy extraction, in places like San Francisco, California, actually leads to more seismic activity than any other extraction practice, especially fracking.

The claim that fracking damages air quality is also false, according to McAleer. Fox recently told a conference that he heard that Baldwin Hills, an area in the Los Angeles region, had poor air quality and it would get worse because of fracking. When he went to Baldwin Hills he interviewed local residents who were out jogging, walking and running. A consistent word among all the interviewed residents? “Fresh” or “clean” air.

Fracking helps the local dairy and farming economies in the Delaware River watershed. Communities in Pennsylvania and New York are suffering from the current moratorium on the practice. Most farmers when interviewed were struggling already, before the fracking companies came to the area. Without the leases and additional money from the fracking companies, these farmers said they could go out of business. The worst part is that these farmers have owned the lands for generations. All of them love their land, and many were brought to tears when expressing their fears for the future. If a moratorium were to continue, these farmers would have to sell their land that their ancestors cleared to farm. Without farms, houses and suburban sprawl would ensue, which would actually hurt the watershed and the environment itself.

One of the highlights of McAleer’s documentary is when the Sautners, a prominent anti-fracking family, maintained their claims of polluted groundwater. When the EPA and the state’s environmental scientists released their results and showed there was no such water contamination, it was a slap in the face. The couple lost their temper and the state regulators had to calm the husband down while the wife stormed off muttering obscenities. This was apparently not what they were hoping to hear.

McAleer was also threatened by a local commissioner’s lawyer for videotaping an interview of her client, who had suspicious ties to the producer of “Gasland.” His documentary team was harassed when they confronted Josh Fox at a local event, where security forcefully pushed out the team and scratched the hand of one of the team members, drawing blood.

Throughout the documentary, the use of graphs, charts and explanations of the numbers they use are smooth, easy to read, and enhance the overall production. They give a new and fresh feeling to the documentary and make it feel more current and ‘hip’ than most documentaries.

“FrackNation” is a great counter to “Gasland,” and provides a perspective on fracking that you won’t be seeing out of Hollywood or the mainstream media.

FrackNation will be shown on tonight, January 22, at 9 p.m. ET.

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