Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When filmmaker Phelim McAleer approached the victims of water contamination in Dimock, Pennsylania to get interviews for his pro-gas drilling film "FrackNation," he told them he was an Irish anti-fracking filmmaker working to keep fracking out of Ireland. The lie was a success and he got interviews with two victims, Craig Sautner and Victoria Switzer. He interviewed both for hours.

Soon after, Craig and Victoria realized they'd been had and news of the misrepresentation spread around the neighborhood. When Mr. McAleer showed up at Ray Kemble's house, another victim in the Dimock contamination, he tried to use the same line. He didn't even make it to the front door. Ray met him on the sidewalk and told him off. Ray doesn't take lies well.

For his film, McAleer cut Craig Sautner's two-hour interview down to a few minutes that made Craig look like a liar. He included none of Victoria's interview, though her story was so intense it made one person in the room weep. McAleer would later taunt Victoria Switzer at a public engagement, yelling "Victoria, Victoria, why don't you give me an interview?" That's how McAleer makes a living: taunting, attacking and harassing water contamination victims and people who support them.

The scenes in "FrackNation" of Julie Sautner were edited in the same way to achieve the same effect. In reality, McAleer had a confrontation with Julie Sautner that lasted over an hour. Julie had to call neighbors and friends for help, one of whom came and witnessed much of it. McAleer was in Julie's driveway when she got home, threatening to take her water without her permission. Julie also knew he'd defrauded her husband Craig, and was going to use the film to make him look like a liar. Most people would have been upset. That's all lost in the few minutes of film McAleer chooses to include in "FrackNation". McAleer chooses to show the content that fits his narrative: Craig and Julie Sautner and the rest of the victims in Dimock, around the nation and world are frauds. They're not.

When Phelim McAleer went to Dimock to interview victims, he wasn't actually a journalist searching for the fracking truth. He was executing a plan to cover up the real water contamination case in Dimock, make the victims look like frauds, and make it look like there was always methane in their water. If McAleer had gone to Dimock to do honest research, he would have found that the water contamination victims in Dimock have pre-drill testing showing that there was no methane in their water before nearby gas drilling started.

McAleeer didn't include pre-drill testing, or the DEP Consent Orders against Cabot, which admits to contaminating water wells in Dimock, including Craig Suatner's. He doesn't include the EPA Order in Parker county when he paints Steve Lipsky as a liar, or TCEQ's review of private testing in Dish Texas when he paints Calvin Tillman as a liar. He doesn't include the actual scientific studies and findings these moratoriums are based on when he paints Josh Fox and the film Gasland as frauds and the only reason there are drilling moratoriums anywhere.

Instead of the fracking truth, what McAleer has produced is, in fact, an elaborate hoax.

A hoax created to intentionally fool the public.

There are a few claims that are true in the film. New York State is not allowing fracking, and landowners there are angry. That's true. And there is a nine-mile drilling and fracking moratorium in Dimock. That's also true. But none of the reasons why these moratoriums exist are covered accurately in the film. FrackNation's claims about the amount of shale in the US are at least close. The rest of the film is a hoax. A fakery. A con.

That may seem an incredible claim, considering the film's audience. Since it's release in January of 2013, it's played in European Parliament in Brussels and the UK Parliament in London, it was shown to the US Science, Space, and Technology, Congressional Subcommittee on Environment. It's been covered by news programs, shown in film festivals and to countless college students, Tea Party groups and gas industry supporters across the nation and the world. They all got punked.

FrackNation Review examines "FrackNation" point by point and works to set the record straight about the water contamination events in Parker County Texas, Dimock Pennsylvania and the air contamination in Dish, Texas. McAleer's hoax on the nation and the world must be addressed.


Phelim McAleer's 2009 film "Not Evil, Just Wrong" kicks off the modern era of climate denial. Although thoroughly debunked by scientists, the film still careens endlessly through the self-referential echo chamber of right-wing media, impervious to reason and evidence.

McAleer's next film, "FrackNation," extends the tactics honed by climate deniers to the debate over fracking. The film is a collection of pseudo-science, pseudo-inquiry, along with personal attacks against scientists and activists, masquerading as objective journalism. To borrow a term from James Inhofe--the Orwellian climate denying senator from Oklahoma--FrackNation is a hoax. The film is not "another point of view"; it is a collection of deliberate lies and deceptions designed to further the interests of the oil industry. As such, it does not deserve to be taken seriously, and certainly has no place in the national discussion about the role of fracking and natural gas in national energy policy.

Major news media have started to accept that people denying the existence of climate change do not deserve a seat at the table for discussions about energy policy. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles times have specific editorial policies excluding letters or serious news room consideration of climate denier "arguments."

Fracking is the new frontier of climate denial.The oil barons stand to make trillions if they can hold off a serious national discussion of the issue long enough to build the infrastructure that will commit us to another 50 years of fossil fuels--basically a death sentence for human civilization if we take consensus climate science seriously.

The oil industry has pulled out all the stops in its fracking denial campaign. Huge donations from the Kochs and other energy companies have made climate denial and support for fracking a litmus test for Republican politicians at all levels of government. Relentless lobbying and legal pressure have neutralized or bought off regulators at both the state and national level. Boxed in by geostrategic pressures and Republican obstructionism, the Obama administration has embraced natural gas as a way to generate some kind of progress on climate change, creating political pressure on the EPA and other federal regulatory agencies to avoid hard questions about fracking-related water and air contamination, wide-spread methane leaks, and the long term climate implications of a commitment to natural gas.

The conservative push to dominate the national discussion on fracking has created huge demand for fracking denial "journalists" and "experts." McAleer is, in essence, a content provider servicing this lucrative market. As in the ever more unhinged world of Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, McAleer has hacked out a market niche by being more ruthless, more brazen and more contemptuous of evidence and reason than his competitors.

"FrackNation" should be viewed for what it is: a bare-knuckled hoax designed to make a buck, even if it means selling out the planet in the process.

There is an ongoing debate in progressive circles about the best way to respond to the kind of pseudo-journalism embodied by "FrackNation." Right-wing demagogues like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh thrive on provoking liberal intellectuals and progressive activists. Outraged liberals who try to point out the idiocy or  childishness of their attacks just increase their market share, and many liberals have concluded that ignoring them is better than getting diverted into an endless whack-a-mole round of fact checking and setting the record straight.

We have decided to take on fallacies, distortions and just plain viciousness of "FrackNation" for two reasons. First, the film has had wide influence and has been cited as serious journalism by a number of mainstream news organizations. Even the reviewer for the New York Times was hoodwinked by the "investigative journalism" facade. We think it is important to set the record straight in order to clean up the national discussion on fracking so that some kind of rational policy deliberation is possible.

Second, the film is at the forefront of fracking denial propaganda. The stakes in this debate are too large to ignore. The fracking denier position will eventually be discredited as another form of climate change denial. But the time frame is crucial here. If the oil industry can  use tobacco war tactics to string along the debate, forestalling meaningful action for another five or ten years, it will be too late. Decisions about R & D and infrastructure spending need to be made now if we are to have a meaningful chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, irreparable damage to our national environment, the perversion of our economy to service the needs of the oil industry, and the harm done to many thousands of our fellow citizens, many of whom are living through the poisonous consequences of the fracking boom right now.

Despite the dangers of getting sucked into a right-wing rabbit hole, where reason and evidence become unrecognizable caricatures of themselves, we think this is a risk worth taking.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

When I started researching the politics of the Fracking Boom, I believed natural gas would make a good bridge fuel to a sustainable energy future and, if well regulated, it should be employed as part of an “all of the above” American energy policy.

After nearly a year of research, including trips across the nation to meet people from both sides of the debate, I’m convinced that Industry sees natural gas not as a bridge, but as a destination. As we enter the era of climate change, firing up the Methane Industry would seem counterintuitive, unless you believe, as most Industry supporters do, that climate change is a hoax.

I’m also convinced that companies like Range Resources and Cabot Oil and Gas, know that their operations have contaminated water wells. Yet instead of supplying appropriate restitution, these companies fight restitution, often supporting groups like Energy In Depth who publically malign victims. Once a person like Steve Lipsky or Ray Kemble have faced the loss of their water well, the first harm, they then face a second harm – fighting for that restitution. In Steve’s case, after 4 years of a 4 foot flame coming from his waterwell headspace, he still pays 1K a month to have water shipped into his home and has a $4 million lawsuit from Range hanging over his head because he mentioned in public that the EPA found that Range’s gas well had contaminated his water. Ray Kemble, after a 5 year fight, has a mortgage on a house that’s condemned across the street from an Industrial accident clean-up site replete with years of drills clanking and stadium lights trained on his house 24/7. Ray’s anti-fracking stance has cost him his livelihood, relationships and sometimes he feels, his sanity.

Industry claims not one case of contamination from fracking exists, as so many cases emerge it seems hard to keep track. How does Industry support such an untenable position? Polemics. They train their base to believe that victims are frauds, money grubbers and/or liars. They frame victims as energy hating, unAmerican environmentalists spewing misinformation who just want to make their green buddies rich, who support Putin and all of whom had methane in their water to begin with.

Fracknation was made in service to this narrative. And a second, similar Industry narrative – that Josh Fox and Gasland are the real frauds. Industry even made it’s own film depicting Josh Fox as a fraud; Truthland. Shelly Depue, a Pennsylvania farmwife who narrates Truthland, had a defective well on her property that evidence shows is one of the wells that impacted the contamination at Franklin Forks. Shelly’s well showed signs of failure before Shelly went on tour with “Truthland”. It’s possible Industry did not tell her, they would not be required to by law. We don’t know. Shelly won’t speak to the press.

While some facts can’t be known because of Silence Agreements Industry requires water contamination victims to sign, and because many people are so supportive of the Gas and Oil Industry that they will not speak out, some things can be known. The following is a point by point account of what is  known about the claims made in the film Fracknation:
Click here for the discussion:
Hope Forpeace is a Producer at AK Productions, an independent, non-profit production company.