If the natural gas industry has its way, Gasland director Josh Fox won't be "thanking the academy" for an Oscar on Feb. 27.
What folks in the energy patch would rather hear is an apology from Fox for what they consider to be a misrepresentation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) well stimulation. Since they aren't likely to get that, preventing Fox from receiving an Academy Award for his anti-gas industry documentary would be a consolation.
"...Gasland puts forth a thesis on natural gas development in the United States founded on a mistaken understanding of the process required to access these resources, and factually incorrect interpretation of the myriad rules and regulations in place designed to safeguard those operations wherever they may take place," Lee O. Fuller, executive director of industry-sympathetic news website Energy In Depth, said in a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "Along the way, the filmmaker alternates between misstating and outright ignoring basic and verifiable facts related to the impact of these activities on the health and welfare of humans, wildlife and the environment.
"As one long-time editor of The New York Times wrote, the film is 'one-sided' and 'flawed.' To another writer at the Financial Times, the movie's fundamental weakness lies in the filmmaker's 'fail[ure] to evaluate the claims of his interviewees more carefully.'"
Just because the keeper of the film industry's Holy Grail has "arts and sciences" in its name does not mean the two disciplines are in accord on Gasland. Financial Times film critic Nigel Andrews found plenty of reasons to praise the film in a Jan. 14 review.
"Apparently -- I'm not a scientist (nor a victim of Halliburton scientists) -- this [hydraulic fracturing] is disastrous to the water table," he wrote, giving the film four out of a possible five stars. "Household after household is hauled before Fox's camera. Their tap water stinks; it is filthy; sometimes it catches fire. The gas companies supply the litigious with fresh water, stored in giant tanks. The rest just go quietly ape. New York may be next, unless new legislation stops the frackers at the upstate border."
That's exactly the kind of nonscientific reaction to Gasland that makes energy interests bristle. America's Natural Gas Alliance recently spoke out against Gasland and its nomination for an Academy Award (see Shale Daily, Jan. 26). The film's title has been on the lips of both pro- and anti-gas drilling interests in recent months.
"Although we believe the film has value as an expression of stylized fiction, the many errors, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods cataloged in the appendix attached to this letter -- and the many more we withheld for sake of brevity -- cast serious doubt on Gasland's worthiness for this most honored award, and directly violate both the letter and spirit of the published criteria that presumably must be met by Gasland's competitors in this category," Fuller told the academy.
Since the documentary was aired last June on HBO, the industry has gone into great detail to refute point-by-point most of the film. Fox has defended the veracity of his film, issuing a 39-page rebuttal to Energy in Depth last July. At that time, another third-party source, Reservoir Research Partners and Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., published a report supporting the gas industry's claims (see Daily GPI, July 12, 2010).
The 65-page report "Frac Attack: Risk, Hype and Financial Reality of Hydraulic Fracturing in the Shale Plays," reiterated the gas industry assertion that there have been no documented cases of groundwater contamination due to the 60-year-old practice of hydrofracing, noting that "any drilling has the potential to contaminate groundwater if the well is drilled and cemented improperly."