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Gasland Director Gets A Note from Energy Industry

In the film industry, directors give notes to actors about how to improve their performances. The energy industry has turned the tables on Gasland director Josh Fox, giving him some pointers for the sequel to his anti-hydraulic fracturing (fracking) film.

In an open letter to Fox, Lee Fuller, executive director of the energy industry-funded Energy In Depth, has sought to debunk a number of claims made by Fox that energy interests have long maintained are false. Fuller, who also is vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said he was writing on the occasion of the forthcoming release of Gasland 2.

Fox and Gasland have been a thorn in the side of the energy industry since before the film was released. Those sympathetic to the energy industry have even been producing their own documentaries on energy development -- one of them titled Truthland -- in part to counter the effect Gasland has had on public opinion (see NGI, June 18; Feb. 13).

"...Energy In Depth would like to recommend a few segments (if they are not already scheduled to appear in the film) that would demonstrate to your audience that this effort is not guided by blind ideology, as was on display in Gasland, but rather by a commitment to fact-based journalism that seeks to tell the truth about a topic as important as natural gas development," Fuller wrote in his letter to Fox. He went on to enumerate what the industry considers to be several Gasland falsehoods.

"In the original Gasland, Dimock, PA, was portrayed as a town irrevocably harmed by natural gas development. In particular, your film sought to convince viewers that hydraulic fracturing had contaminated water," Fuller wrote.

However, earlier this year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that its testing "'did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action,'" Fuller wrote, citing an EPA announcement (see NGI, May 21). Fuller urged Fox to include this information in Gasland 2 "as viewers might otherwise be led to believe hydraulic fracturing had contaminated water in Dimock, a conclusion that is demonstrably false."

Citing Fox's short film The Sky is Pink, Fuller said the filmmaker made an erroneous connection between increased breast cancer rates and the development of shale oil and gas. "But as you know, experts with the Texas Cancer Registry, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and even Susan G. Komen for the Cure have all dismissed that claim as lacking in evidence," Fuller wrote. The Associated Press [AP] called the supposed link between breast cancer and development 'one of the clearest examples of a misleading claim' used by opponents."

Fox addressed the claims of the AP article cited by Fuller on his blog.

Returning to the first Gasland, Fuller recalled what for many was the most dramatic image of the film: flaming tap water at the home of a Colorado resident. "'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,'" wrote Fuller, repeating a statement made by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Fuller also asserted that since the first Gasland called for federal regulation of fracking, Fox should highlight in the sequel recent statements by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on fracking. These include that it "'requires smart regulation, smart rules of the road. What it doesn't necessarily require...is that all that smart rule of the road setting be done at the federal level. There are states that have been regulating oil and gas development for a long time,'" Fuller wrote.

He also disputed the accuracy of statements made in The Sky Is Pink that said the failure rate for well casings of wells in shale or tight formations was 16.7%.

"But according to a comprehensive report from the Ground Water Protection Council in 2011, which utilized real-world data in states across the country, cementing or casing failures in Ohio over the past 25 years occurred at a rate of only 0.03%, or one incident for every 2,833 wells drilled," Fuller wrote. "More than 80% of these occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, well before modern technology and updated regulations went into effect over the past 10 years. In Texas, the incident rate was even lower: 0.01%."

Then Fuller turned to the North Texas case in which Range Resources Corp. was accused of contaminating well water with its Barnett Shale drilling and well stimulation activities (see related story). "With all of the evidence clearly pointing to natural causes, earlier this year EPA withdrew its order against Range [see NGI, April 2]," noted Fuller.

"In Pavillion, WY, the EPA issued a draft report in December 2011 claiming fracturing was 'likely' the culprit behind its discovery of chemicals in groundwater. But evidence that surfaced soon after the report was issued, including but not limited to the EPA's flawed methodology and improper sampling techniques, forced EPA to suspend peer review of its draft report and order a completely new battery of water tests for the region," wrote Fuller. "As you know, that report was the focus of a Capitol Hill hearing which you attended -- and at which you were arrested, as planned, for filming without the proper media credentials [see NGI, Feb. 6].

"After your arrest, you issued a statement stating that you featured Pavillion in Gasland as an example of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater, adding that 'I have continued to document the catastrophic water contamination in Pavillion for the upcoming sequel Gasland 2.'"

However, Fuller quoted EPA Region 8 Administrator Jim Martin: "'We make clear that the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively, and that our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field and should not be assumed to apply to fracturing in other geologic settings.'"

Finally, Fuller pointed to recent good news about a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the United States and the role of natural gas in the progress. CO2 emissions from energy use (natural gas, coal and oil) during the first quarter were the lowest in two decades for any January-March period, according to a report by the Energy Information Administration. "As someone who has called for an energy future with lower emissions, this is clearly something that should interest you," Fuller wrote. "And in as much as your film will include commentary and opinions, this is an example of an intriguing story that is actually grounded in empirical data."

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