A trade group representing developers of shale gas Tuesday blasted the Academy Awards nomination of Gasland for best documentary feature, saying it grossly misrepresented the facts about the hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) practice associated with the production of shale.
"This is a deeply disappointing development given that Gasland's allegations have been widely disproven. State and federal regulators investigated the claims made in the film and found them to be false. The results of these investigations were well known to the filmmaker at the time he made the movie," said Tom Amontree, executive vice president for America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA).
"The stakes are too high to allow our energy choices to be influenced by the gross and deliberate misrepresentations by this filmmaker who knew the facts and chose to ignore them. We hope that viewers will seek out the truth for themselves and cast a skeptical eye on this deeply flawed film," he said.
Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy In Depth, said the "nomination is fitting as the Oscars are aimed at praising pure entertainment among Hollywood's elite. Without [a] doubt, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Gasland for its work in the field of art, not science."
Hydrofracking is a process where fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open and increase the flow of natural gas. Environmentalists and some Capitol Hill lawmakers contend that the fluids used in hydrofracking pose a risk to public health and the groundwater, but producers dispute the claim.
The Gasland film examines natural gas drilling and the effects on the environment and the people who live around these operations. It shows gas allegedly seeping into people's drinking water, making entire households sick; giant corporations denying the facts; government bureaucrats doing nothing; and people in despair clamoring for help. It also depicts a few instances of "flammable tap water."
In the film's signature moment Mike Markham, a landowner, ignites his tap water. The film leaves the viewer with the "false impression" that the flaming tap water is the result of natural gas drilling, ANGA said. However, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which tested Markham's water in 2008, there were "no indications of oil and gas related to impacts to water well," ANGA noted. Instead the investigation found that the methane was "biogenic" in nature, meaning it was naturally occurring and that his water well was drilled into a natural gas pocket.
A second depiction of a flaming faucet in the home of Renee McClure also misleads viewers about the connection between natural gas development and methane in water wells, the trade group said. McClure's well was sampled by the state of Colorado and it, too, showed only naturally occurring methane.
The Colorado state agency issued a statement explaining its testing processes in detail and rebutting claims made in the movie. The statement explained that COGCC Director Dave Neslin "offered to speak with Gasland producer Josh Fox on camera during the filming of the movie. Because the issues are technical and complex and arouse concerns in many people...Neslin asked that he be allowed to review any material from the interview that would be included in the final film. Unfortunately, Mr. Fox declined. Such a discussion might have prevented the inaccuracies" in the film (see http://cogcc.state.co.us/library/GASLAND%20DOC.pdf).
ANGA further said natural gas was falsely accused in the film of a fish kill in Dunkard Creek in Washington County, PA. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigated the incident and tied the fish kills to coal mine run-off, it said.
The trade group, however, conceded that rare incidents do occur, and companies work with regulatory authorities to promptly identify and correct the issue.
For instance, last April the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suspended its review of Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.'s pending drilling applications statewide and barred the producer from drilling new natural gas wells "for at least one year" in the Dimock Township area of Susquehanna County, PA, because of contaminated groundwater (see Daily GPI, April 19, 2010).
In December, under a settlement negotiated with the state's DEP, Cabot agreed to pay residents of Dimock Township, whose drinking water supplies were contaminated by natural gas, a total of $4.1 million (see Daily GPI, Dec. 17, 2010).