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Frack attacks and filmmakers who fight back

Director promises balance

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The intense debate over fracking continues to play out on movie screens and television sets nationwide — and this time the industry's defenders are fighting back.

Countering anti-fracking films and a commercially unsuccessful Matt Damon movie that demonizes the booming gas-drilling technique, the new documentary "FrackNation" seeks to present a more balanced view of a process that has led to job growth and revived local economies across the country.

Irish journalist Phelim McAleer, one of three directors for "FrackNation," described the film as being as much about journalism as it is about fracking itself, highlighting the media's often critical portrayal of the practice despite the absence of concrete evidence that it has ever led to water contamination or other environmental problems.

"The thing people must know about fracking is there is not one single case of fracking ever having polluted someone's water ever at any time. It's not me who's saying that. It's what an intelligent woman, Lisa Jackson, head of the [Environmental Protection Agency], has told Congress that twice," Mr. McAleer said at a forum organized by the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.

Indeed, despite attempts to tie fracking to groundwater pollution, Ms. Jackson has told Congress that there is no evidence of a link. The agency on several occasions has backtracked after linking contaminated water to fracking operations in Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Further scientific study has cast even more doubt on each of those claims.

But many Americans still harbor deep concerns about fracking's potential impact on drinking water, polling data show.

One reason for that, Mr. McAleer said, is that anti-fracking activists often have their claims taken at face value without having to provide much proof, leading to public fear.

He cited the well-known example of a northeastern Pennsylvania man lighting his tap water on fire in the anti-fracking documentary "Gasland," produced by filmmaker Josh Fox. The movie portrayed the flaming water as having been caused by fracking, despite no evidence linking the two. Critics have made other wild claims about fracking with no proof, Mr. McAleer said.

They also continue to stage high-profile protests in New York and other states, often with the backing of telegenic celebrities who have joined Artists Against Fracking and other groups.

Those demonstrations increasingly have turned ugly. At a county commissioners meeting last month in Boulder, Colo., protesters harassed an oil and gas company representative as she left and walked to her car, according to local media reports.

"They're using thug tactics. They're sandal-wearing thugs who don't respect democracy, who have to bring in celebrities because people on the ground won't support them," Mr. McAleer said of the fracking protest movement. "They have to bring in litigation and other ways [to slow the spread of the process] because popular opinion doesn't support them."

"FrackNation" also tells the story of the economic benefits that have come to states such as North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have embraced the practice. The unemployment rate in North Dakota, for example, is at about 3 percent, the lowest in the country.

Having premiered in theaters, the film will be shown on the cable entertainment channel AXS TV, a channel partly owned by Texas billionaire Mark Cuban, beginning Tuesday at 9 p.m. It will be shown repeatedly on the channel throughout the next few months, Mr. McAleer said.

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