PITTSBURGH (AP) - “FrackNation” is a new documentary that attacks opponents of fracking for oil and gas, but it also raises a bigger question: Is it possible to criticize environmentalists without being a tool for big industry?
Fracking is a method of stimulating oil and gas from deep underground that’s led to a historic boom in U.S. production while also stoking controversy over its possible impact on the environment and human health. “FrackNation,” an independent documentary produced by Los Angeles-based filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, addresses the issue from an unusual perspective.
EDITOR’S NOTE _ The author, Kevin Begos, covers the fracking industry in Pennsylvania for The Associated Press. With “FrackNation” opening Tuesday, he offers this view from the ground.
The release of the documentary now is clearly an attempt to play off a current Hollywood film on fracking, “Promised Land,” which stars Matt Damon. But the David vs. Goliath roles are turned upside down, since McAleer’s pro-fracking production received thousands of small donations on the fundraising site Kickstarter, while Damon’s film, which has an anti-fracking angle, had millions of dollars in funding, including some from the United Arab Emirates.
McAleer says anti-fracking activists have based their crusade on faulty claims and a disdain for the actual wishes of many people in the rural communities where land is drilled. His main target is Josh Fox, the director of “Gasland,” the 2010 award-winning, anti-drilling documentary that has inspired many critics of fracking.
One leading environmentalist welcomed “FrackNation’s” take and said he can’t wait to see it.
“It’s great this guy’s done this documentary. I think it’s sort of a second wave to the more hysterical first reaction” to fracking, said Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, a Berkeley, Calif., nonprofit that argues for new ways to address environmental problems.
Like a genial Michael Moore with an Irish accent, McAleer narrates his confrontations with fracking opponents. Though some of McAleer’s questions are simplistic and leading, it’s startling to see how some critics of fracking react.
Fox said in a statement that he’s refused to deal with McAleer “because he has persistently harassed Josh Fox and represented his statements in a false light.” Fox also said McAleer has a long history of baiting environmentalists, denying climate change and spreading misinformation.
In eastern Pennsylvania, a landowner involved in a lawsuit against gas drilling companies confronts McAleer on a public highway, threatens to sue him, says she has a license to carry a pistol and calls 911. A police officer arrives and determines that McAleer has done nothing wrong.
Shellenberger, who hasn’t seen the film yet, said it’s interesting that McAleer used low-budget counterculture tactics to make a pro-drilling argument. He welcomed the fact that “FrackNation” also presents the views of numerous people in rural areas who say gas drilling is a benefit, not a curse.
For example, Montrose, Pa., farmer Ron White and his son say the royalties from drilling have helped keep the family farm in business, and that his water and land haven’t been harmed by a nearby gas well.View Entire Story
By Elaine Donnelly
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