Gasland - Can it Be Trusted?

If there is a flagship monument of the anti-fracking movement, it is the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland.

It is often mentioned by fracktivists as the source to turn to if you want to know the truth about fracking and find out what the real consequences of oil and gas exploration are.  We've touched on Gasland before here in the blog, but what follows are excerpts from articles which cite sources and facts in order to debunk the sensational statements made by filmmaker Josh Fox in the film.  Then you can see Fox's written response to these articles.  In the end, it ends up being a summary of the fracking debate in a nutshell:  somebody is full of crap, but who you trust most likely comes down to which side you were already leaning towards.

Here is an excerpt from Energy in Depth's trashing of the movie (read the entire article here):

Josh Fox makes his mainstream debut with documentary targeting natural gas – but how much of it is actually true? For an avant-garde filmmaker and stage director whose previous work has been recognized by the “Fringe Festival” of New York City, HBO’s decision to air the GasLand documentary nationwide later this month represents Josh Fox’s first real foray into the mainstream – and, with the potential to reach even a portion of the network’s 30 million U.S. subscribers, a potentially significant one at that.
But with larger audiences and greater fanfare come the expectation of a few basic things: accuracy, attention to detail, and original reporting among them. Unfortunately, in the case of this film, accuracy is too often pushed aside for simplicity, evidence too often sacrificed for exaggeration, and the same old cast of characters and anecdotes – previously debunked – simply lifted from prior incarnations of the film and given a new home in this one.
“I’m sorry,” Josh Fox once told a New York City magazine, “but art is more important than politics. … Politics is people lying to you and simplifying everything; art is about contradictions.” And so it is with GasLand: politics at its worst, art at its most contrived, and contradictions of fact found around every bend of the river. Against that backdrop, we attempt below to identify and correct some of the most egregious inaccuracies upon which the film is based (all quotes are from Josh Fox, unless otherwise noted):
Misstating the Law(6:05) “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law, and about a dozen other environmental and Democratic regulations.”
  • This assertion, every part of it, is false. The oil and natural gas industry is regulated under every single one of these laws — under provisions of each that are relevant to its operations. See this fact sheet for a fuller explanation of that.
  • The process of hydraulic fracturing, to which Fox appears to be making reference here, has never in its 60-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). It has, however, been regulated ably and aggressively by the states, which have compiled an impressive record of enforcement and oversight in the many decades in which they have been engaged in the practice.
  • Far from being “pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney,” the Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and a former junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees. 
(6:24) “But when the 2005 energy bill cleared away all the restrictions, companies … began to lease Halliburton technology and to begin the largest and most extensive domestic gas drilling campaign in history – now occupying 34 states.”
  • Once again, hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated under SDWA – not in the 60-year history of the technology, the 36-year history of the law, or the 40-year history of EPA. Given that, it’s not entirely clear which “restrictions” in the law Mr. Fox believes were “cleared away” by the 2005 energy bill. All the bill sought to do was clarify the existing and established intent of Congress as it related to the scope of SDWA.
  • Interest in developing clean-burning natural gas resources from America’s shale formations began to manifest itself well before 2005. The first test well in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, for example, was drilled in 2004. In Texas, the first wells in the prolific Barnett Shale formation were spudded in the late 1990s. But even before natural gas from shale was considered a viable business model, energy producers had been relying on hydraulic fracturing for decades to stimulate millions of wells across the country. The technology was first deployed in 1948.
  • The contention that current energy development activity represents the “largest … drilling campaign in history” is also incorrect. According to EIA, more natural gas wells were developed in 1982 than today. And more than two times the number of petroleum wells were drilled back then as well, relative to the numbers we have today. Also, while it may (or may not) be technically true that fracturing activities take place in 34 states, it’s also true that 99.9 percent of all oil and gas activity is found in only 27 U.S. states (page 9, Ground Water Protection Council report)
(32:34) “The energy task force, and $100 million lobbying effort on behalf of the industry, were significant in the passage of the ‘Halliburton Loophole’ to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorizes oil and gas drillers exclusively to inject known hazardous materials, unchecked, directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. It passed as part of the Bush administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005.”
  • Not content with simply mischaracterizing the nature of existing law, here Fox attempts to assert that the law actually allows energy producers to inject hazardous chemicals “directly into” underground drinking water. This is a blatant falsehood. Of course, if such an outrageous thing were actually true, one assumes it wouldn’t have taken five years and a purveyor of the avant-garde to bring it to light.
  • The subsurface formations that undergo fracture stimulation reside thousands and thousands of feet below formations that carry potable water. These strata are separated by millions of tons of impermeable rock, and in some cases, more than two miles of it.
  • Once again, to characterize the bipartisan 2005 energy bill as having a “loophole” for hydraulic fracturing requires one to believe that, prior to 2005, hydraulic fracturing was regulated by EPA under federal law. But that belief is mistaken. And so is the notion that the 2005 act contains a loophole for oil and natural gas. As stated, hydraulic fracturing has been regulated ably and aggressively by the states.

(1:32:34) “Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey’s FRAC Act [is] a piece of legislation that’s one paragraph long that simply takes out the exemption for hydraulic fracturing to the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
  • Here Fox is referring to the 2008 iteration of the FRAC Act, not the slightly longer (though equally harmful) 2009 version of the bill. The legislation does not, as its authors suggest, “restore” the Safe Drinking Water Act to the way it was in 2004. It calls for a wholesale re-writing of it.
  • Here’s the critical passage from the FRAC Act: “Section 1421(d)(1) of the Safe Drinking Water Act is amended by striking subparagraph (B) and inserting: (B) includes the underground injection of fluids or propping agents pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil and gas production activities.”
  • Why would you need to “insert” new language into a 36-year-old statute if all you were looking to do is merely “restore” it?

Here is another article, and another, which use similar points to try and debunk Gasland.

Now, here is an excerpt from Fox's response to the criticism (read the entire response here):
Affirming Gasland 
A de-debunking document in response to specious and misleading gas industry claims against the film.

Dear audience, press, and peers:
I have been overwhelmed by the amazing, positive responses to the film. From the incredible reviews, the great HBO ratings, the effusive and impassioned response to our website and Facebook page, the powerful responses of the news media and the thousands of audience members at sold-out community screenings, I am humbled that Gasland has been so well received and is helping to bring the crisis of gas drilling in the USA to greater attention.
Even before its release, the significance of the film was not lost on the gas industry. In the March 24th edition of the Oil and Gas Journal, Skip Horvath, the president of the Natural Gas Supply Association said that Gasland is “well done. It holds people’s attention. And it could block our industry.”
Although I am thoroughly dismayed and disappointed in the recent attacks on the veracity of Gasland and on my credibility as a filmmaker and journalist by Energy-In- Depth and other gas-industry groups, I can’t say that I am surprised.
When I was investigating gas drilling across the United States, I heard time after time from citizens that the industry disputed the citizens’ claims of water and air contamination and denied responsibility for their health problems and other problems related to drilling.
I now know how the people in my documentary feel, to have the things they know to be true and the questions they are raising so blatantly discounted and smeared. It is truly unfortunate that the gas-drilling industry continues to deny what is so obvious to Americans living in gaslands across the nation instead of taking responsibility for the damage they are causing.
I am issuing the following point-by-point rebuttal of their claims, not because I feel obligated to address what are clearly falsehoods and smear tactics, but to show the depth of the industry’s assault on the truth and to point out their obfuscations, misleading spin on information, and attempts to shut down questions about their practices. We will be continuing to do the work necessary to have the film seen as much as possible and to offer the Gasland team’s expertise as we move forward.
First, to reveal the accusers: Energy-In-Depth (E-I-D) is a PR firm/lobbying group funded by the American Petroleum Institute. It is a source of neither journalistic integrity nor educated opinion. There are no authors named on the document “Debunking GasLand,” but you can learn a bit about who they are here.
We wish both E-I-D and the gas industry as a whole would behave differently towards people living in gaslands across the globe. We urge them to see the problems that theyare causing and move swiftly to correct them — and if they cannot, to cease the practice of hydraulic fracturing immediately.
Please see our responses below to their claims.
I hope that you, too, continue to investigate the truth of gas drilling so that you can help us protect water, air, and public health from this unregulated industry.
Thanks in advance for reading this statement. I hope it will be a resource and a jumping- off point for your continued research.
Josh Fox
Neither side is objective, so it can be difficult to decide what to believe.  But since Gasland comes up so often as a point of contention between pro-frackers and anti-frackers, here is some data to try and help you assess the film's factual merits.

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