I was one of the millions of people who had seen the footage of the “flaming water” supposedly caused by fracking in Pennsylvania, but had never seen Gasland or really studied the issue in depth. When the opportunity to attend the Los Angeles premiere of Frack Nation arose, I decided to see what the fuss was about. Cinematically and content-wise, Frack Nation did not disappoint.
Frack Nation starts with the same flaming water shot from Gasland that has alarmed environmentalists and the masses and describes the anti-fracking movement’s complaints. What was helpful for a newbie like me was to have the fracking process described in detail.
McAleer interviewed many of the farmers of Dimock, Pennsylvania, the “ground zero” of this issue. The farmers almost unanimously want the ability to lease their mineral rights to the gas companies for fracking. Many of them are dairy farmers whose land has been in the family for generations. They passionately tell McAleer that they need this money to be able to survive, as farming is a money-losing proposition these days. It is what they love to do, and leasing mineral rights will allow them to do that instead of joining the ranks of the unemployed.
Just as passionately, they state they would never allow anything on their land that harms the environment. Their homes are on this land. Their dairy cows graze on this land. They’ve tilled this land for a lifetime. They are believable – they would not allow any process that harms their asset, the land, just for money.
By far, Phelim McAleer steals the show. He has a delightful Irish accent and is a jovial man, but is a bulldog when tracking down and shooting down false information. He is successful in getting scientists and officials to speak to him because he appears so non-threatening. But he knows the facts and stats and refuses to let them off the hook.
Secondary stars of the movie, though not by choice, are Josh Fox and Craig and Julie Sautner. Close to the beginning of the movie McAleer attends one of Fox’s speeches in Chicago and attempts to ask questions about the flaming water. Fox’s non-response instead questions McAleer’s politics. The movie closes with McAleer attempting to again ask Fox questions, this time at a Los Angeles appearance. That encounter ends with McAleer and his producer being ejected, and with the producer’s camera phone being grabbed out of her hands. It doesn’t matter what angle your documentary is coming from — you’d better be able to back it up with data.
Data, sadly, is what is lacking from the Sautners’ claims. Residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania, they are vehemently anti-fracking and suing to keep it from occurring, claiming a laundry list of chemicals, including weapons grade uranium, are in their water. Their yard is full of signs protesting fracking and they giddily produce jugs of dirty water they claim come from their home. When asked by McAleer to produce independent lab results to verify their claim, they are unable to. McAleer asks for a glass of water from their tap that day - and it’s clear. But, Mr. Sautner claims, sometimes it’s dirty, sometimes it’s not. They just got lucky that day. The EPA performs extended tests and informs the Sautners on camera (in one of the most memorable scenes of the movie) that their water is clean. Far from being overjoyed, as one would expect, they fly off the handle and are furious. So furious that the EPA representatives cut the visit short.
Frack Nation claims that through fracking there are decades and decades worth of energy in the US and other countries, leading to true energy independence from OPEC and countries such as Venezuela and Russia. Why would anyone be against that? McAleer speculates that part of the opposition stems from Americans who see ongoing fossil fuel dependence as a distraction from pursuing “green” energies such as solar and wind (ignoring the environmental impact of manufacturing solar panels in China and that wind power is ineffective and kills birds). Opposition also comes from Russia, from Putin himself, which is not surprising since Russia controls the gas pipeline into Eastern Europe engages in severe price gouging. Energy is power, and Russia is loath to give up further power.
Is fracking environmentally safe? The anti-fracking movement claims that the process taints water and land and causes earthquakes. Frack Nation explains that the water is applied through the pipes for only three days, but the energy can be harvested for 40 years. One question that was not answered in the movie is - what happens to the water that comes back up from the pipes? Is it tainted? Where is it disposed of? But, the movie documents multiple tests from environmental officials in multiple states that shows zero effect on water and land in areas where fracking is allowed.
As far as the claim of increased earthquakes, McAleer interviews scientists at UC Berkeley who dispel the claims that fracking causes earthquakes – and whose data show that geothermal energy production (a favorite of greens) causes more seismic activity than fracking does.
Frack Nation does a tremendous job of simplifying the issue and methodically laying out the case for fracking, using credentialed scientists and professionals to do so. If you are serious about understanding both sides of an issue, you can catch Frack Nation tonight, Tuesday, January 22, on axs.tv.