Finally, the truth is out about the inaccurate, misleading and even downright fictional charges made in
the anti-fracking documentary Gasland. Phelim McAleer’s and Shelly Depue’s counterpoint
documentaries, FrackNation and TruthLand, are brutal takedowns of the oft-cited Gasland, debunking
and dismantling the entire film, unfounded claim by unfounded claim. Truly, after watching FrackNation
and TruthLand, it’s difficult to call Gasland a “documentary;” it could more accurately be called fantasy
or scary bedtime story.
Not that the mainstream media or the gaggle of celebrities hopping onto the latest cause du jour will
notice or care that the truth behind Gasland is that it is based entirely on Josh Fox’s lies,
misrepresentations and profoundly dishonest innuendo. Many probably won’t bother to see
FrackNation, but it should give pause to any who watch and pay attention, as expert after expert
dismantles “fact” after so-called “fact” presented in Gasland.
First aired on AXS in January, FrackNation takes an investigative approach to exploring the myths and
misinformation surrounding fracking, inevitably referencing Gasland as the best-known and most
favored source of scary fracking stories. FrackNation was preceded on YouTube last summer by
TruthLand, produced by teacher and dairy farmer Shelly Depue in idyllic Montrose, PA (right next to the
“wasteland” of Dimock, PA featured in Gasland), who embarked on her own quest for the truth after
Gasland stirred up controversy in her community.
Both documentaries follow the claims made in Gasland, attempting to verify and clarify, if
possible, but ultimately finding that they could only do the opposite.
How does Gasland err? Let FrackNation and TruthLand count the ways….
Detractors of the oil and gas industry are fond of crying bias whenever yet another study comes
out finding that there is no evidence of fracking practices having polluted groundwater, increased
carbon emissions, released methane into the water or surrounding land, or in any way damaged
the environment. Yet the anti-fracking movement relies solely on unsupported allegations of
pollution and harm to humans and the environment.
Myth 1: The infamous water catching fire scene
What FrackNation and TruthLand tell us about the tap water that one homeowner in Gasland is
able to light on fire is that this phenomenon has been observed in the area, and many others, long
before any oil or gas wells were ever drilled. Naturally occurring biogenic methane has been
known to mingle with water for decades, even centuries.
In 1783, none other than George Washington himself, then a general commanding the
Revolutionary Army, set the Millstone River in New Jersey on fire. The “inflammable air”
became known as “swamp gas.” In 1889 in Colfax, LA, an artesian water well bubbled with
salty, gassy water that could be lit on fire. It was turned into a fountain where the children could
splash in the salty water under the glow of the flames and became a prime tourist attraction until
new construction displaced it in 1959.
When confronted with these facts by McAleer, Gasland Director Josh Fox actually
acknowledged their veracity and said, simply, that the prior history of burning springs was “not
relevant.” Not relevant! Yet, much of Gasland’s vitriol for the oil and gas industry is based on
the premise that fracking is causing methane and other pollutants to leak into the aquifer.
Myth 2: “Weapons-grade uranium” and other toxins in drinking water
Like any good investigator, McAleer and Depue both try to drill down to the sources of the
various allegations to see if they hold up under further scrutiny. One of the more frightening
claims in Gasland was that fracking had caused local wells to become contaminated with toxins,
including “weapons-grade uranium.” McAleer visited the home of Craig and Julie Sautner,
featured in Gasland with jugs of muddy-looking water that had supposedly tested positive for
uranium and other toxins. After McAleer observed clear water now coming from the Sautners ’
tap, noted that four rounds of testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had found
no evidence of contaminants, and requested a fresh water sample for more testing, McAleer was
no longer welcome on the Sautners’ property. Needless to say, the Sautners did not provide
another water sample.
Myth 3: Anti-fracking claims supported by scientific studies
Another dramatic moment in Gasland pivots on the tragic story told by Calvin Tillman, former
mayor of Dish, TX, of children suffering nose bleeds and brain damage from toxic emissions of
frack operations. The problem for Fox and those behind the allegations is that there is no credible
scientific evidence to support them. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality made 120
visits to Dish and tested more than 50 samples, finding that none of them exceeded the state’s
recommended levels. In addition, the Health Department sampled blood and urine of area
residents, again finding no evidence of toxins in their systems.
Worse, though, is the case of Steven and Shyla Lipsky, who sued Range Resources for polluting
their groundwater with dangerous levels of benzene and methane. The Lipskys submitted as
evidence a video of their water catching fire, supported by testimony of consultant Alisa Rich.
The court ultimately found that the Lipskys and Rich had conspired to persuade the EPA to
intervene in their case, based on false evidence. And yet Josh Fox still relies on data from the
discredited Rich, despite her complete lack of credibility and record of falsifying evidence.
The list of highly respected and deeply credentialed scientists who refuted Gasland’s many
claims on film in FrackNation and TruthLand is impressive: UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce
Ames, PhD, who says Gasland’s list of scary-sounding chemicals related to fracking is
meaningless; University of Texas medical anthropologist Simon Lee, PhD and Texas Cancer
Registry epidemiologist David Risser, PhD, MPH, along with researchers from Susan G. Komen
for the Cure, who could find no evidence of the Barnett Shale “cancer spike” alleged in Gasland;
UC Berkeley energy geophysicist Ernest Majer, who tells McAleer that fracking has the lowest
potential for induced seismicity (earthquake) of any type of energy production; Pennsylvania
State University geoscientist Terry Engelder, PhD, who laments Gasland’s reliance on
tremendously misleading innuendo; Red River Watershed Management Institute director Gary
Hanson, who studied fracking and tells TruthLand’s Depue it’s virtually impossible to frack into
the watershed; Texas Environmental Defense Fund director James Marston, who notes that most
of the problems attributed to fracking in Gasland can more accurately be tied to failures in old
well casings; University of Texas Center for International Energy mechanical engineer Michael
Webber, PhD, who says fracking uses less water through the life of the well than any other
energy production technology, such as nuclear or coal.
Gasland perpetrates many more myths than the three cited above. In the end, the takeaway point
of FrackNation and TruthLand is that the anti-fracking crowd isn’t simply trying to protect
people and the environment by raising awareness and lobbying for proper regulation and
monitoring of oil and gas operations; the anti-fracking crowd wants to shut down oil and gas
operations altogether, and will use any means, fact-based or, more often the case, not. Fox’s
Gasland fiction would be amusing in a campfire-scary-story sort of way if its real impact wasn’t
such a threat to our economy and our nation’s ability to become energy independent. Here’s to
FrackNation and TruthLand for keeping it honest and giving Americans a chance to get the real
facts about fracking.