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Weigel writes: "The fracking business is expanding faster than its affects can be studied. 'The impacts of fracking go far beyond methane migration,' says Fox."

Josh Fox, director of the documentary GasLand. (photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Josh Fox, director of the documentary GasLand. (photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

The Birthers of Fracking

By David Weigel, Slate Magazine

03 March 13


arlier this week, a group of House Republicans were treated to a screening of FrackNation - a KickStarter'd documentary that aims to debunk the Oscar-nominated, fracking-skeptical GasLand. I reported a bit on the screening (which ended with free DVDs for attendees) and reviewed the movie, paying notice to how filmmaker Phelim McAleer appeared to frazzle GasLand director Josh Fox. Early in the film, McAleer shows up at a Q&A with Fox and asks him why his movie didn't explain that methane has been in some water supplies for years, and that shocking video of water being lit on fire wasn't as shocking as it looked. Fox asks for McAleer's credentials and calls the question "irrelevent." McAleer, duly inspired, makes a movie.

It's a bit much, says Fox. "I gave the guy, not knowing who he was, a long, academic answer," he explains. "I'd just gotten off the plane, and I just found out somebody robbed my house! I wasn't thinking about it in a media context, and unfortunately there was nobody else in the room taping. So they pulled a kind of Shirley Sherrod thing where they completely represented the Q&A session."

Since making GasLand, Fox has become a sought-after speaker and activist for the anti-fracking movement. With that comes criticism, and with that occasional, judicious pushback against the allegation that the water-on-fire scene is misleading. "I'd been asked the same questions before, and answered them before," says Fox. "I've been part of something like 250 debates around US and world. At almost every one, some oil and gas shill says something like this. They're the birthers of fracking. This argument about biogemic and thermogenic gas is one of the things that the oil and the gas industry brings up as a distraction. Both biogenic and thermogenic gas can be released by drilling, and the industry says so."

I tried to get this across in my review. FrackNation doesn't debunk every question you've ever had about fracking. It introduces us to plenty of people who benefit from fracking, and exposes some fraudsters who claimed damage before being caught out. "I wouldn't blame a person for leasing if he's one mortgage payment away from foreclosure, and the lease can fix that," says Fox. "But these companies are exploitative. The government's not helping by providing a way out. These same people could lease their land for solar, we're one line change away in the solar power laws, to allow this. Instead, they're turning PA into Nigeria as we speak."

Meaning: The fracking business is expanding faster than its affects can be studied. "The impacts of fracking go far beyond methane migration," says Fox. "Chemical migration has been confirmed by the industry. That's not surprising - we're talking about wells up to three miles deep, with one inch of cement keeping the chemicals inside. We've seen industry documents saying 5% of wells fail immediately, and 50% to 60% fail over a 30-year period. And they have known about this problem for decades. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection did the same thing, they had video of cracking cement. they didn't publish for 16 months until Rendell said, you should do something."

The tension between agencies and communities - studies inconsistently analyzing the possible threats - is probably the most compelling part of FrackNation. McAleer drives to Dimock, Pa. (where he's conducted other interviews) to talk to a family whose claims suffered after the EPA rated their water safe. A family member drives to meet and berate McAleer; he plays footage of the family reacting angrily to an EPA administrator. That, says Fox, is much more complicated than the ugly snapshot would indicate.

"I remember when that EPA report came out about the 'water being fine,'" he says. "They didn't release the tests to the media, but the media ran with their press release. Meanwhile, I was driving three hours to Dimock, getting the test results from people: They found explosive levels of methane. I had a meeting with EPA. And in the meeting, they told me, oh, we never said Dimock's water was safe! So why did they come out and say methane was not a contaminant?"

Fox has released a quasi-sequel to GasLand already, a short film that answers the attacks and traces many of them to the natural gas industry. The attention paid to FrackNation doesn't surprise. "It's not hard to get a screening in Congress, especially when oil and gas companies have your back." your social media marketing partner


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+46 # RMolineaux 2013-03-03 13:05
The gas industry is being hoisted on its own petard. Wholesale gas prices are low enough to make new drilling a losing proposition. This is because all the companies are rushing into new drilling in an effort to outrun the regulators.
+33 # Mentat 2013-03-03 14:48
And taxpayers, landowners and people who drink water are expected to pay the bill...
+82 # Reductio Ad Absurdum 2013-03-03 13:49
"That shocking video of water being lit on fire wasn't as shocking as it looked."

Yeah, I routinely barbecue in my kitchen sink. Just turn on the tap and light 'er up! It's so normal.
+34 # Mentat 2013-03-03 14:57
The source of the flaming faucet, while dramatic, is a distraction from the real problem. The industry's defense is that the methane is not from their formation. That may be correct.
However, the route the flaming methane took to get to the surface water is the deep fracking well the industry drilled. "It's not our chemicals, it's not our gas and we can't control how nature uses our well without our permission."
The gas industry learned from the NRA: It's not the the well, it's the contaminants that are to blame.
Neat trick...
+10 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-04 08:15
I like this quote: "It's not our chemicals, it's not our gas and we can't control how nature uses our well without our permission."

How explicitly to they need to be to prove they have no conscience, no moral bearings whatsoever, and no intention to even consider the absences of such thing.

But keep voting R or D; they love these cash machines, and keep them greased with subsidies at the taxpayers' expense. And they don't give a fat fa*t for the damages resulting from their gross irresponsibilit ies and improprieties.
+8 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2013-03-03 16:05
We have heard from our youth by the Plutocrats, corporate executives, "this is the greatest country in the world." Trying to create faith in an idea when the evidence speaks the opposite. When 1/2 of 1 % own the country, there will be lots of money to throw around with lobby, influence peddling power. Which congressman, senator or group of is bringing this sickening issue, fracking to the public's attention? The corporate power of money peddling, more influence against public interests.
+39 # Vardoz 2013-03-03 14:10
Fracking is a holocaust in the making. It's another extreme violation and assault on us and our environment that is being carried out in the usual way that compnaies do it in the US- Porfits before people and the planet. Everything is expendable, even our most precious resources. Connect the dots and industry in taking us down the black hole of extinction.
+41 # gdp1 2013-03-03 14:36
...We're going to resemble one of those third-world countries where the oil company abandons the operation after they've stripped the location of retreivable oil, and the local children have hands growing out of their d the price is still going up.....and we can't do anything about it?.....short of violent revolution?.... and homeland security recently bought 1.6 trillion bullets?....and , our Congress has gone home during the sequestration?. ...And the Congress still gets their paycheck while walking out of the sequestration situation?....A nd this is the land of the free?....Where are the brave?
+10 # DPM 2013-03-03 16:47
"Where are the brave?" Some of us are coming forward. Join us!
+1 # Wally2007 2013-03-04 12:37
I TOO have been overcome with all the truly negative impact of the potential fracking with my neighbor New York. I have been in touch with Governor Cuomos office, the NY EPA, NY Health departments relative to this ever threatening potential of polluting the environment and water supply. I have also taken the necessary steps of notifying all my CT officials and representatives of this grave matter.
As mentioned in this article, I WILL be part of the so-called BRAVE faction and further carry on with what ever needs to be done to THWART WHOMEVER OR WHATEVER!!!
+36 # RHytonen 2013-03-03 14:38
The biggest problem - the release of carcinogens, and the permanent conversion of ground water into a carcinogen, rendering it unavailable to the environment for cleansing INTO potable water - is a serious and MASSIVE loss on a level that could literally obliterate the human race, or at best render it slaves to an oppressive water-profiteer ing regime - as has happened in South American villages. And I have no doubt this is their long term ambition for us.
+2 # Michael Lee Bugg 2013-03-06 08:31
Rhytoen, you make a great point! For years corporations have been buying small municipal water systems promising better maintenance, better efficiency, and lower prices. Usually none of these promises are delivered and the water ends up more expensive. You have to have water so you will pay whatever price the local monopoly demands. Now look, as you suggest, at the big picture. Water is still relatively plentiful and hard to monopolize everywhere because of private wells. Contaminate large areas of ground water and presto, people with wells are forced into municipal or corporate owned water systems or are forced into buying bottled water. Cha-ching!
-1 # Innocent Victim 2013-03-03 14:44
The word is spelled "irrelevent". If Fox had written the word, we could possibly blame him for Weigel's mistake as having unconsciously influenced him by bad example. As the case is cited, Fox cannot be blamed for Weigel's high school spelling-word gaff. We have to blame the poor language habits that computer usage, texting, etc., promote.
+17 # MindDoc 2013-03-03 14:45
It might be informative to know the enormity of industry advertising, PR, and consumer-influe ncing propaganda COST.
I cannot recall watching a single news/politics show of late without a calm, 'factual' spokesperson singing the praising of "clean", "available" energy and how so many (American?) jobs will magically appear and remain. On PBS as well as 'commercial' TV, so much underwriting is done by "energy" companies.

Meanwhile, slews of 'consumer surveys" offer choices between reacting to ads as 1) proof of the value of 'clean natural gas' 2) a good idea for solving unemployment; and/or 3) proof positive that our energy companies have *our* interests at heart.

Nowhere is fracking mentioned, other than in "code" (like "safe, clean, natural gas" - which is indeed safe, where it is, or accessed without violating ground water or pumping noxious chemicals into the ground near homes, schools, farm animals, etc.)

I'd like to see just one day's ad buy cost plowed into reducing gas prices- probably to just cents per gallon if they stop plowing the obscene profits into 'mindwashing' the American public with propaganda about 'clean' coal or fracking. Take all the money spent trying to frame confsumer idea-bytes so that there is no conceivable down side to all these warm, glowing info-ads - and invest in some non-fracking natural gas harvesting - we have so much!

Haven't heard too much about sun or wind or thermal energy lately... How much of these do we still have?
+4 # cmp 2013-03-03 22:10
Great Stuff Doc!
Nothing like using the People's Airwaves to create their own, closed feedback loops and echo chambers..

I've been thinking a little bit lately, on the Communications Act of 1934. Isn't it quite ironic that the educators, non-profit organizations, etc. were shut out of the People's Air-wave allotments due to the arguments that they would have to sell advertising to become self sufficient.. hahaha.!

What a blow that we lost Justice Stevens to retirement.. This says it all:
". . . corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their 'personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."
~Supreme Court Justice Stevens, January 2010~

Four of the current Chief Justices were born in the 1930's. Let's, all stay "actively tuned in.." haha.
+23 # Mentat 2013-03-03 14:46
The main problem with fracking isn't the chemicals or the gas. It's the hole. Holes allow natural concentrations of chemicals -- mainly brines -- which have been separated for hundreds of millions of years to mix with surface water. Water used for drinking. Water that goes into streams.
The deeper the well, the greater the probability that, when it fails, it will produce a permanent source of contamination by brines, organics and fracking fluid. In places where shallow wells have been drilled folks must 'soften' this water to use it. This just one of the ways the industry shifts the economic burden to innocent bystanders.
Once contaminated by mixing with underground sources the only solution is to wait a few million years for the earth to isolate old forms of contamination and refresh the water supply.
All this is totally unnecessary. Wells can be drilled to permanently seal themselves. Industry doesn't want to drill safely and, in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, industry owns the legislature. The gas industry dictates the terms and neither landowner nor nature have a say in the result.
+17 # MainStreetMentor 2013-03-03 14:48
With regard to fracking when related to the Gas Companies: "It's STILL about the money, stupid!" Currently it's STILL legal to rape the environment by these Clowns of Avarice - and never forget: They do it all for the chance at another dollar bill - and to hell with the detrimental effects on the human population.
+3 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-04 08:19
And that is also the attitude of their Congressional and Presidential enablers.

There are two irresponsible parties supporting all this moral and spiritual and political and economic and social degeneracy: The Republicans and the Democrats.
+12 # rsstein 2013-03-03 15:06
This criticism of fracking is largely based on the problems of methane in water. I believe a more important critism is related to the fact that it is a producer of fossil fuel, a contrciibuter to global warming when it is burned to produce CO2. This cannot be tolerated as there is strong evidence that it will lead to climate conditions leading to problems that are much more costly and the cost savings brought about by the vlue of the natural gas obtained. There is need to consider these more serious long-range consequences that could seriously affect the lives of our sescendents and those of many in other parts of the world
+26 # chicagoflygirls 2013-03-03 15:22
It's the Benzine and other chemicals I worry about. And the fact that ANYTHING messing with the water supply is a very bad, long term problem.
+13 # heraldmage 2013-03-03 15:54
And when the earth & communities are irreparably damaged what we will do then?
Will the industrial profiteers, government regulators and members of Congress who received bribes from gas companies and benefited from this disastrous extraction of gas & chemical infusion be made to pay?
Most likely the answer is no? History shows us only the people will suffer and the tax payer will be required to pay the price again. Congress will give blanket immunity to corporate donors.
We must demand a halt nor only in fracking but in the Keystone pipeline as well until regulators have had time to examine the technology risks to both people & the environment.
We need changes in the law to make renewable energy & individual investment in it just as profitable
-14 # 2013-03-03 17:31
The author might want to take down a dictionary and look up the meanings of "affect" and "effect."

You're very welcome.
-13 # MidwestTom 2013-03-03 19:57
There is a geologic formation mainly located in Indian called the Cincinnati Arch. It starts on Ohio/Indiana line around Dayton, and arches all across northern Indiana, then comes near the Illinois/Indian a border. For over 75 years water wells drilled in the area frequently also have natural gas coming up with the water.. It is not uncommon to hear stories of well houses catching on fire throughout that area. Burning water has been around for a long time.
+8 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-04 08:22
Therefore, it is nothing to be concerned about, right?

Wrong! It is about as solid of proof as any half-witted moron would need to say, hey, folks, there is something important to be learned here!

But, not for the religiously devoted deniers. For them there is never anything to be learned.
+6 # j.a.o 2013-03-03 23:08
I find it interesting that in the article it points out how different parts of the interviews(abou t the family in Dimock) were edited into Fracknation to suggest strongly that the EPA said the water was safe. Then it's found out that that information was incorrect. So why does the movie tout that Dimock's water is safe when it's not? This is an example of how the public needs to see a movie that is a documentary on this subject ( Gasland and Fracknation) and then research for themselves about this process. I did and I know so much more about this process and what it will do to us as a human species. We are fouling our own nest. Way under ground. For profits for the few at the expense of the many. Fracking in it's present form cannot be safe.
+3 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-04 08:25
Yes, we must do our own research to learn anything relevant about anything. And this is a sad commentary on the destructive results of letting capitalism run amok and remain ungoverned.

So how will we get adults in Washington, D. C.? Because there are too few there now to embarrass ourselves counting them and making the numbers public.
+7 # frotow 2013-03-04 00:20
Yea, fracking is so safe , that's why the industry needed Clean Water Act exemptions from the EPA before they could use their carcinogenic toxic waste for drilling. Cancer potential for you and your children comes from every one of those wells. The earth moves ,always has and always will, the cement casings will eventually crack too. Fracking is a very selfish and dangerous energy path .
+1 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-04 08:27
Well, now, let's be careful here.

Not all politicians are corrupt, though all Presidents probably are.

But only about 90% or 92% of Senators and Congressmembers are corrupt. And Judges.

Funny thing is that 100% of them are either Democrats or Republicans.
+8 # angelfish 2013-03-04 02:45
God forbid ANY Politician takes ANY Scientist's word on an IMPORTANT issue such as Fracking or Deep Sea Oil Drilling, or even caring if their OWN opinion on an issue may be wrong! FULL SPEED AHEAD! Who gives a Damn about Consequences? I am MORTIFIED that MOST of our Congress doesn't care about Natural Science or the DAMAGE Man's Pollution has ALREADY wreaked on this Earth. When it's gone,it's GONE! I guess like the Movie, "Wall-E" they think they can get on some perpetual flying Space Ship after we've poisoned the World and made it uninhabitable. Pitiful.
+10 # Hacienda View 2013-03-04 02:51
The Earth will only let us go so far before IT decides that enough is enough. It has a far longer life span than we, so all this global warming, fracking and anything else that is comeming along will only hasten our demise as a species. Politicians may say it's nothinv to worry about, scientists don't. We are damaging the Earth but we are NOT killing it. It will kill us or worse still will kill our children, grandchildren or ancestor further down the line but sure as God made apples, if we don't stop this stupidity Earth will purge itself of the human race.
+4 # charsjcca 2013-03-04 10:33
When our Congress begin talking about the black budget they will begin speaking truth to power. The fracking debate to just a manifestation of the masking of public interests turned private.
+2 # noitall 2013-03-04 18:41
This is why we have agencies that regulate. They have to do their job BEFORE products, processes, services, etc. are given the go-ahead. Big bucks from the fossil fuel extractors, the likes of Monsanto and our neo-funky foods, right down to the long-term impacts to our world of depleted uranium ammunition are given full-steam-ahea d clearances before we know the potential damage. With Nature, let the cat out of the bag and Nature will indiscriminatel y KICK YOUR ASS or save it! Its up to the trigger puller to vet the process not Nature. Nature doesn't put Man ahead of any other organism just because of his big dumb-assed brain. Remember, Big-brained Americans tested the first A-bomb even though they were unsure if it would ignite all the Earth's oxygen. Reckless moves like that can only be spurred on by greed, fear, lust, ignorance, greed, or greed. Remember also that Greed is a sin for a reason. Meditate on that fact for a while.
+3 # worldviewer 2013-03-04 19:37
Remember the TOBACCO industry's denial--for over 40 years--that tobacco causes cancer. Tobacco use has been reduced in the U.S., but now they're selling to the Chinese.
The fracking oil industry is doing the same.
Meanwhile we should be saving petroleum for long-term uses such as durable plastics and for future generations instead of the present wholesale conflagration of burning oil.

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