Journalist and filmmaker Phelim McAleer just wants to find the truth. That’s what he tells a woman who produces her permit to carry a gun in a threatening manner when McAleer begins asking her questions on a public roadside in his new documentary “FrackNation.”
If there is one thing that FrackNation, which airs to the public Tuesday on AXS TV at 9 p.m. EST, shows is how divided people have become over the practice of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) to extract natural gas. It’s the pro-fracking argument that has been little heard on a national scale — until now.
Those opposed to fracking seem to have a louder voice, and it’s one McAleer believes can largely be attributed to one man and his film: Josh Fox and “Gasland.” McAleer says in FrackNation that the results of Gasland have been detrimental to fracking activities around the world — and he is determined to find out if it was justified.
From the beginning, the creators of FrackNation have said their film was in direct response to Gasland, which was released in 2010 and its filmmaker has a current deal with HBO for a future sequel. McAleer’s quest for the “fracking truth,” FrackNation’s cheeky play on words, began when he investigated Gasland’s portrayal of flaming tap water.
McAleer easily finds evidence that flammable water isn’t necessarily new and also that it can be naturally occurring. He finds historical evidence of “flaming springs,” has residents who say they have had methane coming from their water wells years before fracking and even takes on Fox himself. McAleer attends a press conference where Fox is present and asks him if he knew about the natural occurrence of methane in water.
Fox shows that he did, giving dates of incidents when such cases have been reported, but said it wasn’t a relevant fact to include in his documentary. Watch McAleer’s questioning of Fox:
To be fair, a relevant fact that might have been included in FrackNation on the topic, but wasn’t, is that the drilling company Cabot in 2012 reached a confidential settlement with some residents in Dimock, Pa., who claimed the company’s fracking activity contaminated the water supply. Federal regulators testing the water in 2012 found it safe for drinking but previous tests by state regulators determined that the aquifer had indeed been contaminated with methane by Cabot.
McAleer shows the reaction of a family who was presented with federal test results that their water was in fact safe for drinking at the time of testing — the same that let McAleer know about her permit to carry a gun — and they weren’t pleased. Watch the footage in FrackNation’s promo video:
FrackNation also calls in experts and studies that debunk the threat of man-made earthquakes (one scientist said fracking should be the least of people’s worries) and health concerns (experts have said claims that fracking is associated with cancer lack scientific backing). McAleer also includes the perspectives of landowners who believe leases to gas companies will allow them to save their businesses and property.
In late 2012, the EPA released an update on its study regarding hydraulic fracturing, which is expected to be made public for peer review in 2014. Previous studies by the EPA have linked fracking with possible groundwater contamination, but the industry has said it is difficult to determine the difference between naturally occurring methane and contamination. Industry executives have also pointed out, as McAleer does as well, that when done right, fracking wouldn’t lead to groundwater contamination.
So while it’s clear that studies are still being conducted with regard to drilling, FrackNation pulls together into one film evidence that fracking might not be as detrimental to health as previously claimed; it might not be at fault for all groundwater pollution; and that it’s not the scourge of the countryside as many types of drilling are portrayed to be.
FrackNation shares the important perspective of landowners — many of whom are farmers and pointed out it wouldn’t make sense for them to allow a practice that would destroy their own resources on their land — who want to allow fracking.
It is also worth noting the novel way FrackNation funded itself. The entire film was put together by more than 3,000 backers on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, which raised $212,265.
Overall, FrackNation is worth watching as it provides the lesser heard perspective on fracking in an entertaining, well-researched manner.
Tune in to FrackNation on AXS Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. The DVD is also available for purchase for $19.95 here.