Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry has found a supporter from across the pond. Irish journalist and film producer Phelim McAleer, a self-styled “critic of disinformation,” has produced and directed a pro-gas documentary film, “FrackNation.” The film was financed by thousands of small donations from an online campaign and screened locally in Scranton, Honesdale and Montrose. FrackNation investigates the claims of the HBO documentary, “Gasland,” which was written and directed by Josh Fox.
This popular 2010 film focused on communities in the United States impacted by natural gas drilling into deep shale beds and the process of hydraulic fracturing to free the gas.
However, “FrackNation” insists that much of the information revealed in “Gasland” is either exaggerated or simply false. The film also pokes holes at what McAleer identifies as “scare tactics” and “non-scientific media sensationalism.”
“FrackNation” disagrees with the basic concept that planet Earth is in danger of running out of fossil fuels, because the previously unavailable technical ability to recover gas from deep shale beds allows us to tap reserves that were once considered out of reach. Hydraulic fracturing of the shale, which is commonly know as fracking, is actually only one step of the total gas recovery process.
During the film, McAleer visits rural areas such as Dimock, Montrose and northern Wayne County, where he outlines the financial plight of farmers who are badly in need of gas-lease revenues. “FrackNation” also insists that stray methane existed in the water supply of these areas decades before fracking began. The debate has become so emotionally charged, McAleer says, that he has faced threats and “bogus” lawsuits as he questions fracking opponents.
“Bringing FrackNation to the heart of fracking country is incredibly exciting,” says McAleer. “I’m thrilled to bring the film to places where the people are eager to fight the lies and misinformation of anti-fracking activists.”
The New York Times called “FrackNation” “meticulously researched and provocative.” Other national publications have applauded McAleer as he carefully interviews selected scientists and water experts, visits residents of Dimock who are angry that their town has been labeled a toxic wasteland, and explains the complexity of the drilling and gas recovery process.
“The establishment media has not done its job investigating claims by anti-fracking activists,” McAleer says. “FrackNation asks the tough questions that the media won’t.”
McAleer explains that his interest in gas recovery through fracking can be traced to a less-than-ideal media encounter with “Gasland’s” Josh Fox, where McAleer says he found Fox to be “a fear-monger and peddler of misinformation.” McAleer later posted Mr. Fox’s answers to his questions on the Internet, a move that prompted Mr. Fox to pursue legal action to have the posts removed. McAleer, who describes himself as an “independent Irish journalist” claims that move was a violation of his free speech.
“The more I learned about gas recovery, the more I realized this was a great story,” says McAleer.
The total cost of the FrackNation project, according to McAleer, now stands at $212,000. Sales of DVDs and showing of the film on select television outlets is helping to pay these costs, while local venues are paying for McAleer to travel as the film is screened.
He agrees that public opinions about fracking are highly fraught emotionally, due to concerns about the safety of the fracking process, but that he does not believe anyone’s health is at risk.
“The real issue is that no data exists which indicates long-term environmental damage from this process of gas recovery,” says McAleer. “America has 1.3 million frack wells, and there are no proven cases of groundwater contamination.”