In 2010, a “documentary” about the evils of natural gas drilling, funded by the Park Foundation, an anti-drilling group, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. The actor Robert Redford, an outspoken anti-drilling advocate, hosts the annual festival. The documentary film, named “Gasland,” went on to win an award at Sundance, was picked up by HBO, and was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary category.
Josh Fox, the New York City filmmaker who made “Gasland,” played pretty fast and loose with the facts about the drilling process. Ultimately, the allegations made about the natural gas industry in “Gasland” were thoroughly debunked by Energy in Depth, The New York Times and many others.
Despite all this, Fox decided to make a sequel to “Gasland,” called “Gasland 2.” The film has been in the works and scheduled to release for quite some time, but due to unknown reasons, HBO has not yet seen fit to release it. One of the film’s main allegations is that hydraulic fracturing causes breast cancer. Fox used the 2011 Denton Record Chronicle article “Breast cancer rate climbs up”as inspiration for the film. Written by staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, an outspoken critic of the gas industry, the article claims gas drilling is responsible for rising cancer rates, or “cancer clusters,” in Denton, Texas. Again, The New York Times weighs in about Fox’s recent negative assertions about the gas industry.
Across the nation, the debate continues: does fracking cause cancer? The back and forth between those for and those against fracking is predictable. Less predicable was Associated Press reporter Kevin Begos’s article, “Experts: some fracking critics use bad science,” which admonishes Fox for his lack of methodology. Begos cites, among others, Simon Craddock Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who says researchers see no signs of heightened breast cancer rates in the area. Lee calls these claims “a classic case of the ecological fallacy,” because the claims incorrectly imply that breast cancer has just one cause, and they do not take into consideration any other factors.
In the film industry, the debate about natural gas drilling continues. The movie “Truthland,” a project from IPAA and Energy in Depth, aims to debunk “Gasland,” and “FrackNation” aspires to stand up to anti-fracking Hollywood. “FrackNation” will air on Mark Cuban’s AXS TV around the time that Hollywood’s next anti-fracking film “Promised Land” is released.
Actor Matt Damon co-wrote and stars in “Promised Land,” which according to IMDB is a story about a natural gas salesman who has a life-changing experience after visiting a small town. According to writer Jeffrey Folks, the actual premise of “Promised Land” is much more deceiving: “The subject of Promised Land is the potential damage of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on a small Pennsylvania town. … The film's plotline simplistically contrasts two futures for the rural town it depicts, and by extension for America as a whole. … It seems that the film's producers have already made up their minds on fracking.”
As Folks points out, if filmmakers would remain unbiased about the material, our nation might learn more about hydraulic fracturing: “Such an unbiased consideration would reflect the fact that of the 50,000 oil and gas wells that have been drilled using the technique, none has resulted in significant groundwater pollution.”
As the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council recently mentioned, hydraulic fracturing technology has resulted in increased domestic oil and natural gas production, changing the energy picture in the United States. The International Energy Agency (IEA) wrote about it in their recently released World Energy Outlook 2012, in which the IEA’s chief economist, Dr. Fatih Birol, called the surge in U.S. oil and gas production “the biggest change in the energy world since World War II.”
This surge could establish America as the largest energy producer in the world, putting itself ahead of countries such as Saudi Arabia, information which leads Folks to question, “Maybe that is why, according to credible reports, Promised Land has been partly funded by Abu Dhabi, a major exporter of natural gas.”
You can read more on the discussion about “Promised Land” in this Dec. 7, 2012, Pittsburg Post-Gazette article. Modern culture requires that information be disseminated in many ways, and both sides of this debate are weighing in on film.