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Natural Gas Industry Attacks Oscar-Nominated Film “Gasland” for Chronicling Devastating Impact of Hydraulic Fracking

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The environmental contamination and human health risk associated with the extraction of natural gas using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” was little known across the United States for years, until a documentary film brought the issue to the national stage. Josh Fox directed the film Gasland, which chronicles the devastation affecting communities where fracking is taking place and the influence of the natural gas industry over regulation of the techniques and chemicals used in the process. The industry aggressively attacked the film, especially when it was nominated for an Academy Award this year. [includes rush transcript]

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StorySep 03, 2009Fracking and the Environment: Natural Gas Drilling, Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Contamination
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Josh Fox, director of Gasland, who really opened up this discussion with this remarkable film. Josh, before we go to you, I want to play an excerpt from your documentary. This clip, featuring Colorado Congressmember Diana DeGette.

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Out west, we’ve had a lot of experiences with different kinds of mining techniques that have caused human health risks and severe environmental damage. Now, Mr. John, you say that hydraulic fracturing absolutely does not pose a threat to drinking water. So if that’s true, why would you object to the disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process under the Safe Drinking Water Act?

MIKE JOHN: As I mentioned earlier, the information packets that we provide to the —- provide to the -—

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: No. Why would you object? If it’s perfectly safe, why would you object to disclosure of the chemicals that are used?

MIKE JOHN: What I was saying was that we have disclosed today and prior to the hearing —

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Which chemicals are used?

MIKE JOHN: Yes, Ma’am.

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: In each process?

MIKE JOHN: They’re listed in a frack fact sheet that’s been provided by Chesapeake —

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Well, so, in that case, you would have no objection to my bill.

MIKE JOHN: We’ve supplied that information as part of our —

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: So would you have an objection to my bill then, since you’ve already supplied that information?

MIKE JOHN: I’m not personally familiar with your bill, ma’am.

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: It makes chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing subject to the reporting requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

MIKE JOHN: As stated earlier, we believe that the current regulatory framework —

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: Yes or no?

MIKE JOHN: We believe the current regulatory framework —

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: So, yes, you would object to my bill, because you don’t think we would need to report it under the Safe Drinking Water Act, even though you say the chemicals are safe. Correct?

MIKE JOHN: Correct.

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: OK, how about you, Mr. Kell? Are you saying that hydraulic fracturing fluids cannot possibly be to blame for water contamination seen in cases across the country?

SCOTT KELL: Allegations that were presented through certain media outlets relative to six specific states. We did not survey all states that have oil and gas activity, and therefore would not make the statement that no one has ever —

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: OK, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Congress member from Colorado, Diana DeGette. Josh Fox, tell us who she was questioning.

JOSH FOX: Well, she was questioning, I think, Mike John from Chesapeake Energy and then Scott Kell from the Groundwater Protection Council, which is a nonprofit that takes a lot of money from oil and gas to analyze various results. And they were all saying that there was no threat to water from hydraulic fracturing.

AMY GOODMAN: Josh, congratulations, by the way, on your Oscar nomination. I would guess you were at the Academy Awards, but you really — your award is that you made this known throughout the country. You have really opened up a national conversation on fracking. This New York Times exposé, and all that Walter Hang has just been telling us, can you take it national? Which is what you did. You went across the country from your own concern in your own backyard, when you hadn’t even heard the word “fracking,” and then suddenly they said they were going to do it where you lived.

JOSH FOX: Well, I’m very glad to see these New York Times articles, especially when they came out. They gave us much needed backup at a time when the gas industry has been attacking and attacking and attacking, in light of the Academy Award nomination, attacking the film, calling into question its credibility.

But as you see here, time and time again, the science backs up what the citizens on the ground are talking about, what they’re saying, you know, because citizens are your first level of scientific data. And what this shows in the Times here is that they were not incorrect about all the things that they believed were going on, that these wastewater — that this wastewater was being dumped illegally into rivers and streams, that it was being spread out onto roads near their homes. Amy Bergdale at EPA knew very well, and she actually did a presentation when we screened Gasland for the entire environmental wing of the Department of Justice. Amy Bergdale from EPA Region 3 came out and gave the very same presentation that you see a lot of here in the New York Times.

So, it’s very, very disturbing information, but clearly, this kind of practice, as we saw in Pennsylvania, which, by the way, was adamantly — you know, it seemed to be covered up by what was going on with John Hanger and the Pennsylvania DEP. But we saw this same kind of practice happening in Colorado, in Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana — all across the nation. And it is very scary.

And I’ll add also that it’s not just the wastewater that’s being dumped into rivers and streams. This wastewater is the flowback water. It’s the produced water which is initially being injected down into the well board to fracture those shale formations or those tight sands or those coal beds. Fifty percent to 85 percent of that toxic material is actually left in the ground. They can’t get it back out. So, not only is this a problem with the wastewater that actually needs to be disposed of, but that toxic material has been left down in the ground there at each of these well sites, infused into the landscape, to presumably migrate over a period of time. And some of the reviews to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s environmental impact study show that, yes, over decades, that fluid, which has been left in [inaudible], will migrate into the [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: We don’t have the greatest connection with you, Josh, but I do I want to ask, with your film, there was a lot of talk about the oil and gas industry filing a complaint with the Academy Award Committee, saying that your film is full of lies. What is your response?

JOSH FOX: Well, this is the kind of infantile smear campaign, shaking their fists. The gas industry, I think they really went over the top this time to try to write to the Academy Awards to somehow take potshots at the film. They’ve been doing this for a year. We have posted at our website, gaslandthemovie.com, our rebuttals to every single one of their lies about our movie. What they’ve been trying to do, I think, is call into — this is a very similar tactic to what people did to try to cast doubt on the phenomenon of global warming.

What they’re doing here is saying things that are very obviously proven untrue. They say things like, “Well, we’re not exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, therefore Josh’s film is wrong and what everybody else is saying is wrong,” or, you know, “These people could light their water on fire before we got there” — things that are kind of utterly ridiculous and that are easily disproven when you look at the facts and you look at the law and you look at the science. I think what they’re doing is to try to create doubt in the media so that there’s no action taken.

But clearly, what Walter Hang is saying, and one of my great heroes, Tim DeChristopher, who you had on earlier, is saying, absolutely right now is the time for action, within the EPA, within the Congress, at the executive level, and certainly among the citizenship.

AMY GOODMAN: Josh Fox, I want to thank you for being with us, director of Gasland. Congratulations again on your nomination for an Academy Award.

JOSH FOX: Thanks, Amy. It’s great to be on.

AMY GOODMAN: It won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

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