The stand-out scene in the anti-fracking documentary “Gasland” where a homeowner’s water is set afire is sensational but misleading, said Phelim McAleer, director of the pro-fracking documentary “FrackNation,” which was screened Saturday at Sidetracks Bar & Lounge.
“It was very dramatic but untrue; it’s not journalism, it’s showbiz,” the Northern Ireland native said during a question-and-answer session after the screening, which was attended by about three dozen people and took place simultaneously to a “Gasland Part II” screening next door at Callicoon Theatre.
McAleer claims the director of the “Gasland” movies, Josh Fox, is more interested in drumming up fear than seeking the facts. The water-on-fire scene is misleading because, McAleer said, it was caused by naturally occurring methane in the area’s water, not by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“It’s very emotional, but it’s not rationale,” McAleer said. For decades people have been able to light water on fire, he said, noting that George Washington set fire to a river in New Jersey.
“FrackNation” tracks McAleer, an independent journalist, as he travels the U.S. and Europe, questioning “green extremists” in an effort to find the truth and to uncover the science he says is being suppressed by environmental activists who want fracking banned.
“Our goal … was to make an honest film that tells the truth about fracking. We wanted to put it in full context: economic, personal, scientific, political, historical. The truth needs to be out there,” McAleer told his audience, most of whom were impressed with the film.
Alan Scott of Long Eddy said the documentary shed fresh light on the subject. “It was very interesting and it gave you the other side of what’s going on.” Scott bought a CD of “FrackNation” and plans to pass it among his friends and acquaintances.
John Sutliff of Abrahamsville in Wayne County also had a positive reaction, saying the film did a good job of exposing the misleading aspects of “Gasland.”
“I’m pro gas,” Sutliff said, noting that years ago he had relatives in Oklahoma, where natural gas drilling was occurring, and they had no pollution to their water.
The issue is particularly relevant in New York and northeastern Pennsylvania since the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has put a moratorium on natural gas drilling within the basin. At one point in “FrackNation,” McAleer confronts Carol Collier, executive director of the DRBC about her on-screen credit in “Gasland.” She claimed her name was used without her permission and subsequently terminated the interview, then tried to confiscate the footage.
Drilling is allowed in Susquehanna, PA, where the tiny town of Dimock – population about 1,500 – has been “ground zero” for the fracking movement. Eleven residents of the town have filed a lawsuit claiming that fracking has contaminated their water. In “FrackNation,” McAleer talks to numerous residents who say fracking is not the source of the pollution and that such allegations have been overblown.
“Eleven people filed the lawsuit – 1% of the population,” McAleer said. “Dimock is not a ‘gasland,’ it is beautiful.”
McAleer said the moratorium is a detriment to farmers. If drilling is allowed, it would be a financial windfall for the farmers who are now struggling to pay their bills. Fracking can make America one of the world’s leading energy producers, if not for the extremist environmentalists with influential backing, he said.
“It seems that Hollywood is with Josh Fox, and the farmers are with us,” McAleer said, noting that though Fox currently lives in Milanville, PA in Wayne County, he was born in New York City.
Daniel Fitzsimmons, president of the Binghamton-based Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, said there is no legitimate reason why drilling should be held up. He said gas drilling can be a safe enterprise if best management practices are followed.
“We need to let them know we want drilling in New York,” Fitzsimmons said. “Drilling can be safe and beneficial. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends – let’s get the word out.”
McAleer said the $212,000 he raised to fund the film came from Kickstarter.com, a website where “ordinary people” can pledge money for creative projects they feel are worthwhile.