Gasland Part II: Same Misleading Images, New Conspiracy Theory

Director and provocateur Josh Fox is confident “There is no safe drilling” and has made two of what The New York Times called “muckraking documentaries” crusading against the practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” His movies are powerful propaganda rife with misleading or inaccurate claims and leave little to no room for the other side.

“Gasland Part II” barely acknowledged there is another side. Even the Times TV review of the movie (aired on HBO July 9) said, “Would it have been a bad idea to include at least one interview with a homeowner who professes to support drilling?” In the film, Josh Fox ridiculously said that he had traveled all over this country and to others and “nobody” wanted gas drilling. If “nobody” wanted it, there wouldn’t be gas wells on private property throughout Pennsylvania. Perhaps he should have checked out “FrackNation,” a competing documentary.

There are also people like Sandra French, from Wayne County, Pa., who has already leased their land and need the money that drilling would provide. French is in left in limbo because the regulators with the Delaware River Basin Commission have not decided what to do about the de-facto moratorium on fracking in the region. Fox himself has fought to keep this moratorium in effect.

Fox’s movies both used flaming tap water dramatically, without regard to fact. In “Gasland” Fox spoke with people in Colorado who blamed gas drilling for their flammable tap water, however an investigation found that the it wasn’t related to fracking at all. The well water had been drilled into a pocket of methane, according to Popular Mechanics. There are many other inaccuracies that industry has documented -- some of them have even been admitted by The New York Times Greenwire blog.

Fox has been confronted by filmmaker Phelim MacAleer over historic evidence that water has been flammable in some parts of New York and Pennsylvania for decades. Fox admitted that he was aware of such reports, but didn’t think them “relevant” to his film. The state of Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission has also debunked some of the claims from “Gasland” about wells in its state.

There is more of that in “Gasland Part II” as he interviewed many of the same people in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Colorado, who continued to blame health problems, bad water and more on fracking. But what was incredible about the sequel, was the conspiracy theory Fox concocted to undermine evidence and regulators’ findings that contradicted his message.

Throughout the movie, Fox asserted that because of political donations oil and gas companies have managed to overrule government regulators and control politicians. This is clearest near the very end of the film when Fox narrates “I felt like I could see it: a horizontal well bore drilling down into the earth, snaking underneath the Congress, shooting money up through the chamber at such high pressure that it blew the top off our democracy...”

The implication again and again was that the regulators found problems, but were pressured by politicians at the behest of gas companies. As proof he said regulators told the people one thing, but the public another.

Fox said that about Dimock, Pa., where the Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that the water “is safe and requires no further testing,” according to The Patriot-News. Dimock was the focal point of Fox’s first movie and was included in the sequel.

Many water wells were already flawed according to Susan Brantley, a geosciences professor at Penn State. In an opinion piece for the Times, she wrote that “one study of 200 private water wells in the fracking regions of Pennsylvania, water quality was the same before and soon after drilling in all wells except one. The only surprise from that study was that many of the wells failed drinking water regulations before drilling started.” Brantley does point out that “trucking and storage accidents have spilled fracking fluids and brines, leading to contamination of water and soils that had to be cleaned up.”

Sadly Fox was more likely to crop up in a broadcast network news report about fracking than Brantley. The MRC’s Business and Media Institute found that between Jan. 1, 2010, and April 30, 2013, half of the 36 reports discussing fracking included Hollywood films or celebrities critical of the process.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.