Fracking The Movie(s)

The technique of hydraulic fracturing - 'fracking' - is enjoying more than 15 minutes of fame with the release of several documentary films on the subject. So which are worth your time?

Fracking has a bad rep - but should it?
Peter C. Glover
On 21 June 2012 10:07

Forget wind power. Forget solar. Forget renewable energy. The release of the natural gas industry’s Truthland documentary is further confirmation of where the real frontline in the energy vs. environment debate lies: the technique of hydraulic fracturing; ‘fracking’.

This process has opened up a whole new global hydrocarbon energy frontier. And it’s the same technique that is currently transforming America’s dependency on foreign energy imports and its manufacturing industries.

The hard facts are indisputable. The shale gas revolution (which is lately being matched by a shale oil revolution) has already halved domestic gas prices in the U.S. That, in turn, has led to a flat-lining of international gas prices in what is rightly being hailed as the Golden Age of Gas.  Ironically, the US is also presiding over a drop in CO2 emissions which makes regulatory efforts elsewhere pale into insignificance, all because cheaper natural gas has led to a wholesale industrial switch from coal.

Natural gas has also become the U.S. fuel of choice to generate electricity.  What the fracking of gas and oil offers the US is centuries more hydrocarbons at a significantly cheaper cost than current renewable technologies. And, despite President Obama’s relentless antagonism towards the oil and gas industries (his State of the Union address in January completely ignored hydrocarbons), market forces have ensured that the shale revolution threatens, almost single-handedly, to rescue the US economy. Talk of energy independence, laughable just five years ago, has now become a serious topic of conversation.  

With the shale gas and oil capitalist success threatening to drive a coach and horses through policies favouring renewable energy subsidies, so trendy environmentalists are fast re-training their ‘guns’ on the process that has made it all possible: fracking. Such is the magnitude of the shale story that it was only a matter of time before ‘Hollywood’ came calling.

The June launch of Truthland is the natural gas industry’s own contribution to the new shale war/fracking genre. It’s a genre which has thus far spawned Josh Fox’s highly controversial anti-fracking biopic, Gasland, and former environmental journalistPhelim Mc Aleer’s fact-driven, but somewhat low-key pro-fracking response (and, in my view, poorly titled),  Not Evil, Just Wrong. Such was the dramatic impact of Gasland – which could have been sub-titled ‘Flaming Faucets, Batman!” – that HBO have commissioned a sequel, currently in production.  Meanwhile, McAleer has a sequel of his own, for which he has been busy raising funding via Internet donations, the much better titled FrackNation.    

One can only wonder at why the boys at Energy-in-Depth (EID) – the PR arm for the US oil & gas industry – took so long to come up with Truthland. But then the energy industry has long been far too timid in tackling the conveyor belt of environmental criticisms that, under closer scrutiny, simply don’t stack up. EID’s 35-minute documentary launched via YouTube and slated for targeted screenings amounts to a point-by-point refutation of a Gasland movie that, as I have pointed out, is simply wracked with egregious misrepresentations. In documentary terms Truthland might be re-titled Shale Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. All in all, however, EID have done a god job on this and I adjure anyone with a concern for actual facts and reason in the fracking debate to watch Gasland and Truthland in one sitting.   

EID succeeded in retaining the same ‘looking-out-for-the-folks’ approach of Gasland. Truthland adopts the device of an “ordinary woman” (working a dairy farm on land currently being fracked for shale gas) setting out on a road trip. Her goal: to track down the hard facts from “experts”. Immediately, it is made clear to her that utilizing any energy resource, including wind and solar, carries an environmental cost. Interviewing a whole litany of experts including – embarrassingly for anti-frackers – a key administrator of the EPA, an agency known for its environmental activism, we hear of almost universal acceptance of the fracking technique with appropriate environmental caveats.

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