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Gasland director responds (sort of) to FrackNation film

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

Last month, I wrote a column about a dueling pair of documentaries about the debate over natural gas and “fracking,” the controversial method of releasing the gas from deep underground. Josh Fox’s 2010 film Gasland portrayed it as a major danger to the environment in general and drinking water in particular. Phelim McAleer’s film FrackNation argued the contrary and poked several holes in Fox’s arguments.

In particular, FrackNation argued that one of Fox’s key points — that fracking can so contaminate water that it literally becomes flammable – was highly misleading. As I wrote in January:

McAleer shows people in the supposedly fracking-damaged regions saying their groundwater was always bad. The filmmakers show considerable evidence that methane gas in groundwater is not uncommon, and the flaming tap water may have been a naturally occurring phenomenon.

When McAleeer confronts Fox at a lecture, Fox surprisingly concedes that people had been lighting tap water on fire long before fracking. So why wasn’t this mentioned in Gasland? “It’s not relevant,” Fox insists.

Later in the film Fox is shown literally evading McAleer when he triers to talk to him at another public event.

Well, Fox talked with Slate’s Dave Weigel last week and he responded — as far as I can tell for the first time — to FrackNation. Here’s what he told Weigel about his first encounter with McAleer:

It’s a bit much, says Fox. “I gave the guy, not knowing who he was, a long, academic answer,” he explains. “I’d just gotten off the plane, and I just found out somebody robbed my house! I wasn’t thinking about it in a media context, and unfortunately there was nobody else in the room taping. So they pulled a kind of Shirley Sherrod thing where they completely represented (sic) the Q&A session.” (Emphasis added.)

Since making GasLand, Fox has become a sought-after speaker and activist for the anti-fracking movement. With that comes criticism, and with that occasional, judicious pushback against the allegation that the water-on-fire scene is misleading. “I’d been asked the same questions before, and answered them before,” says Fox. “I’ve been part of something like 250 debates around US and world. At almost every one, some oil and gas shill says something like this. They’re the birthers of fracking. This argument about biogemic and thermogenic gas is one of the things that the oil and the gas industry brings up as a distraction. Both biogenic and thermogenic gas can be released by drilling, and the industry says so.

To liken the interview to a “Shirley Sherrod thing” and say it was “completely misrepresented”  in FrackNation would suggest that Fox was claiming it was dishonestly edited. So I asked Weigel via Twitter if that was what Fox appeared to be claiming to him. Weigel indicated it wasn’t. “He’s explaining why he [Fox] seemed so curt and evasive,” Weigel said. (He also said the quote “completely represented” was a typo. It was supposed to be “misrepresented”.)

Unless, Weigel is wrong and Fox really was claiming the interview was dishonestly edited his defense is pretty lame. “I wasn’t thinking about it in a media context,” is something you would expect a public relations hack to say.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner