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Nothing but hot air in 'Gasland'

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Mark Hemingway
For anyone who cares about the environment and the economy over glamour and gossip, the biggest Oscar surprise of 2011 is that the film "Gasland" was nominated for best documentary.

While Hollywood is typically in the business of creating legends, one would expect films nominated for this particular Oscar to have some tangible relationship to the truth. You'd be very hard-pressed to say that about "Gasland."

The film explores the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." This is a process in which a solution that is 99 percent water and sand -- along with tiny amounts of chemicals -- is pumped into rock strata deep underground at very high pressure to help extract natural gas.

According to Gasland, fracking pollutes groundwater with terrible consequences. But there's no credible evidence that this is happening. None.

Oil and natural gas engineers have used this process more than a million times in this country to harvest otherwise unreachable oil and natural gas deposits. A thorough EPA study has concluded fracking is safe.

And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Drinking Water Protection Division told Congress last year that there's not a single documented instance of fracking polluting groundwater.

Nonetheless, it's generally agreed that "Gasland" is a slick piece of agitprop. The film's pivotal scene involves a Colorado family turning on their water taps and so much gas comes out that they light them on fire.

However, the state of Colorado's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued a press release stating that they had investigated the flaming water taps of the landowners in 2008 and 2009 and concluded it was naturally occurring methane, unrelated to oil and gas drilling.

"Unfortunately, 'Gasland' does not mention our ... finding and dismisses our Markham finding out of hand," notes the commission.

One of the subjects of the film is John Hanger, head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hanger is "a liberal who spent years in the mainstream environmental movement."

After watching it, Hanger called the film "fundamentally dishonest" and "a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect."

Shortly after "Gasland" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won a special jury prize last year, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., then head of House Energy and Commerce Committee, ordered hearings about the safety of fracking and the need for federal regulations of the process.

Waxman is one of Congress' most tenacious liberals, and after issuing subpoenas to eight energy companies, he mysteriously dropped the probe pending further study.

Then last October, Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the publication Energy and Environment that "in the vast majority of cases, if wells are constructed right and operated right, hydraulic fracturing will not cause a problem."

As for the need to federally regulate fracking, Anderson was not concerned about it.

"The states actually have a lot of knowledge and experience in regulating well construction and operation. We think that states have every reason to be able to tackle this issue and do it well," he said.

The Environmental Defense Fund is one of the country's biggest and most liberal activist organizations. If they say fracking is not a problem, it's not a problem.

Of course, we all know why "Gasland" was nominated. Hollywood is largely comprised of bleeding-heart environmentalists. But a bleeding heart shouldn't make you soft in the head.

Whatever your political sympathies, you can't ignore the evidence that "Gasland" is pure propaganda, not a documentary.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has already damaged its reputation by nominating "Gasland." It would truly be embarrassing if they actually gave it the award.

Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at mhemingway@washingtonexaminer.com.

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