if you saw the first one, you'll probably not need to watch the redux.
(yes, i know, friends. Anything with energy in teh title is bound to be the work of shills for the big oil/gas industrial complex)
Three years after the release of Gasland – a film panned by independent observers as “fundamentally dishonest” and a “polemic” – the main challenge for director Josh Fox in releasing Gasland Part II was manifest: Regain the public’s trust by discarding hyperbole and laying out the challenges and opportunities of shale development as they actually exist in the actual world. In short, do everything a documentary filmmaker should do, but which he chose not to do in Gasland.
Unfortunately for those who attended the premiere of Gasland Part II this past weekend (we were there), Josh eschewed that path entirely, doubling down on the same old, tired talking points, and playing to his narrow base at the exclusion of all others. The Parker County case? It’s in there. Dimock? Probably receives more focus than anything else. Pavillion and EPA? You bet. And yes, that damned banjo of his makes an appearance or two as well.
This isn’t Gasland Part II, folks. It’s Gasland Too.
Sure, the sequel has some new cast members and a few new claims. Somehow, Fox discovers that shale is actually worse than he previously thought: Earthquakes. Methane leaks. Well failures. Hurricanes. Heck, viewers were probably waiting for swarms of locusts to appear – fracking locusts, to be sure.
And there was plenty of spectacle, too. Yoko Ono was in the audience. So was former Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), the congressman who lent his name to the infamous “FRAC Act” that Josh so desperately wants to become law. After the movie, they joined him on stage, along with the Lipskys, John Fenton, Calvin Tillman, and the rest of the “cast.”
But the emotion-filled remarks afterwards – including a plea to push for Mark Jacobson’s “100% renewables” plan as the way to stop natural gas development – were also the perfect bookend to a movement that was always based on sensationalism over substance (Jacobson’s plan is, quite simply, pure fairy tale). The call to action was more of a cry of desperation (“Please, keep us relevant!”) by a filmmaker, and indeed an entire ideology, whose time has come and gone. As an early review of the film puts it, Gasland Part II “runs longer than the earlier installment, but ultimately it has less to say.”
So, beyond the bigger picture about the waning credibility of the anti-fracking movement, what was in Gasland Part II? Where did Fox travel, and with whom did he speak? Given that issues relating to Dimock have been explained ad nauseum over the past several years, we won’t go into detail explaining why opponents’ claims about that town are untrue. If you want the real story about Dimock, please go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Similarly, the Lipsky case in Parker County, Tex., has been in the news for years, and most of it deals with fraud on the part of local activists, who strategized for months on how to deceive the public and get the EPA involved. The EPA dropped its case, too – not because of election year politics or industry pressure (as Fox alleges), but because real scientific evidence disproved any link between natural gas development and the methane in the Lipsky water well. In fact, most of what Fox tried to spin out of the case paralleled what several media outlets previously tried to manufacture as a story line, and each one has been completely debunked. It’s unclear why Fox would rest his laurels so heavily on a case that the public has moved past, but when you’re desperate to remain relevant, you often have to grasp at straws.
However, let’s look at some of the case studies and subjects that appeared in the film, and a full discussion about why reality, once again, tells a completely different story.
John Fenton (Pavillion, Wyo.)
Summary: Mr. Fenton was also featured in Gasland, providing clarity from the beginning that Gasland Part II is little more than a retread of the same themes explored in the first movie. Fenton has said: “When we turn on the tap, the water reeks of hydrocarbons and chemicals,” which he blames on nearby hydraulic fracturing. The town of Pavillion itself has become a flashpoint in the debate over shale development in the United States, premised chiefly on an unreviewed, draft EPA report from December 2011 that theorized a link between hydraulic fracturing and test results from two deep monitoring wells the agency drilled. In Gasland Part II, the EPA report is presented as proof that hydraulic fracturing causes water contamination, and Fenton (along with a curse word-laden scene with Louis Meeks) is the vehicle through which Fox presents it.
The Facts: Since at least the 1960s, the U.S. Geological Survey has documented poor water quality in the Wind River Formation, over which Pavillion sits. The reasons vary from naturally-occurring compounds to pesticide and agriculture runoff. Here are a few examples:
- USGS (1992): “Water quality is variable in the Wind River Formation because this unit has highly variable lithology, permeability, and recharge conditions. Dissolved-solids concentrations in water samples from this formation ranged from 211 to 5,110 mg/L.” (page 82)
- USGS (1991): “Dissolved-solids concentrations varied greatly for water samples collected from the 34 geologic units inventoried. Dissolved-solids concentrations in all water samples … were 2 to 14 times greater than the Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level of 500 mg/L set by the EPA.” (page 103; emphasis added)
- USGS (1989): “The ground water in Fremont County was ranked the fourth most vulnerable to pesticide contamination in Wyoming. … Six of the 18 focal pesticides and 1 non-focal pesticide were detected in Fremont County. At least one pesticide was detected in 13 of the 20 wells sampled in Fremont County.” (USGS fact sheet; emphasis added)
- USGS (1969): “Poor drainage resulting in salt accumulation has been a problem in many irrigated areas on the [Wind River] Reservation. McGreevy and others (1969, p. I58-I66) reported numerous drainage problems associated with the [Wind River aquifer], and Peterson and others (1991, p. 10) reported that seepage and salt accumulation became apparent in the Riverton Reclamation Project area shortly after irrigation started in the 1920s. (page 8; emphasis added)
Fenton is described in the movie as a person fighting back against the oil and gas industry, a cause he asked the viewers at the premiere to take up themselves. According to Bloomberg News, Fenton receives about $2,000 per year for each of the 24 gas wells on his property – a fact that neither Josh nor Fenton gave nary a mention.
Meanwhile, EPA’s report on water quality in Pavillion has been exposed as flawed by Wyoming state regulators, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Don Simpson, a high ranking official for BLM, pointed to the possibility of “bias in the samples” from EPA’s research. In fact, Simpson says that EPA’s findings