*UPDATE* EID to Fox: How about Including Some Facts in Gasland 2?

UPDATE (8/24/2012, 12:01pm ET): EID has sent a separate letter directly to HBO highlighting the problems with the original Gasland, as well as reinforcing the facts sent directly to Josh Fox. The letter highlights, among other things, the important distinction between the true spirit of a fact-based documentary and what Mr. Fox is actually trying to do.

The full text of the letter to HBO is below, and you can find the enclosures here and here.

August 24, 2012

 

Sheila Nevins
President, Documentary and Family Programming
Home Box Office, Inc.
1100 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY  10036

Dear Ms. Nevins,

Later this year, Mr. Josh Fox – director of the movie Gasland, which was broadcast on HBO – will be releasing a sequel, Gasland 2. Based on media reports and statements from Mr. Fox himself, the film will be shown on HBO and broadcast to millions of viewers.

As you are probably aware, Gasland created a great deal of controversy, due in large part to questionable assertions and claims contained in the movie. Shortly after the release of Gasland, Energy In Depth highlighted many of the inaccuracies and factual distortions in the film (see enclosure: “Debunking GasLand”).

We are concerned, given Mr. Fox’s repeating in public forums of the claims he made in Gasland (despite clear evidence showing them to be false), that the content of Gasland 2 will suffer from similar flaws. For that reason, Energy In Depth recently sent a letter to Mr. Fox recommending the inclusion in Gasland 2 of several important facts about hydraulic fracturing and the development of natural gas, many of which directly contradict the information he presented in the original film. A copy of that letter is attached (see enclosure: “Recommendations for Gasland 2”).

While HBO’s programming decisions are the exclusive right of HBO itself, we encourage you to examine the breadth of evidence – compiled by scientists, state and federal regulators, and independent experts – affirming that hydraulic fracturing is a safe and proven technology, and that the development of oil and natural gas from shale is a tightly-regulated and well-understood process.

For example: Mr. Fox’s central claim in Gasland was that hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater. But earlier this year, U.S. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated publicly: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” In fact, the emblematic scene in Gasland – when a Colorado resident ignites his tap water – has been refuted directly by state regulators who concluded the methane was “not attributable” to oil and gas development (then-director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Dave Neslin, offered to speak with Mr. Fox on camera during the filming of Gasland, but Mr. Fox declined). Colorado’s current governor, John Hickenlooper (D), said earlier this year: “We can’t find anywhere in Colorado a single example of [hydraulic fracturing] that has polluted groundwater.”

A documentary is by definition a factual report, which means it is neither politically- nor agenda-driven. Although we are hopeful that Mr. Fox will include our recommendations, his active participation in rallies and other events urging bans on hydraulic fracturing – all since the release of Gasland – leads us to believe that Gasland 2 will not be an objective presentation of the facts, but rather a narrative that works backwards from a preordained conclusion – the complete opposite of what your subscribers would expect when tuning in to watch an HBO documentary.

Sincerely,

Lee O. Fuller
Executive Director
Energy In Depth

Enclosures (2)

Original post, August 22, 2012

Today, EID sent a letter to New York filmmaker Josh Fox with a humble request: include facts and context in the forthcoming Gasland 2. We believe that Mr. Fox, as a self-described “journalist,” should welcome these recommendations, considering that journalism is a relentless pursuit of the truth and should not be a conduit for advancing an ideological agenda.

It’s worth highlighting one of the more important recommendations in the letter; namely, the need for accuracy on well casing and failure rates. As readers of the EID blog know quite well, Mr. Fox has cited failure rates for wells that are all over the map — from stating that one in every six wells will fail (as he noted in The Sky Is Pink) to even claiming a 50 percent failure rate. But data from actual onshore wells show the failure rates are nowhere near what Mr. Fox has claimed. According to a 2011 report from the Ground Water Protection Council, failure rates in Ohio and Texas over the past 20 to 25 years are 0.03 percent and 0.01 percent (respectively) — and most of the incidents are from the 1980s and 1990s, long before newer technologies and updated regulations took effect.

We believe inclusion of these data — along with several other important facts — would not only make for a more enjoyable film, but also improve Mr. Fox’s own credibility.

The text of the letter is below, and can also be accessed by clicking here:

August 21, 2012

 

Mr. Josh Fox
c/o International WOW Company
37 Grand Avenue
Third Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11205

Recommendations for Gasland 2

Dear Mr. Fox:

As someone who has consistently claimed to be a “filmmaker and journalist” – as well as someone who cites his own work as being protected by the Freedom of the Press clause – you are no doubt aware of the numerous responsibilities associated with being a legitimate, working journalist. Among these responsibilities is an unflagging commitment to accurate reporting.

You have also stated that your latest film project – Gasland 2 – will be released soon. “I think we’re going to see it this summer,” is what you said in an interview last December. For that reason, Energy In Depth would like to recommend a few segments (if they are not already scheduled to appear in the film) that would demonstrate to your audience that this effort is not guided by blind ideology, as was on display in Gasland – but rather by a commitment to fact-based journalism that seeks to tell the truth about a topic as important as natural gas development.

What follows is a short list of facts and recent announcements that we hope you will consider incorporating into your film:

1. An Update on Dimock: In the original Gasland, Dimock, Pa., was portrayed as a town irrevocably harmed by natural gas development. In particular, your film sought to convince viewers that hydraulic fracturing had contaminated water. Because any legitimate investigation focuses on the facts, we recommend including in Gasland 2 the conclusions released earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which completed four rounds of extensive sampling of water wells in the area. From EPA’s release announcing the results of that sampling:

“The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action. Throughout EPA’s work in Dimock, the Agency has used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water.”

We urge you to include these facts, as viewers might otherwise be led to believe hydraulic fracturing had contaminated water in Dimock, a conclusion that is demonstrably false.

2. Experts Debunk Breast Cancer Claim. In your recent short film, The Sky Is Pink, you attempt to connect increased rates of breast cancer with development of oil and natural gas from shale. But as you know, experts with the Texas Cancer Registry, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and even Susan G. Komen for the Cure have all dismissed that claim as lacking in evidence. The Associated Press called the supposed link between breast cancer and development “one of the clearest examples of a misleading claim” used by opponents.

Scientists, and those interested in the scientific process, often develop hypotheses that are later disproven by empirical facts. Admitting that one’s hypothesis is incorrect should not be seen as an embarrassment, but rather a reflection of one’s sincere commitment to a fact-based dialogue.

3. The Truth about Flaming Water in Colorado. The most notable scene in Gasland is when a Colorado resident lights his tap on fire, an event that the movie links to nearby oil and gas development. But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) – which regulates oil and gas development in the state – investigated that particular well (and several others) and concluded the complete opposite. Here’s what COGCC said:

Gasland incorrectly attributes several cases of water well contamination in Colorado to oil and gas development when our investigations determined that the wells in question contained biogenic methane that is not attributable to such development.”

4. EPA’s Recent Statements on Hydraulic Fracturing. In May 2011, Lisa Jackson, current U.S. EPA administrator, said: “I’m not aware of any proven case where [hydraulic fracturing] itself has affected water.” In April of this year, Ms. Jackson reaffirmed this conclusion, stating: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” And in remarks at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in February, Ms. Jackson said the following:

“[Hydraulic fracturing] requires smart regulation, smart rules of the road. What it doesn’t necessarily require…is that all that smart rule of the road setting be done at the federal level. There are states that have been regulating oil and gas development for a long time.”

Since Gasland focused so much attention on the supposed need for direct federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing, particularly by the EPA, we believe your viewers should be informed that even the EPA itself doesn’t necessarily agree with that position. 

5. The Truth about Well Casing/Cement Integrity. In The Sky Is Pink, you argue that the failure rate for cementing or casing on wells drilled into shale and other tight formations was 16.7 percent, or one in every six wells – an improvement, we suppose, from past declarations by you on television that the failure rate was much higher (the numbers you cited changed with each appearance).

But according to a comprehensive report from the Ground Water Protection Council in 2011, which utilized real-world data in states across the country, cementing or casing failures in Ohio over the past 25 years occurred at a rate of only 0.03 percent, or one incident for every 2,833 wells drilled. More than 80 percent of these occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, well before modern technology and updated regulations went into effect over the past ten years. In Texas, the incident rate was even lower: 0.01 percent.

We also believe it would be useful if you informed your audience, regardless of how small it is, that at least one of the documents you referenced on failure rates was actually an advertisement for a product that can help reduce casing pressure volumes in the Gulf of Mexico.

6. Updates from EPA on Parker County and Pavillion Claims. In 2010, the U.S. EPA issued an order against Range Resources in Parker County, Texas, for allegedly contaminating water wells, despite clear and available scientific evidence showing the methane was naturally occurring. State regulators and independent experts confirmed that it was biogenic methane after the EPA issued its order. With all of the evidence clearly pointing to natural causes, earlier this year EPA withdrew its order against Range. Weeks later, a video surfaced of EPA Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz (who issued the original order and also appeared in Gasland) saying his strategy of enforcing the law was to “crucify” oil and gas companies. Mr. Armendariz later resigned and joined the Sierra Club.

In Pavillion, Wyo., the EPA issued a draft report in December 2011 claiming fracturing was “likely” the culprit behind its discovery of chemicals in groundwater. But evidence that surfaced soon after the report was issued, including but not limited to the EPA’s flawed methodology and improper sampling techniques, forced EPA to suspend peer review of its draft report, and order a completely new battery of water tests for the region. As you know, that report was the focus of a Capitol Hill hearing which you attended – and at which you were arrested, as planned, for filming without the proper media credentials. After your arrest, you issued a statement stating that you featured Pavillion in Gasland as an example of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater, adding that “I have continued to document the catastrophic water contamination in Pavillion for the upcoming sequel GASLAND 2.” But EPA’s Region 8 administrator, Jim Martin, has said the following about EPA’s findings:

“We make clear that the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively, and that our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field and should not be assumed to apply to fracturing in other geologic settings.”

Given the above evidence, your audience should know the full story so it can make its own judgment. Since you already plan to discuss Pavillion in Gasland 2, it would be quite easy to add these important facts.

7. Natural Gas Helps United States Reduce CO2 Emissions. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a report this month that found total CO2 emissions in the United States have fallen to a level last seen in 1992. This decline is attributable in no small part to the increased use of natural gas, and is made possible by large deposits of natural gas in shale formations across the country. As the Associated Press noted:

“In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch form dirtier-burning coal.”

As someone who has called for an energy future with lower emissions, this is clearly something that should interest you. And, in as much as your film will include commentary and opinions, this is an example of an intriguing story that is actually grounded in empirical data.

While there are certainly other important stories that should be described in Gasland 2, we feel that including these in particular will help fill the credibility gap that was created after the release of the original. With the public hungry for a reality-based dialogue about this issue, we hope that you will avoid the kind of sensationalism and hyperbole that needlessly instills fear by obscuring, misstating, or even ignoring the truth.

Residents who have concerns about future oil and gas development deserve to have their questions answered with facts and an honest commitment to responsible discourse. Leveraging fear and uncertainty to advance an agenda is not only irresponsible, but actually does a disservice to the public.

It is our hope that your stated commitment to journalism is more than simple rhetoric, and that you will serve the public’s interest by incorporating these facts into your latest film – however inconvenient they may be.

Sincerely,

Lee O. Fuller
Executive Director
Energy In Depth

Comments

  1. Randy Verret says:

    Right on! Mr. Fox will (probably) tear up the envelope just as soon as he sees the EID return address, but at least you tried to reach out to get some HONEST discussion going. I tip my cap…

  2. Scott says:

    Regarding well casings… the statistics above say that documented cases of groundwater contamination by casing failure happened at a rate of 0.03% in Ohio. I’m not surprised there were so few, considering how difficult it would be to document such a thing.

    However, that’s not what the graph and data in Josh Fox’s Sky is Pink video is trying to say.

    His data are from Schlumberger/MMS industry data showing Sustained Casing Pressure (SCP) rates in a group of wells (the study was in the Gulf of Mexico). The data shows 6% SCP (casing failure) of wells within just the first year, and 50% casing failure of wells older than 15 years. See: http://www.slb.com/~/media/Files/resources/oilfield_review/ors03/aut03/p62_76.ashx

    Looking at the data, well bore casing issues seem to be quite an area of concern when drilling for hydrocarbons.

    It appears your defense above was an attempt to deflect this issue.

    • Thanks for the comment Scott. Onshore data relating to well casing and well integrity are much more relevant than data relating to offshore development, the latter of which are what Fox uses to “prove” high failure rates for shale development. It’s comparing apples to oranges. You can see our more comprehensive examination of this subject elsewhere on our blog: http://www.energyindepth.org/60-percent-of-statistics-are-made-up/

      Hope that clears up any confusion you may have had.

  3. Josh was arrested because chairman Andy Harris (R) over-exerted his authority despite the pleas from other council members that Fox should stay. The fact that EID spends such tremendous effort discrediting anti-fracking activists shows how biased this organization is. How much of your time is spent creating doubt and slander rather than actually producing scientific evidence ?

    EPA head Lisa Jackson was threatened by Ed Rendell (former PA governor turned natural gas lobbyists – conflict of interest ?) to withdraw from their Weatherford, Texas study. Is this fact that gas development is safe ? Absolutely not. If anything it shows the difficulties in objective scientific diagnosis in the current politically charged climate or rampant special interests.

    • Thanks for reading.

      Actually, Mr. Fox was arrested because he did not file for permission as accredited media. It’s a really simple process actually, but he failed to do it. And yet, he expected to be treated as if he had not attempted to skirt the rules. Do you disagree that rules should be followed, especially as they relate to bringing large pieces of equipment into rooms with limited space?

      As for the case in Parker County, Tex., clear scientific evidence showed that the EPA’s argument was without merit, and scientists within the EPA even expressed concern that the basis for the agency’s endangerment order was suspect. Regardless of whatever conspiracy theories or convenient narratives folks have manufactured since then, the hard data show Range Resources’ activities were not to blame for methane in the water. That data was presented in a hearing held by Texas state regulators, to which the EPA itself was invited. The agency refused to attend, which should tell us all we need to know about the EPA’s commitment to sound science (or lack thereof) in that case.

      Again, thank you for reading the piece, and for your comment.

  4. I have watched Gasland and Fracknation. It’s clear which is a true documentary and which is a sensationalist rant for self-promotion. I would like to suggest Mr. Fox live in the world he proposes and see how long before his sorry bleeding heart is yearning for warmth, sustenance and mobility. Energy self-sufficiency is as important to this nation today as a military deterrent was in the cold war. And its a lot less dangerous.

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