On Wednesday, I attended the much ballyhooed showing of Josh Fox’s Gasland Part II in Royal Oak, Michigan. Given the hype over this event, I arrived early to avoid the anticipated long line to get in. However, I was somewhat surprised that when I arrived — there was no line. The lack of attendance definitely seemed odd given Mr. Fox’s national reputation as the champion for activists who want to halt oil and gas development, regardless of its contribution to the country’s economic recovery. Surprisingly, even after two activists stood on the side of the road to attract more people to the free event, there were only about 150 there. Then again, maybe the lack of attendance was due to the fact that here in Michigan, the oil and gas industry has been operating safely for over 50 years with no significant issues.
Another reason I was surprised at the poor attendance was that the Committee to Ban Fracking posted a blog on its website telling people to “Please come early and line up outside the theatre.” I can only assume that they were expecting a large turnout and therefore must have been disappointed. I suspect this was especially true given that they co-hosted the event to try to raise money for their second attempt at a ballot initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. Ban Fracking was unsuccessful in their first attempt, having only gathered just over 25 percent of the required signatures.
One would think, with that kind of response from the people of Michigan, they would at least be open to the possibility that hydraulic fracturing can be done in a safe manner. However, Ban Fracking’s Campaign Director, LuAnn Kozma, stated that the lack of signatures was not for a lack of public support. Specifically, Ms. Kozma said “the first signature drive failed because the committee couldn’t afford to hire petition circulators.”
That’s right, folks. The activists in Michigan are complaining that they weren’t able to pay enough people to get signatures on their anti-energy petition.
Moreover, if the turnout for this Gasland Part II screening is any indication of public support, the anti-fracturing effort is going to need much more than money to get this issue on the ballot.
However, what I did find interesting was the question and answer segment after the showing. I asked Mr. Fox to respond to reports that some of the most vocal critics of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania had signed leases with oil companies. His somewhat unbelievable response, in front of 80 or so people, was that the articles were wrong, the reporters in question were not even considered “real” reporters, and the Associated Press was not to be trusted.
You couldn’t dream up a more dismissive and silly response if you tried, but there it was, for dozens of people in the room to witness.
To be fair to those in attendance, there were a few reasonable people wanting to discuss the issues, including how broader shale development in Michigan could affect them. One questioner wondered if hydraulic fracturing was such a “destructive, disastrous, and catastrophic” process, where were all the examples of devastation? Surely the fact that hydraulic fracturing has been used on over 13,000 wells here in Michigan suggests there should be plenty of disasters to cite. And yet state regulators have repeatedly affirmed that no such devastation exists. On the contrary, one example showing its safe use has been the ability of the Au Sable watershed to maintain its pristine water quality, even as it supports over 1,200 wells.
If the low turnout and general lack of enthusiasm in Royal Oak is any indication, Ban Fracking is going to have a difficult time convincing the voters to ban a process that has been shown to be safe and can bring jobs and economic stimulus to our state. Furthermore, if activists continue to support people like Josh Fox, their ability to convince voters of this state will continue to diminish — regardless of how many people they pay to support their cause.