- Colorado has had “no verified incident of hydraulic fracturing harming groundwater,” commission director David Neslin told me — either from fracking chemicals or methane from the gas well itself.
- If we want to take the reasonable approach, it will require first of all a recognition, in Neslin’s words, that “just because someone can light their tap on fire doesn’t mean their water has been contaminated by an oil or gas well.”
- According to Gasland, fracking pollutes groundwater with terrible consequences. But there’s no credible evidence that this is happening. None. … A thorough EPA study has concluded fracking is safe. And the head of [EPA’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.
- 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.
“Gasland” vs. Colorado
By Vincent Carroll
The Denver Post
When President Obama challenged Congress last week in his State of the Union to set a goal that “80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources” by 2035, he pointedly included natural gas in the mix. So would anyone remotely familiar with the obstacles to relying solely upon renewables.
But don’t tell that to Josh Fox, director of the film “Gasland,” which has been nominated for an Oscar. Natural gas “contributes to global warming and climate change,” he told reporter David Brancaccio last year on “NOW” on PBS. “It will run out. . . . We’re transitioning from fossil fuels to other fossil fuels? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Perhaps this attitude explains the liberties Fox takes. In one scene replayed in the PBS report, for example, a man puts a flame to his faucet, which bursts into a ball of fire. Talk about fallout drilling fallout!
Except for one problem: The man lives in Weld County, and his well has been thoroughly investigated by Colorado regulators — and specifically by scientists at the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. Their verdict, issued Sept. 30, 2008: “There are no indications of any oil- and gas-related impacts to your water well.”
So is the commission in bed with industry? Hardly. When the legislature revamped the agency in 2007 and ordered a rewrite of drilling rules, the industry threw a fit. Their complaints reverberated so loudly that Republicans thought they had an issue to exploit against former Gov. Bill Ritter — until he decided not to run for a second term.
So what does explain a faucet bursting into flame? As the commission explains in its “Gasland Correction Document” (see it at cogcc.state.co.us), “Methane gas is common in water wells in Colorado. It occurs naturally . . . as a gas in coal or black shale seams” and “as a byproduct of the decay of organic matter.”
Commercial natural gas is also created by the decomposition of organic matter, but in “rocks buried deeper within the Earth.” It also consistently contains “heavier hydrocarbons such as propane, butane, pentane and hexanes.”
The well in question extended 530 feet into the Laramie-Fox Hills aquifer, which contains methane gas, and had “penetrated at least four different coal beds.” Tough luck, but no scandal.
In reading the commission’s reports, you can’t help but be impressed by its thoroughness. When gas drilling is implicated, its analysts say so. “Gasland” depicts three Weld County landowners and one in Garfield County with wells allegedly polluted by gas development. The state linked one of those cases — and only one — to drilling.
The filmmaker claims that the remarkable surge in drilling across the nation and soaring estimates of recoverable gas reserves represent not a boon, as most energy realists believe, but a threat.
“It’s looking like this is at the expense of our water throughout America,” he told Brancaccio, pointing in particular to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as the culprit. Yet when contamination has occurred in Colorado, it’s been linked to spills or unauthorized releases, for example, or failures in the cement or casing in a well. But fracking itself, in which high-pressure fluid (typically 99 percent or more water but also various chemical compounds) is injected into rock formations containing natural gas, has not been implicated.
Colorado has had “no verified incident of hydraulic fracturing harming groundwater,” commission director David Neslin told me — either from fracking chemicals or methane from the gas well itself. Which is not surprising, since the chemicals or gas would usually have to migrate through thousands of feet of impervious shale first.
Neslin said he was “disappointed” in “Gasland,” noting his agency receives “dozens of complaints every year that water wells have been impacted. All are investigated. A relatively small number result in confirmation that the problem is attributable to gas development.” When that occurs, his outfit orders remedial action.
Meanwhile, as Neslin told an Environmental Protection Agency hearing last year, the commission requires periodic tests for “over 2,000 water wells in the San Juan Basin in Southwestern Colorado . . . . Thousands of oil and gas wells in that basin have been hydraulically fractured, and if fracturing fluids were reaching these water wells, then you would expect changes in the chemical composition of the water.”
And yet no such changes have been detected.
Energy production is an industrial process that involves its share of problems, accidents and, yes, pollution. We can try to deal with those side effects reasonably, as Colorado and many states do, or we can spread fear. But if we want to take the reasonable approach, it will require first of all a recognition, in Neslin’s words, that “just because someone can light their tap on fire doesn’t mean their water has been contaminated by an oil or gas well.”
Nothing but hot air in ‘Gasland’
By Mark Hemingway
Jan 30 2011 – 8:05pm
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.
MORE INFO DEBUNKING GASLAND
EID Fact-Check: Debunking GasLand (Fact Sheet)
Frm. PADEP Sec. John Hanger: GasLand’s Josh Fox is a “Propagandist”
Fact-Check: Colorado State Regulatory Office Debunks Gasland
Denver Business Journal: “In Colorado, COGCC officials have said repeatedly that the state agency — after years of testing — has never found a link between fracking and groundwater contamination.” (11/1/10)
Financial Times: Claims in the film are “Absurd”
Longtime NYT Editor, Columnist on GasLand: “One-sided, flawed … in the Michael Moore mode”
Towanda (PA) Daily Review: “If you want a relatively quick overview of the natural gas phenomenon, watch the 60 Minutes program. And by way of contrast, see “Gasland” and learn for yourself the difference between a responsible report and a hatchet job.” (Editorial, 1/19/10)
Wash. Examiner Columnist: “Gasland is more agit-prop than factual documentary”