Documentary ‘Fracknation’ debates ‘Gasland,’ ‘Promised Land’ and the greenshirts—and wins.
By Gregory Solman
In Fracknation, Irish investigative journalist Phelim McAleer finds a combustible metaphor for the contrived controversy of hydraulic fracturing in the footage of the Sautner family hustlers of Pennsylvania.
McAleer couldn’t politely interview the couple without Craig threatening a lawsuit (apparently emboldened by the radical National Resources Defense Council) and Julie threatening to pull a pistol on McAleer on a public road where she voluntarily stopped to shout at him. (It’s rich to watch her sheepishly press a gun permit against the inside of her car window, demonstrating the Defense Technique When Not Being in the Least Threatened.) So McAleer pulls a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a taping of the Sautners, apoplectic upon hearing the Environmental Protection Agency—such a right-wing frat under Lisa Jackson—confirm the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s finding that their water tests safe and clean.
McAleer notes the irony that not having contaminated water would be considered good news to all but those looking for an Erin Brockovich ending to their woes, real or imagined, or in ideological lockstep with what is now a full-fledged anti-fracking movement, replete with its own agitprop such as Josh Fox’s polemic GasLand and Gus Van Sant’s desperately “relevant” fiction, Promised Land. For the greenshirts, only bad news is good news: Recall that the same eco-special interests were all for using natural gas when it was an empty-handed gesture, when they thought we were almost out. (Their next suggestion: Francium power—but only if actually bottled in France, in IWW-run shops.)
In Fracknation, McAleer is mostly after the would-be Michael Moore, Fox, in whose disputatious documentary the Sautners display their dubiously adulterated water and others light their taps—and a large part of the impressionable public—on fire. But that’s a well-known, ancient phenomenon having nothing to do with fracking, and everything to do with methane naturally seeping wherever it can, as surely a few of Fox’s new found celebrity friends must know from the rich little people living near the La Brea Tar Pits, where the streets spontaneously combust from time to time. (Clearly if the greenshirt “gascists” could redevelop Los Angeles, there’d be nothing within miles of mid-Wilshire—well, except maybe environmentally sensitive Ed Begley-esque manses—an area that would be turned into a no-man’s-land preserve to hasten the return of the kangaroo rat.)
When McAleer catches up to Fox—he, too, in the Moore mode—and accuses him of recklessly associating fire-water with fracking (which has never once been proven to have contaminated ground water, occurring thousands of feet beneath the water table), Fox says, “Yes, but it’s not relevant.” And from his perspective—smacking of Hillary Clinton’s on Benghazi, 9/11/12—it isn’t. Despite Fox’s pose as an intermittently impertinent prick and friendly naïve explorer in GasLand, reinforced by a lazy narrative drawl suggesting Bill Murray’s muttering groundskeeper in Caddyshack, his project aims to stop shale gas production, by any means necessary.
The moratorium on leasing GasLand inspired animates McAleer to work the other side of the documentary-cliche fence, matching Fox’s often sincere-sounding fracking alarmists with a Depression-era revival of plaintive, tearful farmers fearful of losing their land because their gas leases have been shut off amidst already hard times. Besides them, McAleer finds plenty of residents in Dimock, Pennsylvania, who don’t appreciate GasLand’s suggestion that their homesteads are toxic wastelands, inhabited by greedy despoilers and easy marks for Matt Damon.
McAleer systematically eviscerates GasLand’s false implications and sloppy inferences (finally, not even distinguishing between oil and gas production, and instantly trotting out a Halliburton/Cheney conspiracy, the not-so-secret handshake of Club 9/11 Truth). McAleer interviews specialists who assure us that the mathematical detection of seismic activity does not constitute an earthquake (and that the greenshirts’ beloved geo-thermal energy is worse). He unveils collusion between biased government officials, liberal media, non-governmental organizations and their Hollywood waterboys. He embarrasses Fox, a Columbia University grad, for his woeful ignorance of physics, engineering and chemistry.
Fracknation then travels to Europe to suggest that new-school Communism under Vlad Putin has a hidden-hand behind the anti-fracking agenda, so that Russia can continue to use a gas monopoly in the Ukraine and eastern Europe as a political cudgel, turning it on or off as it pleases, and charging little old ladies in Poland flats half their pensions for gas and electric, bringing to mind Dr. Zhivago’s arrests for foraging firewood. (He might have contrasted their plight with the thousands of Californians driving natural-gas Honda Civics—the cleanest cars on the planet, including electrics—for an unsubsidized $1.36 a gallon, thanks to fracking, what reasonable people call a win-win.)
Fracknation’s timing it good, though it’s unlikely to crack already ossified myths or effect fracking’s prospects, when even the use of that vulgar sounding nickname is as devious as cubic zirc ads referring to the genuine article as “mined diamonds.” In the pop cult, fracking friends and foes—and the movies they love—have formed skirmish lines almost identical to climate-change controversy. So we’re going nowhere from here. But it’s heartening to see someone take on a few of the anecdotal, unscientific and politically motivated accusations against the practice, before they, too, become immune to counter evidence.
The frack list (neuropathy, fish kills, cancer, dead bunny rabbits, migraines, animal hair loss, neighborhoods erupting in flames) is already reminiscent of the hysterical global-warming compilations which currently run from “acne” to “yellow fever”—until “aardvark population decline” and “yam rust” are added by someone, anyone, somewhere. The same camps have enlisted the same recruits, including anti-capitalists out to control the command economy by fiat, Communist style; enrich themselves, like Qatar’s over-compensated useful idiot, Al Gore; or just feel morally superior to others and, in the sweetly juvenile manner of the Mars Attacks! teen hero, suggest, to a mariachi version of the National Anthem, that “maybe, instead of houses, we could live in tepees, ‘cause it’s better, in a lot of ways.”
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