Frack Nation vs. Gasland in Greeley

The Colorado Statesman

Tuesday evening Eric Berglund, president of the Upstate Colorado Economic Development agency, drew 60 people to the AIMS Community College Corporate Center in Greeley for a free screening of Frack Nation, a spirited rebuttal to Josh Fox’s anti-fracking documentaries, Gasland — Parts 1 & 2. Irish journalist Phelim McAleer raised more than $200,000 through an on line appeal on Kickstarter to fund his critique of Fox’s award winning jeremiads. In an effort to cash in on the critical acclaim awarded to Gasland — Part 1, HBO Movies funded the production of his recently released Part 2.

It took me nearly ten minutes to catch up with McAleer’s thick Irish brogue. If I learned anything from him it’s that the Fracking wars are only just beginning. The original film, Gasland, is best known across Colorado for the ignition of a water tap near Craig by a bemused homeowner. McAleer claims it was faked, while others testify that they have been able to light their water for years, long before any frackers arrived. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Energy issued results from its three year study, reporting it was unable to find any cases of groundwater pollution resulting from fracking in thousands of well tests. This seems to be a debate where the truth resides in the belief system of the observer.

Filmmakers probably aren’t the people who should be advancing these arguments. It’s simply too easy to manipulate the emotions of an audience with impassioned appeals and copious tears shed on screen by distraught Americans — whether they happen to believe they are being poisoned by uncaring corporations or they harbor virulent resentment towards opponents perceived as denying them the economic benefit of resources belonging to them. Even Berglund acknowledged that Frack Nation isn’t intended as a neutral commentary, but was designed to incite its audience in the same way as Fox’s alarmist documentaries. McAleer even goes so far as to imply that Vladimir Putin and the Russians may be funding the anti-fracking movement in hopes of squelching marketplace competition in Europe from cheap American liquefied national gas. That’s possible, I suppose, but it feels like a stretch.

Motives are often murky, but it is doubtful that Colorado’s anti-fracking lobby requires Soviet style encouragement. At the same time, it is equally absurd to advance the theory that widespread illness and death are somehow being hidden from public view. Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher emerged as the informal leader of the public discussion following the screening. A huge, bear of a man he argued that the oil and gas industry in Weld County is a lot better environmental partner today than it was thirty or forty years ago. Reflecting a pattern that characterizes public discussion in the 21st century, there were no critics in the Frack Nation audience, just as it is doubtful gas shale proponents would attend a screening of Gasland – Parts 1 or 2. That’s a problem.