Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"FrackNation": Phelim McAleer takes on "Gasland"


Irish freelance journalist Phelim McAleer, along with Ann McElhinny and Magdalena Segieda, made the 77-minute “FrackNation” as an answer to “Gasland” (March 5, 2013 on this blog).  I don’t recall a documentary which focuses so much on a feud with another documentary filmmaker with an opposing viewpoint on an issue.  This 2013 film was financed with Kickstarter, whereas the former film allegedly had celebrity support.
  
An early scene in this film sets up the essential confrontation.  McAleer shows up at a QA for the earlier film by Josh Fox, who quickly asks McAleer do identify himself, as if there were something inherently wrong with a freelance journalist (let alone blogger) from overseas questioning his work.
  
McAleer spends a lot of time in the film in Dimock Township, PA, in the far northeast of the state, northwest of the Poconos.  
  
McAleer maintains that finding methane in ground water (and the trick of setting tap water on fire) does not mean that fracking caused the problem.

McAleer says that Fox fought a legal battle with him, forcing YouTube to take down (under DMCA Safe Harbor)  a video criticizing Fox with what Fox claims is copyright infringement.   This sort of thing has happened before with other issues, such as “HIV denial”. 

McAleer does explain the process of fracking (that is, hydraulic fracturing), and shows some examples of successful fracking operations.  Usually, a small plot of land is leveled to place the well.   It’s nothing like “mountaintop removal”.

McAleer gives examples of natural methane emissions in various other states, including in Barry Springs, NY, and in Louisiana. 

In the second half of the film, he explains how natural gas is a very important export from Russia, and how Vladimir Putin would love to see the environmental movement shut down fracking in the US.  He explores the dependence of former Soviet countries, especially Poland, on Russian gas. That has become a bigger issue (because of the Ukraine) since this film was first released.

The filmmaker has several more confrontations.  A lawyer tries to seize his film physically.  He has a confrontation with the Sautner family outside their Dimrock property, when state police are called.  Toward the end McAleer is exluded from another QA given by Fox at a museum in Los Angeles. 

McAleer doesn’t provide a convincing answer to the proliferation of small earthquakes in areas near fracking (especially most recently in Oklahoma). He presents a hydroelectric power station in talking about the quake problem.  But he does make a convincing case that solar energy alone cannot carry the nation, because solar panels depend on rare earth metals that are dirty to refine and come mainly from China.  

We’ve already seen the political battle over dependence on foreign oil (with the Middle East), and the US is breaking free of that with the “Pickens Plan” of natural gas.  (I remember the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and the gas lines.)  We have a dangerous dependence on China in the raw materials for the solar industry, and on many non-western countries in our ability to make large transformers to run our power grid (or replace them in case of big damage from space weather – and that would make another good independent documentary which McAleer could try to make).

The official site is here  (Magnet pictures). Note that HBO wants to make a sequl to “Gasland”.

  
I watched the film on Netflix instant play   The title could be split into two words, “Frack Nation”. 

Picture: Mine, near Reading, PA, 2007. The last time that I visited the "Land of the Endless Mountains" was 1992.  

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