Industry Groups Fight Dirty Against Oscar-Nominated Hydraulic Fracturing Documentary "Gasland"

Read time: 4 mins

In the United States and beyond, governments are praising the “clean, plentiful fuel” that is natural gas, and tout it as a viable alternative to oil and coal.  According to Abrahm Lustgarten at ProPublica, its advocates are calling natural gas a step toward a greener energy future due to the fact, they assert, that natural gas produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal. 

Josh Fox’s critically-acclaimed documentary Gasland tells quite a different story about the natural gas industry and its extraction process, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  As he journeys across the United States, he discovers the devastating environmental and health impacts of humans and animals in close proximity to gas wells, and realizes that the so-called “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” is causing more pain than it is worth.

After the release of Fox’s documentary, an oil and gas lobby group calling itself “Energy In-Depth” launched a public relations offensive against the film (apparently they didn’t like the footage of people lighting their tap water on fire).  As it turns out, the website of the lobby group was registered to a Washington, DC public relations firm called FD Americas Public Affairs (formerly FD Dittus Communications) whose clients included oil and gas lobby groups including the American Energy Alliance, run by former Republican staffers Eric Creighton, Kevin Kennedy and Laura Henderson.

Today, when Fox’s documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature, a major energy trade association weighed in on Gasland’s nomination.  The industry group, the America’s Natural Gas Alliance argues on its website that “for our nation’s economy” we must make greater use of the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas” for the sake of the environment and economy.

The industry group finds the nomination “particularly troubling because natural gas is routinely and safely produced across this country and holds such extraordinary potential to advance our nation’s clean energy economy”.  ANGA Executive Vice President Tom Amontree went on to argue that natural gas development “can and does exist in harmony with our environment and can play a central role in improving our nation’s air quality and solving our energy challenges”.

ANGA calls itself “an education and advocacy organization” but represents over 30 North American natural gas exploration and production companies including EnCana, Cabot, Talisman and Apache. According to Andrew Restuccia at The Hill, in an effort to protect the criticism that Gasland mounts against the industry, they’ve launched a campaign against the documentary, arguing that is exaggerates the side effects of fracking.

They’d better hold their breath though.  According to new findings from the Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas isn’t as green as these industry and lobby groups have us think.  When you consider the full life cycle of the gas including the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and customers, its environmental footprint skyrockets.  

The EPA’s new analysis doubles its previous estimates it made as recently as April for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells.  Shockingly, calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent, and worryingly, methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

The “clean energy future” the fracking operations promise hardly add up given these new findings. 

The EPA found that the equivalent of the annual emissions from 35 million automobiles seep from loose pipe valves or are vented intentionally from gas production facilities into the atmosphere each year.  Gas drilling emissions alone account for at least one-fifth of human-caused methane in the world’s atmosphere, the World Bank estimates, and the EPA expects these emissions to increase dramatically.  And let’s not forget that methane is far more potent than other greenhouse gases. 

As the margins of advantage narrow, the political arguments of proponents the industry are becoming more unbelievable.  And, as you might imagine, their PR tactics will only continue to get more extravagant. 

Despite lack of scientific proof of the industry’s infallibility as a beacon of green, they’re redoubling their PR to try to convince the public of the industry’s merits. And they’re fighting dirty. 

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and who financed ‘gasland’? did it not seem worth mentioning to you. seems like the ‘other sides’ financing was of critical importance to you.

I read this story with both amusement and concern. Of course there are environmental consequences to exploration for fossil fuels. There are environmental consequences for every single energy production action we humans take, including solar,hydro,wind,nuclear,wave,tidal, hydrogen,EM,etc. ad infinitum. It’s always a trade-off.

I worked in the gas production industry as a derrick hand on an oil rig in the 70’s and experienced ‘fracking’ first hand. I also later taught AP Environmental Science and have taken a serious interest in all energy technologies, researching their benefits and their drawbacks. What always seems to be lacking in these conversations is any realistic vision of how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’ without completely disrupting the economies of the world. I believe the increased use of natural gas is one possible step in that journey towards a cleaner energy picture. It’s certainly better by far than coal- our largest source of heat for producing electrical energy at present. How about embracing it as just that?

P.S.- Methane (CH4) IS natural gas. Your article seems to imply that it is some kind of pollution IN natural gas. So, to state that fracking increases the release of methane up to 9,000 times higher; well, um, it’s supposed to…that’s the point of fracking.(And this is supposed to be unbiased journalism? Wow.)