Energy in Depth and the gas industry are deploying spin doctors to counter a new documentary being aired nationwide on HBO. This time around, the truths unearthed about what the impacts would be of methane gas drilling into the Marcellus Shale unveiled by the film Gasland, by scientists, and by investigative journalists, are all victims of a prolific oil industry smear campaign.
Quick refresher: Marcellus Shale is an extensive underground formation of shale in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other states in the region that has received renewed attention both because of new estimates of the quantity of methane gas believed to be under these rocks, and because of the significant environmental concerns that have been raised about the method of extracting the gas from the shale. "Hydrofracking" is a process in which a fluid is injected at high pressure into oil or methane gas deposits to fracture the rock above and release the liquid or gas below. The process uses enormous amounts of drinkable water, along with toxic chemicals. It also releases radioactive materials and other hazardous substances within the shale deposits, a fact that has raised significant environmental and health concerns.
Keeping the Drilling Industry's Secrets
The drilling industry lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress with claims that the "fracking fluid" should be considered "proprietary" and thus exempt from disclosure under federal drinking water protection laws. Led by Halliburton and aided by the former CEO of Halliburton, then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the industry successfully obtained this exception in the law, along with favorable treatment by political appointees and regulators in the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result of this "Halliburton loophole" in the law, drilling companies have not been required to divulge the cocktail of chemicals that are in the fracking fluids used at each of the proposed or continuing drill sites across the country.
In an honorable manner, Josh Fox, the writer and director of Gasland and a Pennsylvania-native, decided to look into the issue of methane gas drilling after receiving a letter from an oil industry company offering him $100,000 in return for the permission to drill for oil on the land surrounding his former home. The more he learned, the more mortified he became, and the product of his investigation became a feature-length documentary, Gasland.
The Drilling Industry Strikes Back
Literally the day HBO released the film to a mass audience, on June 21, the industry spinmeisters went to work and a group called Energy In Depth issued a paper called "Debunking Gasland", claiming to "debunk" the film's documentary evidence.
This begs the crucial question of who, or what, is behind Energy in Depth? The answer, luckily, is not too hard to discover.
Who Are These People?
Energy in Depth is a pro-oil-and-gas drilling industry front group formed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Petroleum Association of America and dozens of additional industry organizations to denounce legislation proposed by Colorado U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette to regulate underground fracking fluids, and squelch any truth that comes out relating to the impact that the oil industry has had, and will continue to have, in contaminating citizens' drinking water with carcinogens and other lethal substances by drilling into the Marcellus Shale.
Indeed, people like Josh Fox, and movies like Gasland, are the industry's worst nightmare. People like Fox reveal the drilling industry's egregious motives: profit over life, and looting the commons over treating all members of it as equal partners. Again, completely unsurprisingly, Energy in Depth's debunking effort consists entirely of turning the "myths" into "realities" and the "realities" into "myths."
After about three weeks, Fox decided he had had enough. Working alongside a consortium of academics and scientists, he produced a 40-page document called "Affirming Gasland", showing that, lo and behold, every "myth" in the "Debunking Gasland" document was a "reality" and every "reality" was mythical.
Where the battle over drilling for methane gas in the Marcellus Shale will go next is anyone' guess. Will big money and contaminating the citizenry's drinking water with natural gas and hazardous chemicals win the day? Or will truth, justice, and respect for the commons win the day? Those questions will be decided in the coming months and years.