Fracking, Fracking Everywhere

Perhaps to defend itself against charges that its stories have lost cultural relevance, the movie industry has jumped into one of today’s most contentious issues. Yes, Hollywood has joined the great energy debate. But should we be paying attention?

In the past four years, not one, but two Gasland movies have put the energy industry in the crosshairs. In both films, director Josh Fox strives to illustrate the dangers of hydraulic fracturing of wells. While Fox can be commended for his passion for a very important topic – our nation’s gas production – I am disappointed by the sensationalism he substitutes for simple honesty.

He plays especially fast and loose with the facts in his depiction of the effect fracking has on the drinking water of residents who live near natural gas wells. To date, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has verified the industry’s claim that there are zero cases on record of water wells being poisoned due to fracking.

What Fox also didn’t convey in his film is that natural gas is an environmentally-friendly hydrocarbon resource for fueling the global economy. To counter Gasland’s claims and relieve the anxieties that it stokes, the petroleum industry developed its own public relations program.

It’s no easy feat, persuading the public that shale formations often lie thousands of feet beneath potable water aquifers and that the layers of rock that separate the fracked shale formation from the aquifers completely eliminate the possibility of contamination. In terms of visuals, that kind of information―as true as it is―doesn’t hold a candle compared to the image of faucet water catching fire (a scene prominently featured in the movie, but ascribed to bad cement jobs from adjacent wells).

Matt Damon also tried his hand at an “anti-fracking” message-film in 2012’s Promised Land, and now Mischa Barton and Billy Zane are preparing to debut in a movie that associates fracking with flesh-eating zombies. It’s tentatively called Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard. Like the zombies in this most recent effort, apparently Hollywood’s fascination with fracking continues to rise, unbidden, and propel itself forward without any real source of momentum.

At the same time, Worldwide Power Products is quietly going about its business, providing generators and other equipment that will help companies produce the natural gas to make this country energy independent. BP Global predicts that the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer this year due to rising production from fracking. On top of that, U.S. oil imports will fall nearly 75 percent through 2035.

Here’s the bottom line: today’s energy issues deserve serious consideration based on cold, hard facts, not the kind of dubious journalism that debases the conversation.