Husband and wife duo Philim McAleer and Ann McElhinney’s latest documentary, ‘FrackNation,’ which debunks many of the common myths about the controversial oil drilling practice of fracking, is finally hitting the airwaves on Tuesday, nearly a year to the date after the high-profile project went public.
Although they are journalists by trade, ‘FrackNation’ is McAleer and McElhinney’s second foray into environmental documentaries. In 2008 they made the documentary ‘Not Evil Just Wrong,’ debunking the claims former Vice President Al Gore made in his movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly called, is a process in which horizontal pipes collect oil from the middle of rock formations deep underground and bring it to wells built on the surface. Unlike traditional drilling, the wells do not have to built directly on top of the oil deposit, which allows companies to build wells in open spaces and collect oil in a more efficient and effective manner than in the past.
Because it is less intrusive than traditional drilling methods, fracking has become a financial boon for many agrarian communities struggling to stay afloat in today’s economy.
At a conservative conference in July, McElhinney said fracking “a game changer” that would allow Americans to “have cheap affordable energy for approximately 300 years.” So, anyone who is against fracking is “crazy,” she said.
Fracking has become a controversial issue in recent years, however, as environmentalists have purported the myth that the process causes methane gas and other harmful byproducts to seep into the ground water, resulting in serious health issues for local residents. In 2010 producer Josh Fox released the documentary ‘Gasland‘ to inform Americans on the danger of fracking, and many Hollywood stars have since jumped on the bandwagon to stop the practice. It was ‘Gasland’ that spread the myth that fracking can cause water to catch on fire. Actor Mark Ruffalo even visited Dimick in protest of the process as shown in the documentary. McAleer believes that they “are on the wrong side of history” when it comes to fracking.
At the state level, Vermont has already passed a ban on fracking (although it is not currently an oil-producing state), and New York and New Jersey have both had moratoriums on fracking in the past.
McAleer actually decided to produce ‘FrackNation’ after engaging in a heated conversation with Fox several years ago. McAleer filmed his conversation with Fox and posted it on YouTube and several other video sharing sites before Fox’s lawyers had it removed due to ‘copyright infringement.’
“I’m Irish, and I’m a journalist, and no one tells me to shut up,” McAleer said of the experience. “And then he tried to shut me up.”
McAleer considers fracking to be a human rights issue more than anything else. That is why he focuses on the human aspects of fracking, such as the hardships that many farmers face financially if they aren’t allowed to lease out their land to oil companies. According to McAleer, there is a “mass movement for fracking” more so than there is a mass movement against it.
“The world has changed. Something the world thinks – that rich and powerful people want to tell the rest of the world what to do. I think they’re kinda the bad guys to me,” McAleer said.
Currently the debate over fracking is most potent in the Marcellus Shale region, which encompasses large parts of upstate New York and Pennsylvania. As a result, the majority of McAleer’s film takes place in Pennsylvania, which he considers to be “ground zero” in the controversy over fracking. “I had to go where the action was,” commented McAleer.
McAleer focused on two specific communities in northeastern Pennsylvania throughout the documentary. In Dimick, the community became torn over whether to let Houston-based Cabot Oil Company come in and drill underground. While the EPA found the water to be safe in Dimick, several couples continued to sue Cabot to ensure that they would not dig in the area. Then-Governor Ed Rendell (D-Penn.) even ordered Cabot to build a water pipeline from nearby Montrose to ensure that the residents had drinkable water.
Coincidentally, Dimick is home to former Democratic Congressman Chris Carney, who voted yes to removing oil and gas subsidies while in office and has a very strong pro-environment record. Carney lost his seat to former Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta, a Republican, in 2010 at about the same time ‘Gasland ‘was released.
McAleer also visited northern Wayne County, in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Delaware Water Gap region and where Fox’s family owned land. He notes that the residents of the town had previously negotiated for the ‘most environmentally-friendly oil lease’ in the history of fracking, one that was used as a model for future communities, but many of the farmers saw their livelihoods nearly destroyed when the local government authority placed a moratorium on fracking in light of Fox’s movie.
In ‘FrackNation‘ McAleer also debunks the common myth that fracking can result in earthquakes, focusing specifically on a Texas town in which the mayor commissioned faulty research to prevent oil companies from drilling in the area.
“Every time you break the earth and shake a rock there is some seismic movement,” McAleer noted. “But the seismic energy associated with geothermal energy…is one of the least dangerous ways of creating energy. It’s just not an issue.”
‘FrackNation’s’ debut coincides with the box office release of ‘Promised Land,’ a fictional movie written by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who also star in the film. The movie looks at the economic and social impacts fracking can have on a local community as the townspeople decide whether to allow an oil company to come in and dig on their lands. The movie has been met with harsh criticism, even from the Left, since it came out earlier this month for its inaccurate portrayal of the controversy surrounding the practice.
‘FrackNation’ will premiere on cable network AXS TV Tuesday, January 22nd at 9:00pm ET. You can also buy a copy of the documentary on the ‘FrackNation’ website, but DVDs will not be distributed until Feb. 7.