Q&A: Pro-fracking filmmaker Phelim McAleer says shale-haters 'need someone to blame for their lives'
Scenes of shale-country residents lighting their tapwater on fire, seen in the 2010 documentary Gasland, have become an iconic moment for the anti-fracking movement. But what if they were bogus? Journalist and filmmaker Phelim McAleer says that's the problem: Methane was in the water supply in places like Dimock long before natural gas drillers arrived, he says. "People have been lighting the water in that part of the country for decades." Tonight at 7 p.m., McAleer will be at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute for a screening of his new, Kickstarter-funded film FrackNation, which he's taking on tour across Pennsylvania. The message: There's no science to prove claims of fracking's harm. (Of course, many experts insist there's no science disproving it either, which is why the industry's rapid growth worries them.) Here, McAleer explains his motivations.
City Paper: Why make this film?
Phelim McAleer: I've no connection to fracking. Unfortunately, I don't own any royalties or any oil pads. I'm a journalist … and I have an interest in the environmental movmeent. But I believe in treating big environment the same way you treat big business. So I went and asked the director of Gasland some inconvenient questions.
CP: After making this film, would you allow fracking in your backyard?
PM: I'd have it in my kitchen. It's the true ethical energy, actually. It's the most regulated energy on the planet. It's from America, which has the most regulations of any country. It's not Saudi Arabia. It's not China. It's not Venezuela. It's not in a country where gay people are hung for being gay or where women are stoned for adultery. It's true ethical energy, and it's safe. There's been 1.3 million wells drilled, and there's never been any scientific evidence of fracking having contaminated groundwater.
Natural gas companies drilling in Pennsylvania's stretch of the Marcellus Shale have become major media spenders, investing in billboards, newspaper advertisements and even financing a highly promoted a local hospital expansion, to the point where some local citizens feel they no longer have a voice. "It’s kind of like the company town of coal-mining days," says Rebecca Roter, a resident of Brooklyn Township, Susquehanna County.
Fed up with the fracking messages dominating local media, Roter and her neighbors decided to lease their own billboard space, to host warnings about the impact of fracking. Now, she says, they're being censored by the billboard company.
Authors of industry study say they don't consider environmental costs of fracking because they don't understand it
A big new industry-backed study landed on the front page of today's Inquirer: “Industry study touts large economic impact of shale-gas drilling.”
But this report, like other industry-backed reports, failed to take into account the environmental impact of fracking — which is, you know, the very issue that makes natural gas drilling is so damn controversial in the first place.
Why? John Larson, vice president of IHS Global Insight and and study's lead author, told the Inquirer that pollution is “not in our area of expertise."
Well that's convenient. The natural gas industry has spent loads of money to buy our state's political process (former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who rejected a severance tax on the industry until his last minute in office; and current Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who's been fighting one since). And they've spent heavily on advertising too: all to convince the public that fracking is a “jobs” issue and not an “environmental” issue.
The protesters are coming! And so is an industry conference! Reading Terminal Market is going to be busy!
Iris Marie Bloom, a protest organizer with the group Protecting Our Waters, says they are expecting a big turnout next week to oppose drilling in the Marcellus Shale--and, she suspects, potential (unsanctioned) acts of civil disobedience. And they have some public support: a recent poll found that while slightly more Pennsylvanians support natural gas drilling than oppose it, most want the industry taxed and oppose fracking in state forests.
Fear not: members of the natural gas industry are ready for action. Today, they sent participants an email outlining security precautions for Shale Gas Insight™.
First, there are instructions on how to deal with troublemaking environmentalists involved in the September 7 Shale Gas Outrage protest:
• It is best not to engage in dialogue with protestors.
• If you are presenting and a conference attendee interrupts your comments, a session monitor will approach the individual and ask for the disruption to cease. If he/she does not comply, security will be summoned. It is best for presenters to step back from the microphone during the disruption and security response.
• If a person close to you becomes disruptive during a presentation, do not personally intervene. If security is not in the immediate vicinity they will be close by -- find a security member and request their assistance.
• Cooperate with all direction and requests made by conference security personnel and/or the Philadelphia Police Department.
• The police will be monitoring all protest activity.
They also provide smart tips for the rural oil and gas barons who are venturing off their landed estates into the big city, including how to walk on sidewalks and use cellular telephones:
• Remember to remove badges when leaving the convention area.
• Walk "smart" by researching the best way to get to your desired destination.
• Keep a charged cell phone with you at all times. When using a phone, stay focused on your surroundings.
• Pickpockets usually work in groups. Keep your handbag secure at all times and avoid placing it on the ground. Put a rubber band around your wallet and keep it in your front pants pocket.
Pickpockets--now that’s a quaint idea. Philadelphia criminals tend to be somewhat more direct when they decide to separate you from your property. That’s probably why the “Public Transit” section of the security briefing conspicuously fails to mention the subway. Better not go down there: it’s probably where all the pickpockets and protesters hang out.
Vera Scroogins, an anti-drilling activist in Sesquehana County, says she was intimidated by employees of Laser Northeast Gathering Company, the firm building a pipline to carry gas across Pennsylvania.
Earlier this week, the pipline spewed thousands of gallons of muddy drilling fluids into the Laurel Lake Creek, a creek near Scroogins, and which she visited a few days ago to film the mud spill. After posting those videos online, Scroogins says she was called by a neighbor who said two pipline workers knocked on his door at 7:30 A.M., giving a description of Scroogins, — "Gray hair and a red prius," — and asking for her contact information.
Then, she says, she was stopped while driving by the spill site by a pipline worker who mentioned the videos and told her she was "in trouble" for posting them:
"He wouldn't tell me who he was, and then he took off," Scroogins tells CP.
Scroogins says she spoke with Laser CEO Thomas Karam, and that Karam assured her that she was welcome to continue filming work on the pipeline as long as she didn't cross the right-of-way.
Here are the videos Scroogins posted. The first shows mud seeping into the creek, along with a few bales of hay placed in it apparently to filter the mud. The second, taken the next day, shows the creek filled with a thick layer of mud. The hay bales, apparently, weren't sufficient.
The next day:
For years, the natural gas industry has stuck to a single line as if the legitimacy of its existence depended on it (because maybe it does):
"Hydraulic fracturing has never contaminated ground water."
Today, a study by Duke University researchers refutes that claim, as reported by Pro Publica and links hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale to cases of well contamination.
(The Pennsylvania DEP, under the leadership of former Secretary John Hanger, had already linked the contamination of water in Dimock, Pa. to drilling).
In a few videos making their way around the web, people who attended a Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission meeting to speak against — or perhaps just not favorably about — drilling, claim that Corbett's people blocked them from speaking at the hearing by providing two speakers' lists, one for the drilling industry and another for everyone else.
When the meeting began, they claim, speakers were invited from the former list and not the latter.
Newsworks' Dave Davies has a good piece on this and links to the following video, in which an anti-drilling activist directly challenges what Chad Sailor, communications director for the Lt. Governor, says about how the speakers were invited to speak (he says all of the activists showed up late).
In the video below, more people, including noted University of Pittsburgh professor Conrad Voltz, confirm exactly what this woman says.
We were sure this was a joke. It is not.
Gov. Tom Corbett has suggested universities suffering massive cuts to their budgets (cuts made, that is, by Corbett) should consider just, well, leasing their land out for Marcellus Shale gas drilling!
Reports the Erie Times-News' Sean McCracken:
Gov. Tom Corbett told the Pennsylvania Association of Councils of Trustees that the state's universities could ease their financial woes by tapping into Marcellus shale deposits beneath their campuses.
Speaking at Edinboro University during his first visit to northwestern Pennsylvania since taking office, Corbett said six campuses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education sit on the Marcellus shale formations now being tapped for natural gas.
Corbett, whose proposed 2011-12 budget includes $2 billion in cuts to education and a 50 percent reduction in aid to colleges and universities, also emphasized that those cuts are only proposals.
We first heard about the remarks via a press release by the often surprisingly-snarky Pennsylvania Democratic Party Press Office, which added that "this ridiculous plan again shows that no matter what the issue, the profits and best interests of his largest benefactors are never far from Tom Corbett's mind."
Corbett, of course, has also called for reduced environmental regulation on Marcellus Shale drilling — a decision higlighted by the recent explosion of a gas well in Bradford county, spewing thousands of gallons of toxic fluids into a nearby stream.
And boy would we like to be on campus for that party.
Thousands of environmentalists and anti-drilling activists are gathering in Trenton today to deliver some of the many public comments to be considered by the Delaware River Basin Commission before it decides how and whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in the Delware River basin.
While the DRBC initially took a hard line on fracturing, declaring that it would not allow the practice until a study was conducted, that stance softened decidedly when funding for such a study dried up. THe DRBC proposed rules that would allow fracking, and opened those rules to public comment — tomorrow is the last day it will accept public input.
To deliver the last of a "record-breaking" number of comments — and to urge the DRBC not to allow fracking at least until the EPA finishes its study, due to be released next year — a coalition of environmental groups is meeting in West Trenton.
Among them: Penn Environment, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Food and Water Watch, Sierra Club, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, NYH2O, Environment New Jersey, Protecting Our Waters, and United for Action.
According to Penn Environment's Erika Staaf, it'll probably take the DRBC about six months to read through the comments before a decision is announced.
FRACKTRACK: Corbett did not repeal Rendell's moratorium on drilling in state parks last week -- but he plans to
So, for those of you who were curious about how Governor Tom Corbett plans to proceed with regard to the Rendell Administration's moratorium on Marcellus Shale drilling in certain state parks and forests, you now have something close to concrete information. This is from an AP story published Tuesday:
Calling it redundant, the Corbett administration on Saturday killed the policy, which had been written in October under former Gov. Ed Rendell.
But that's misleading: Corbet hasn't repealed October's much-discussed moratorium on Marcellus Shale drilling in certain state parks and forests; he moved "to quietly rescind a recent state policy to minimize the impact of natural gas drilling on public state park and state forest land where the state doesn't own subsurface mineral rights drew considerable and perhaps unwanted attention." Which is a slightly different policy.
Does that clarify things for you? Even if it doesn't, the distinction between the two similar policies -- and between "repeal" and "quietly rescind" -- might not even matter.
In yesterday's Inquirer, a Corbet spokesman said the administration wants to get rid of the moratorium, too:
Spokesman Kevin Harley said the governor believes there should be drilling on publicly held lands, and called former Gov. Ed Rendell's moratorium a political move made on the heels of the legislature's failure to enact a tax on natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation.
So if you're planning on doing any camping in Pa. state parks, now may be the time to do it.
For more background, check out Isaiah Thompson's cover story about Ed Rendell's "plot to pillage Pennsylvania's forests, consequences be damned," and, more recently, his post about why the moratorium is mostly meaningless anyway.
- Ask A Man-About-Town
- Award Tour
- Bad Idea Factory
- Below the Curve
- Brian Hickey
- Budget Fuss
- City Council
- City Hall
- CP Abroad
- CP in the Community
- Criminal Justice System
- Day Tripper
- Death and Taxes
- Delaware River
- Dubious Distinction
- End of Days
- Film Fest
- Financial Meltdown
- Free Library
- Gay Stuff
- Get Lit
- Hall Monitor
- Health Care
- Hello, Kitty
- Ice Cubes
- In Memoriam
- Marcellus Shale
- MUST READ
- Mysterious Mysteries
- Non Sequitur
- PA politics 2010
- Parking Wars
- Parks and Recreation
- People Send Us This Stuff
- Philadelphia Police
- Philadelphia Union
- Philly From Scratch
- philly madness
- President Obama
- Print Edition
- Readers Write
- Real Estate
- Rock Bottom
- Screwing Philly
- So Lush
- Sporting Life
- Sports Complex
- State Politicians
- State Politics
- Street Art
- Stuff We Like
- Taxi Drivers
- Tech Fetish
- The Budget Crisis
- The City Paper
- The CLOG
- The Human Condition
- The Mayor
- The Phightin Phils
- The World
- Things that make you go hm
- Tinfoil Hats Off
- Under the Table
- Under the Tables
- Urban Development
- Urban Planning
- urban wildlife
- Video Poker
- We Call Shenanigans
- Web Junk
- Weekend Omnibus
- White House
- What We've Found
- Women's Issues
- Flyered Up!
- How 'Bout That Weather?
- it's always sunny in philadelphia
- get out
- 10-track mind
- Bruce Being Bruce
- Gigantic Surprises
- Hello Canary
- Hello Puppy
- get lost
- Inside The Fishbowl
- Library Closings
- Local Support
- Night Moves
- Skeeze Police
- State Politicians Screwing Philly
- That's a cool stencil!
- Things We See
- This Week
- This Week in Oates
- University City
- What we don't heart
- what we heart
- Feeling Guilty
- Broke in Philly
- Dear Paper Doll
- Do A Good Thing
- Film Fest Schism
- G20-20 Vision
- Great American Heroes
- Pearl Jam Week
- Stars of the Photostream
- Lower Merion Webcam-Gate
- The Cycle
- Equality Forum
- Bureaucrat of the Week