Tonight I attended the Los Angeles premier of Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney’s much anticipated documentary “Frack Nation”.
The film was self-funded through Kickstarter. Phelim and Ann raised over $210,000 from individual donors to make it, and it appears their money was put to very good use.
Why do I say “much anticipated”? The donors who helped make this film understand what most people who have been following this story also understand. The United States is sitting on enormous reserves of oil and natural gas that have the potential to power our economy well into the next century. These reserves are so massive they dwarf those in the middle east. Were we to begin harvesting these reserves in earnest, our dependence on foreign energy would cease and the power wielded by our geopolitical foes who use their energy exports as a political tool would be severely checked.
The process for harvesting these newly found reserves involves hydraulic fracking coupled with modern horizontal drilling techniques. Fracking has come under scrutiny by forces who believe the process will create environmental disasters all over the country. They have trotted out studies and people who have supposedly been adversely affected by drilling that has taken place on or near their land.
The 2010 documentary “Gasland” and this year’s “Promised Land” have sought to instill fear in Americans that this kind of energy exploration is dangerous. Phelim and Ann set out to debunk these claims and they have succeeded masterfully.
Ann McElhinney has been promoting this documentary for the past year and she is no shrinking violet. I have heard her on radio, television, and in person make impassioned speeches about her film and the need to expose what she believed was the misinformation coming from the anti-fracking forces. But I had not seen or heard Phelim at all until the premiere.
As the documentary begins, Phelim is presented to us as a short, stocky, jovial little Irishman with his trademark accent. One could easily cast him as Leprechaun if the movie had called for one. It turns out to be Phelim’s greatest asset. Time and again environmentalists and government bureaucrats are lulled into fits of confusion and defensiveness by Phelim’s calm presentation.
And this is no sleight-of-hand act by a tricky leprechaun. A steady, unending parade of scholars and award-winning scientists are presented on-camera debunking one false claim after another by the anti-fracking forces. By the end of the movie you are left with no doubt that modern drilling and fracking is environmentally safe and less disruptive to the landscape than previous methods of energy extraction.
The primary target of “Frack Nation” is one Josh Fox. You don’t know him. Heck, nobody knows him. He made the documentary “Gasland” in 2010 which was slobbered over by environmentalist-loving Hollywood. No one has seen his film. But everyone has seen his “money shot”. In the scene, someone holds up a lighter to a kitchen faucet and the faucet miraculously bursts into flame as water is pouring from it.
This 10-second clip put more fear, uncertainty, and doubt into the minds of people than anything on the subject of fracking before or since. That is, until “Frack Nation” begins trotting out homeowner after homeowner from the affected areas who testify that gas has been coming out of wells for hundreds of years with no ill effects. The flaming faucet is shown for what it is, an argument long on emotion and short on facts.
“Gasland” is full of them.
During the Q&A session after the movie Ann reminded us of something that is uniquely American.
The United States is the only developed country in the world where landowners retain their mineral rights.
Her own home country of Ireland has no such freedom. It is not unusual to find first-generation Americans who appear to love their adopted country more than those who have been here for generations. Ann and Phelim understand the economic impact this newly found energy resource will have on the farms and small businesses in these mostly rural areas. Times are tough and any additional income that people can extract from their land will improve the quality of life for everyone involved.
So where does “Big Oil” fit into all of this? The oil and gas companies stand to make a fortune on these new reserves. But so do the landowners that are leasing their mineral rights. And anyone who believes that individual landowners are being screwed over by an army of oil company lawyers is mistaken. The landowners in many places have formed organizations of their own and have worked out mutually-beneficial lease agreements that serve to protect their land while at the same time making a healthy profit from it. Everybody benefits. The oil companies get profits from the oil and gas. The landowners get profits from the lease of their mineral rights. You and I get cheap and abundant energy for decades to come. That folks, is a win-win-win.
One of the more distressing parts of the film takes place when Phelim goes to Poland and interviews an 85-year-old pensioner living in Warsaw. The woman shows Phelim the disproportionate amount of her fixed-income that is spent each month on energy bills for her tiny apartment. Where does that energy come from? Mostly Russia. It brings into sharp focus the power that energy-producing giants like Russia have over their neighbors.
Most of Europe is dependent on natural gas from Russia.
On more than one occasion Russia has used that dependence to extract concessions from their western neighbors. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be dependent on Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or any other country to keep the United States economy running. We have the ability to end that dependence right under our feet.
There are other great parts of the movie that are not to be missed. The complete dressing-down of the one family near Dimock, Pennsylvania that was holding up drilling due to false claims of water contamination is hilarious. Phelim is not preachy or overly-confrontational. In most cases, he simply allows his subject to either produce facts or look foolish. You will be thoroughly entertained and educated.