Natural gas industry speaks up with film

Documentaries fire up gas well drilling debate


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A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 turned out at the Hilton Garden Inn in Cecil Tuesday to view the natural gas industry's answer to the controversial film "Gasland," a 2010 documentary that became infamous for blaming gas well drilling for, among other things, flaming tap water.

"Truthland," a 34-minute film produced by the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Energy In Depth, takes aim at filmmaker Josh Fox and his anti-drilling documentary through its star, science teacher and mother of four Shelly Depue of Franklin, Susquehanna County.

In "Truthland," Ms. Depue struggles with her family over a decision to lease their 122-year-old dairy farm for 10 natural gas wells.

"That film said there are all these problems with natural gas," Ms. Depue can be heard telling her children, as the family watches "Gasland."

"Is our water going to catch on fire?" one of the children asks.

The film explores her journey to answer that question and, in her words, to find "the real truth" by interviewing a series of industry-selected specialists and experts about the claims made in "Gasland."

One of those interviewed was John Hanger, the former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, who also appeared in "Gasland." He called Mr. Fox's film misleading.

The truth about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, methane migration and water contamination are oversimplified in the film, Mr. Hanger points out, saying that while natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel than oil or coal, "it's not perfect; we don't have a perfect option."

Geologists and other hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- experts interviewed by Ms. Depue said they were disturbed by the innuendo in Mr. Fox's film.

"A lot of it is fiction," said Gary Hanson, director of the Red River Watershed Management Institute in Shreveport, La.

Neither Ms. Depue nor any of those interviewed were compensated for their participation in the film, but producers paid Ms. Depue's travel expenses for her appearances at screenings of the film across Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Mr. Fox is expected to release a sequel to "Gasland" later this year.

Most of the experts who appeared in "Truthland" said contaminated water wells and other environmental hazards are rare and were due to poor gas well construction, spillage and accidents.

Perhaps the most enduring myth that "Truthland" producers set out to dispel was that methane migration was commonly caused by gas well drilling. The seminal moment in Mr. Fox's film comes when he visits a Colorado man whose kitchen faucet bursts into flames when he takes a match to the spigot.

While poor gas well construction resulted in contaminated water supplies in 18 well-documented cases in Dimock, the industry-sponsored film pointed to water supplies contaminated by natural and other types of methane migration.

In the film, Ms. Depue visits Chenango County, New York resident Robert Sandell, who said he was warned "don't smoke in the shower" when he bought his home.

Mr. Sandell uses a torch to light the water pouring from his kitchen faucet on fire. The implication is that fracking has not taken place in New York, so it couldn't be the cause of the methane migration.

After the "Truthland" screening, Ms. Depue was among a panel of four guests who discussed the film with moderator Jon Delano of KDKA-TV and audience members.

Though there was little dissension among the audience, one panelist was clear that the industry will toughen its stance against critics.

"This industry has been under assault in the United States," said Lou D'Amico, director of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, which represents more than 950 gas and oil industry members. "We've been hammered."

Mr. D'Amico said misrepresentations and falsehoods about the industry "really frustrates us."

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, attended the screening and said afterward it was a "34-minute infomercial produced by the natural gas industry."

He said he would have preferred an "honest debate about reasonable natural gas development."

"Truthland" is online at www.truthlandmovie.com. The final local screening of the film is planned for at 7 p.m. July 30 at Marshall Middle School, 5145 Wexford Run Road.

marcellusshale - neigh_south - neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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