Deflating "Gasland" and Josh Fox for Rejecting Science
by Lewis Loflin
On March 10, 2011 I attended the showing of 'Gasland' at the Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Virginia. This is part of a series of attack pieces on the regional energy industry and includes other films such as 'On Coal River,' and 'The Electricity Fairy.'
This is being operated by a Ben Jennings head of something called 'Arts Array' at Virginia Highlands Community College. The College website is at www.vhcc.edu.
Why we are operating a political crusade from a taxpayer funded institution should be questionable to begin with. Environmental issues often produce intense emotion from some people. A good example is this from Transition Washington County on their website:
March 12, 2011: Transition Washington County (Transition), a volunteer organization, was formed to actively find and implement solutions to help our area be better prepared (more resilient) for potential changes due to energy shortages, climate change and economic collapse.
No Frackin' Way!
At the most recent Washington County., VA., Board of Supervisors meeting, a gas driller spoke to the Board about preparing to drill in the Mendota area. He didn't mention that he'll also be "fracking"--if you don't know what fracking means, you can view a PBS-NOW video or see the full movie Gasland. Gas companies bought up leases all over the county in the early 1980s.
Fracking for natural gas and its affect on local water supplies and water quality is a national scandal, and it's coming to Washington County. We need to be an informed citizenry on this issue if we want to hold on the abundance of clean water that we now take for granted. Help stop this Fracking Insanity!
Transition Washington County has since removed that statement from their website and I believe them when they say they regretted it. And they also had no part in presenting the films even if they supported the general theme. They and others promised Josh Fox the person that produced the film would be there. He wasn't and Mr. Jennings had to announce to the crowd he was lost in New York somewhere. That was just the beginning of their problems that night.
About the film
Josh Fox opened with some half-baked banjo music which seemed to the highlight of the film. He told how his hippie parents built a house I think in rural Pennsylvania. He has no scientific or technical background of any kind. When he heard about gas drilling in his area, he went off on a religious crusade camcorder in hand to prove how evil the energy companies were. The film was not objective in any manner, and in the technical and scientific sense was proven a farce.
Several minutes of the film showed him trying to get interviews with corporate CEOs from the largest energy companies in the nation and being turned down. Why wouldn't he be turned down? He knew nothing about the industry and his agenda was obvious. So he creates the impression of some kind of conspiracy without a shread of evidence.
In fact the biggest lie in the film was the claim that oil/gas companies under Dick Cheney and Halliburton pulled-off some deal to exempt themselves form environmental regulations. I had one of the local environmentalists look up where this was coming from and he was kind enough to supply the information.
It turned out the claim is factually wrong. It merely exempted gas drillers from the Federal Clean Water Drinking Act and put that under state regulation. The dispute from the gas companies was the chemicals are proprietary and they don't have to disclose them. But that doesn't protect them from pollution laws in general. And state/local communities can simply block the drilling (I hope) if they don't disclose. That is something to look into. The rest of the EPA regulations are still in place, and have since expanded.
The remainder of the film consisted of questionable claims about flaming faucets and polluted wells from various people in Texas and Colorado. He did no checking in Pennsylvania where he lived where they had already sunk thousands of wells. I suspect he couldn't find anything close to home so he hunted across the nation for victims to put in his film.
I did find information from public sources in Colorado on the methane and flaming faucet claims. The methane was from coal because the "victim" drilled his well through coal beds. Colorado was very angry with the claims from this film. Other parts of the film showed oil drilling and not gas drilling equipment. To quote,
"Further investigation revealed that Markham's water well had been drilled through four different coal beds containing naturally occurring biogenic methane gas. The 2008 investigation concluded that "there [were] no indications of oil & gas related impacts to [Markham's] water well." It was also concluded that the water well of Weld County landowner Renee McClure, also featured in the film, contained naturally occurring biogenic methane not related to oil and gas activity in the area.
Gas seeping from land owned by Lisa Bracken in Garfield County, Colorado was found to be the result of fermenting organic matter in the West Divide Creek wetlands surrounding her property. The film claims that the gas seep was caused by hydraulic fracturing in the West Divide Creek area. Samples taken from Bracken's property in 2004, 2007, 2009, and 2010 by the COGCC contained no hydrocarbons associated with oil and gas production or hydraulic fracturing.
At the end of the film to his credit Mr. Jennings allowed energy company representatives to have their say. The first speaker I could leave because I don't know him and he isn't from here. The second speaker was a geologist from nearby Emory & Henry college that had worked on 1800 gas wells including those that already existed in the community.
He claimed to have had no such problems out of any of them. He also noted many of the wells/tanks presented in the film were oil tanks and equipment. He debunked the film.
The wells in Scott County he referred to were down the road from my house. The pipes run under and alongside Cove Creek 75 feet from my house. The compressor station is down the road on the Washington County side of the line while the wells were in Scott County.
I checked with some of my neighbors that lived along that bottom and none of them has ever had a problem and the facilities, and those facilities have been there at least 15 years. The only pollution problem in Cove Creek is cattle mess and junk appliances, tires, etc. I've been trying to remove the junk for years.
And to further quote the State of Colorado:
Finally, it should be understood that the COGCC Director, Dave Neslin, offered to speak with Gasland's producer, Josh Fox, on camera during the filming of the movie. Because the issues are technical and complex and arouse concerns in many people, Director Neslin asked that he be allowed to review any material from the interview that would be included in the final film. Unfortunately, Mr. Fox declined. Such a discussion might have prevented the inaccuracies noted above.
Other wells were found to be gas generated by wetlands due to natural organic decay of plant matter. There was one legitimate case. Read the full report on this website.
Also see the section on the EPA at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GASLAND.
The next speaker was some women that claimed to be from Dickenson County, Virginia. She obviously wasn't a native to the County in my opinion due to her accent and railed on about how gas drilling got bacteria into her water. The only problem is Dickenson County is all coal mines and that would have been more likely a source than a gas well. Second, bacteria is often due to leaky septic systems or livestock. My sister lives there.
The next speaker, and it was obvious she was a plant, was a woman from Pennsylvania. Why do I say she was a plant? Because she never raised her hand to speak and Ben Jennings went right to her. After another tirade about the evils of corporations and consumption culture, she mostly admitted she was pissed-off because she could see a gas well from her property. She also admitted her water was fine.
At this point I'd had enough and was the next person to speak. In blunt terms I stated environmentalists in general care nothing about polar bears, etc. It's about politics, religion, and ideology. I directly challenged this plant from Pennsylvania that had no business meddling in the local affairs of my community and knew nothing about the subject.
The last speaker whom I happen to know, asked about the gas companies disclosing what's in the injection fluids. That was a fair question, but I also know he is against fossil fuels period.
When we understand that Environmentalism (I use the capital 'E' for a reason) is more a social and religious movement, we begin to understand its positions better. Environmentalism has become anti-science in many respects and the vast majority of environmentalists are ignorant of science outside of ecology, a pseudo-science itself. They place emotion over reason.
Josh Fox Debunked by Science
...there's an actual psychological process at work that sometimes blinds people to science...
To quote Experts: Some fracking critics use bad science by Kevin Begos AP July 22, 2012:
PITTSBURGH (AP) - In the debate over natural gas drilling, the companies are often the ones accused of twisting the facts. But scientists say opponents sometimes mislead the public, too.
Critics of fracking often raise alarms about groundwater pollution, air pollution, and cancer risks, and there are still many uncertainties. But some of the claims have little - or nothing- to back them.
For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false, researchers told The Associated Press.
Fears that natural radioactivity in drilling waste could contaminate drinking water aren't being confirmed by monitoring, either.
And concerns about air pollution from the industry often don't acknowledge that natural gas is a far cleaner burning fuel than coal.
One of the clearest examples of a misleading claim comes from north Texas, where gas drilling began in the Barnett Shale about 10 years ago.
Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place - and nowhere else in the state. The claim is used in a letter that was sent to New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo by environmental groups and by Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of "Gasland," a film that criticizes the industry. Fox, who lives in Brooklyn, has a new short film called "The Sky is Pink."
But researchers haven't seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area, said Simon Craddock Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred.
And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either. "We don't," said Chandini Portteus, Komen's vice president of research, adding that they sympathize with people's fears and concerns, but "what we do know is a little bit, and what we don't know is a lot" about breast cancer and the environment.
Yet Fox tells viewers in an ominous voice that "In Texas, as throughout the United States, cancer rates fell - except in one place- in the Barnett Shale."
Lee called the claims of an increase "a classic case of the ecological fallacy" because they falsely suggest that breast cancer is linked to just one factor. In fact, diet, lifestyle and access to health care also play key roles.
Fox responded to questions by citing a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that doesn't support his claim, and a newspaper story that Risser said is "not based on a careful statistical analysis of the data."
When Fox was told that Texas cancer researchers said rates didn't increase, he replied in an email that the claim of unusually high breast cancer rates was "widely reported" and said there is "more than enough evidence to warrant much deeper study."
Another instance where fears haven't been confirmed by science is the concern that radioactivity in drilling fluids could threaten drinking water supplies...But in western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority did extensive tests and didn't find a problem in area rivers. State environmental officials said monitoring at public water supply intakes across the state showed non-detectable levels of radiation, and the two cases that showed anything were at background levels...
Marcellus air pollution "will cause a massive public health crisis," claims a section of the Marcellus Shale Protest website. Yet data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that the shale gas boom is helping to turn many large power plants away from coal, which emits far more pollution. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed new rules to force drillers to limit releases of methane from wells and pumping stations.
Some environmental groups now say that natural gas is having a positive effect on air quality...Marcellus Shale Protest said in response to a question about its claims that "any possible benefit in electric generation must be weighed against the direct harm from the industrial processes of gas extraction."
One expert said there's an actual psychological process at work that sometimes blinds people to science. You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them," said Mark Lubell, the director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis.
Lubell said the situation, which happens on both sides of a debate, is called "motivated reasoning." Rational people insist on believing things that aren't true, in part because of feedback from other people who share their views, he said.
Vengosh noted the problem of spinning science isn't new, or limited to one side in the gas drilling controversy..."Everyone takes what they want to see," Vengosh said, adding that he hopes that the fracking debate will become more civilized as scientists obtain more hard data.
Here is some hate mail I got from email@example.com
Too bad your comments at the movie tonight started off with an idiotic broad sweeping statement about environmentalists not really liking polar bears, etc. because of course there are people who do care about other species besides self-indulgent, arrogant humans on this planet.
And then you went off and confused passion for religion, what a laughable man you are. Nobody takes you seriously. You are presented with evidence of tainted water supplies in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Texas yet you want to wait until somebody shows you one in Southwest Virginia (where they haven't begun to seriously drill yet!) and then what are you going to do?
Post it on your website! wow. Who do you think you are: The Huffington Post or something? Who gives a flying frick about YOUR website? Better talk to that woman from Dickenson County who is having trouble with her wells already - why did you simply dismiss her statements about what was going on in Dickenson and Buchanan counties? Aren't they in SW VA? You don't listen, just like to hear yourself pontificate. And for the wrong reasons.
A Pitiful Man. I can hardly believe you teach - even as adjunct - at a college as you claim on your website. Surely it's a community college, and how often? A major point was ignored last night: blasting that shale causes radiation (in the form of strontium-28 I think) to be released into the water.
The body thinks it's calcium and sends this poison right to the bones. Since this film's release, recent research has uncovered the fact that Pennsylvania wells have been contaminated from 100-1000 (!) times any "safe" level.
We don't want that coming out of our tap or into our rivers do we? There is no clean up of radiation: a half life is several thousands to millions of years. You are a man of science, you must agree. Fracking is very dangerous.
No I said "pseudo-religion" because that "passion" borders on religious fundamentalism if not fanaticism. This man's scientific ignorance is also typical of many environmentalists. Also note his low regard of human beings, another trait of Green dogma. Fracturing does not involve "blasting shale."
Radioactive strontium doesn't exist in nature, but from nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs. It's called strontium 90 and its half-life is 28 years. Unless they are "blasting shale" with nuclear charges this is total nonsense.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strontium-90. To quote, "Natural strontium is non radioactive and nontoxic..." My offer to the audience is still open, show me any well in the local area that does what the film claims and I'll make sure the message gets out. That's why Josh Fox ran off to oil and coal fields out west for his film because he couldn't document this in Pennsylvania.
That was supposed to have been radon and to quote again,
Another instance where fears haven't been confirmed by science is the concern that radioactivity in drilling fluids could threaten drinking water supplies...But in western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority did extensive tests and didn't find a problem in area rivers.
State environmental officials said monitoring at public water supply intakes across the state showed non-detectable levels of radiation, and the two cases that showed anything were at background levels...
Again they have already drilled on a large scale in Southwest, Virginia. The rest of his tirade isn't worth my time. It's a religion and a political movement and this is proof how scientifically ignorant much of the Environmental community really is. I said it there and I still stand by it.
In the end I was proven right in 2012 with the AP article. Sorry Mr. Culturekook, it's time to go by the science and not earth worship.
- Greenism as Defined by Transition Washington County
- Pictures of Gas Pipeline Along Cove Creek Road
- Declining Demand for Coal Hurts Southwest Virginia
- Question on gas drilling in Washington County Virginia
- Washington County Virginia Tea Party versus the Greenie Party