When settling down to watch a documentary film, I remind myself of two important things:
- Rarely does a documentary film tell the whole story.
- People believe what they want to believe.1
It was with this mindset that I watched GasLand (Fox, 2010), not just with an open mind, but also with an inquisitive one. GasLand presents an up-and-close narrative on the surmised ramifications of hydraulic fracturing, “fracking,” and how this well-stimulation technology negatively affects America’s habitat. Lauded by film critics, GasLand received a nomination in 2011 for Best Documentary Feature by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That recognition along with its 97% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes must please the film’s writer/director, Josh Fox, and those who support him.
However, before I enthusiastically jump on the anti-fracking bandwagon, my above-mentioned personal documentary-viewing guidelines require me to pause for a just a minute or two to discuss my two reminders.
Rarely Does a Documentary Tell the Whole Story
Josh Fox would have his audience believe that nothing good comes out of fracking, the practice of improving oil and gas extraction from under the ground by using hydraulic well-stimulation. It appears that the documentary aims to strike several emotional chords among the audience: chords of sympathy for victims who behold fracking as damaging to their well-being, chords of anger towards giant, impersonal oil and gas companies, and chords of grave concern for Mother Earth. If only it were that simple.
Indeed, balanced research on fracking reveals surprising positives that were conspicuously left out of GasLand. Because of using fracking technology, the US benefits from a healthier state of energy reserves. Oil production in the US has sharply increased, along with resulting (non-crude) exports and national reserves. In the opposite direction are trade deficits, imports, prices, and carbon dioxide emissions. All this bodes well for national security and the economy.
As for Mother Earth and her little guy, Keith C. Smith, former US Ambassador to Lithuania, had this to say (2014) [I address Russia later in this essay]:
Major environmental groups in Europe, particularly in France and Germany, have taken Russian warnings to heart, and also those of American self-described environmentalists, such as Josh Fox, producer of GasLand and its sequel, GasLand II. Both of these films are filled with unproven assertions that there is scientific evidence that fracking is a major danger to the environment. The Gasland films have been circulated widely in Europe, including twice in the European Parliament. Every anti-fracking claim made by an American group, no matter how tenuous the scientific evidence, is quickly repeated by European opponents of fracking, and then carried over European television networks through the RT (Russia Today) channel. RT receives its editorial guidance directly from political advisors in the Kremlin.
The documentary FrackNation (McAleer, McElhinney, & Segieda, 2013) [MoviesonChatham will view and discuss this movie next month] confronts GasLand’s claim that fracking results in contaminated water. Aside from FrackNation, studies also conducted by the EPA also cast doubt on such a global assertion.
Dozens of clashing studies have examined whether fracking contaminates water, and the ambivalent conclusions of the latest report have allowed both advocates and critics to claim some vindication. Katie Brown, spokeswoman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s Energy in Depth (EID) unit, says (Valvovici & Gardner, 2015),
The report contradicts the most prevalent claim from anti-fracking activists, which have made ‘water contamination’ the very foundation of their campaign against hydraulic fracturing.
We all want to see lush green meadows, dense forests of trees, healthy oceans brimming with marine life, fertile plains, meandering rivers flowing through picturesque mountains. However, at the same time, we demand cars, trains, planes, and all things that go. We expect machines to aid or replace manual labor. Americans are hopelessly dependent on electricity generation, heating, and the synthetic products that touch nearly every aspect of daily life. To make all that possible, we need an almost unlimited supply of oil and gas. Thus, right now, there is no other choice but to drill into the Earth to extract that valuable commodity.
Scientists, mainly engineers and geologists, have devised multiple ways to do this. Fracking, in particular, is essentially controlled pressure blasts under the ground to release gas from dense, otherwise-unproductive rock. The technique has been successful in acquiring large amounts of oil and gas, yet it is distressing to those who are anxious about unintended consequences such as water contamination. Hence, the endless differences of opinion over how to both protect our planet and capitalize on its resources. The struggle for a careful balance between the two sides encompasses grassroots environmentalists, gas companies, consumers, and politicians.
Those who own and control the land, and those who own and control the methods of extracting oil and gas, exercise enormous power and stand to gain astronomical wealth. Consider the powers-that-be in the oil-rich Middle East. King Salman of Saudi Arabia has a personal fortune of $17 billion (). In the emirate of Abu Dhabi, its capital city, also the capital of the United Arab Emirates, became one of the richest cities on Earth. In Iran, a few hundred enjoy extravagant lifestyles since 60% of the country’s treasures are theirs. In Iraq, a small percentage of the population is similarly privileged with the most luxurious of lives provided by their monopoly on the country’s oil revenue. In Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, only two decades after striking gas in 1971, invested $20 billion into liquefying gas and exporting it. Qatar’s wealth then skyrocketed to the point where the average income is $125,000, which is the highest in the world. Oil reserves, therefore, are a strong indicator of prosperity, but it is the government that determines whether the revenue from it is available exclusively for the elite as in Iraq and Iran, or for the citizenry as it is in tiny Qatar.
Russia, being Russia, is determined to dominate the oil situation in Europe. Ambassador (ret.) Smith chimed in once more: anti-fracking activists helped Putin reach his goal for Russia (2014):
Russian television regularly highlights and promotes opposition to fracking, particularly when carried out by Western firms outside of Russia. Apparently, the use of fracking technology by Russian firms is safe and effective only when approved by the Kremlin.
A respected Russian economist, who must not understand the Kremlin’s political line, was recently quoted as saying,
Do you know what is now helping Russian gas in Europe? It is the European environmental lobby, which inon freezing the development of shale gas resources, thus restraining the growth of domestic production in Europe. Why the Europeans agreed to this, I do not know the answer. It is difficult to understand.
Such honesty by a Russian technocrat is in major contrast to the political line of the Kremlin and that of Russia’s gas monopoly exporter, Gazprom.
In summary, unsubstantiated fear of hydraulic fracturing that is being promoted in much of Europe threatens to keep the region dependent on powerful and non-transparent foreign economic and political interests.
While we are distracted by Robert Mueller’s never-ending investigation on possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, President Vladimir Putin is working on his main objective—that is to make the U.S a weaker, dependent country From Mooney (2017),
[Representative Lamar] Smith and [Representative Randy] Weber quote sources saying the Russian government has been colluding with environmental groups to circulate “disinformation” and “propaganda” aimed at undermining hydraulic fracturing. Commonly called fracking, the process makes it possible to access natural gas deposits.
A former general of NATO is quoted as saying, Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organizations—environmental organizations working against shale gas—to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.
The Russians are able to do this in sneaky ways. They are able to launder money through Bermuda where donors do not have to be listed. ‘They pass along reports that Russia apparently funnels the money through a Bermuda-based “shell company” known as Klein Ltd. Tens of millions of dollars are moved from Russia through Klein ‘in the form of anonymous donations’ to a U.S.-based nonprofit called the Sea Change Foundation.’ The money, the congressmen write, then is moved in the form of grants to U.S. environmental organizations.
It is interesting to note that the man behind the Sea Change Foundation is Nat Simons, who is often seen sailing his Yacht across the San Francisco Bay. So absorbed is Mr. Simons in his ideals that it does not occur to him that his daily commute leaves a rather large carbon footprint. The fact that imported gas is more expensive does not matter to him either, for his immense wealth enables an irrelevance to cost. In his quest to suppress his own country’s energy independence, Nat Simons does not seem to care about economic opportunity for the working class (Hackbarth, 2016).
If successful, an anti-fracking campaign is depriving Americans of good-paying jobs and affordable, dependable energy,’ Loris said. ‘Despite smears and outright lies from environmental activists, smart drilling and energy extraction technologies have been proven to be safe.’
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was well aware of all this. She was quoted by Newsweek as saying (Mooney, 2017),
We [the State Department and the U.S. government] were up against Russia pushing oligarchs and others to buy media. We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand up against any effort, ‘Oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you,’ and a lot of that money supporting that effort was coming from Russia.
When she was secretary of state, Clinton, sought to change this dependence. Recognizing its tremendous economic potential for many countries, Clinton encouraged fracking all over the world. Vice President Joe Biden supported this mission (Blake, 2014).
Following the Crimea crisis, the Obama administration has also been pressing Eastern European countries to fast-track their fracking initiatives so as to be less dependent on Russia. During an April visit to Ukraine, which has granted concessions to Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the United States would bring in technical experts to speed up its shale gas development. ‘We stand ready to assist you,’ promised Biden, whose son Hunter has since joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company. ‘Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: “Keep your gas.” It would be a very different world.’
It was when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders came along that Clinton became a public opponent of fracking. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then the Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, could only do so much to push the nomination toward Hillary. The Presidential hopeful needed to bring Sanders’ voters, most of them environmentalists, into the fold. Economic opportunities are all too often casualties when politicians decide that holding on to power is more important than fortifying citizens.
People believe what they want to believe.
We tend to accept information that confirms our prior beliefs and ignore or discredit information that does not. This confirmation bias settles over our eyes like distorting spectacles for everything we look at.
Josh Fox, who wrote, produced, directed, filmed, and narrated GasLand, obviously is strongly opposed to fracking. Naturally, he gravitates towards what validates his beliefs. We are all like that to some degree. We allow ourselves to be primed by those in accordance, and rationalize this convenience with convictions. We believe what we want to believe.
Rarely are minds changed in a world where actions often detach from opinions. Below are few instances among countless where opinions and actions are at odds with each other when it comes to environmental issues.
The aforementioned Nat Simons’ yacht is a 54-foot one, with a 1550 horsepower craft with a 550 gallon fuel tank. He appears to have no qualms about this while pushing for a carbon tax which would drive energy costs higher, and raise the price of oil and gas worldwide. From 2007 to 2012, the billionaire’s Sea Change Organization gave more than $173 million to groups that would push a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system or for other regulations that helps both the Russians and his own green energy business interests. Yet, it is the yacht among other indulgences of Nat Simons’ that screams hypocrisy.
- Park Foundation with $366 million in assets is run by the anti-fracking zealot Adelaide Park Gomer (Shepstone, 2014). She has a high opinion of herself as a steward of the environment and wrote a bleak poem to express her feelings:
Islands and forests paved over forever
By asphalt and buildings while mankind endeavors
To replace nature with ugly big boxes and towers,
Golden arches, Disney worlds, a banquet of horrors
Yet, it is her manipulation of media that makes her a conniver. Popular media sources such as Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and Climate Desk have allowed Adelaide Park Gomer to promote her agenda in a devious way.
A Park Foundation-supported anti-fracking study was reproduced by a Park-funded news organization. It was then further disseminated via Twitter by the maker of Park-backed anti-fracking movies! This self-serving cycle involves enhancing research by Cornell Professor Robert Howarth, whom Adelaide Park Gomer finances. With the Park Foundation’s focus on New York, its people have little chance of benefiting from the economic boom fracking would bring to that state.
Hilarious isn’t it, that Gomer’s daughter, Alicia, planned her wedding as eco-friendly down to the flowers. Yet, while this is admirable, it is the honeymoon flight to Tahiti that left a carbon footprint that overwhelmed the tiny environmental savings in the green wedding Gerber, 2003). What would be nice is support for domestic energy so that more Americans can afford a luxurious honeymoon.
We are all too familiar with celebrities alarming us with environmental concerns: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, former Vice President Al Gore, and Prince Charles in England are a few. Yet, we have seen Leo DiCaprio take six private flights in six weeks. “A plane for one, taken once a week, hurts the environment far more than what regular people who ‘don’t believe’ in climate change can do” (Marcowicz, 2016). We saw Al Gore make untold millions of dollars from his documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth (2009), and now watch him guzzle energy like never before (“Al Gore’s Climate Change Hypocrisy,” 2017). While the Prince of Wales lectures his subjects to “tread more lightly on this planet,” his many chartered jets, and use of the royal train pulled by a steam engine show a proclivity for luxury travel (Bower, 2018).
While people champion their causes, they easily overlook the effects on people who are simply responsible people, working to earn a living wage. Working folk cannot possibly match the prowess of big foundations, nor do they have the resources of luminaries. May the United States of America always be a country where the people’s desire to tap into economic potential is never suppressed by the elites.
After a pause, a realization occurs that jumping on any runaway bandwagon takes me away from a place where I can clearly see what people do. Actions speak louder than words. It is what people do, and not what they say, that is revealing.
1 German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “A person hears only what they understand.”
Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or “my side” bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.
Al Gore’s climate change hypocrisy is as big as his energy sucking mansion. (2017, Aug 3). Investor’s Business Daily. Retrieved from https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/al-gores-climate-change-hypocrisy-is-as-big-as-his-energy-sucking-mansion/
Blake, M. (2014, Sep/Oct). How Hillary Clinton’s State Department sold fracking to the world. Mother Jones. Retrieved from https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/hillary-clinton-fracking-shale-state-department-chevron/
Bower, T. (2018, Mar 20). Charles and Camilla’s plot to slur Diana as a scheming hysteric. The Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5524635/Charles-Camillas-plot-slur-Diana-SCHEMING-HYSTERIC.html
Clemente, J. (2016, Mar 13). Hillary Clinton’s mistake on fracking for natural gas. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2016/03/13/hillary-clintons-mistake-on-fracking-for-natural-gas/
Gerber, S. (2003, May 8). How to marry your sweetheart and love the planet. Grist. Retrieved from https://grist.org/article/nice-day-for-a-green-wedding/
Hackbarth, S. (2016, Jul 12). Fracking saved middle class families $480 in lower gas prices in 2015. US Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved from https://www.uschamber.com/series/above-the-fold/fracking-saved-middle-class-families-480-lower-gas-prices-2015
Hanson, V. (2017, Jun 6). It’s the hypocrisy, stupid. National Review. Retrieved from https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/06/hypocrite-democrats-lecture-country-exempt-themselves-resemble-jimmy-swaggart/
Hill, K. (2018). Kyle Hill Quotes. BrainyQuote. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/kyle_hill
Marcowicz, K. (2016, Jan 24) New York Post. Retrieved from
McAleer, P., McElhinney, A., & Segieda, M. (Directors). (2013). FrackNation: A journalist’s search for the fracking truth (Motion Picture). USA/UK: Magnet Releasing.
McNicoll, B. (2015, Jul 10). Meet billionaire hero of the left Nat Simons. Human Events. Retrieved from http://humanevents.com/2015/07/10/meet-billionaire-hero-of-the-left-nat-simons/
Mooney, K. (2017, Jul 11). Putin is funding green groups to discredit fracking. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/putin-funding-green-groups-discredit-natural-gas-fracking-635052
Roston, E. (2017, Jan 10). Putin’s other American propaganda effort: Anti-fracking news: Russia is no longer the world’s largest gas producer and isn’t happy about it. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-10/putin-s-other-american-propaganda-effort-anti-fracking-news
Shepstone, T. (2014, Aug 4). The Park Foundation palace and its poet laureate. Natural Gas Now. Retrieved from http://naturalgasnow.org/park-foundation-palace-poet-laureate/
Smith, K. (2014, Jan 5). Gasland, Russia and hysteria regarding hydraulic fracturing. American Diplomacy. Retrieved from http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2014/0105/op/op02smith_frac.html
Thomas, T. (2014, Aug 16). Big green hypocrites—Part III. Quadrant online. Retrieved from https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/tony-thomas/2014/08/big-green-hypocrites-part-iii/
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (2015, Jun 1) The Chain of environmental command: how a club of billionaires and their foundations control the environmental movement and Obama’s EPA. Minority Staff Report. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/FINALREPORT73014
Valvovici, V. & Gardner, T. (2015, Jun 4). Fracking not a “widepread risk” to drinking water, U.S. EPA finds. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fracking-not-a-widespread-risk-to-drinking-water-u-s-epa-finds/