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Hydraulic Fracking Hits the Big Screen

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Hollywood, CAThe debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing water contamination elevates to a new pitch this month with the release of two films, one a presumed blockbuster from the fertile minds of actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski, and the other a documentary that appears to support the ideals behind fracking and debunks many of the concerns of critics and environmentalists.

FrackNation premiered in Manhattan with complete red-carpet treatment on January 7th. Directors Phelim McAleer, his wife Ann McElhinney and colleague Magdalena Segieda initiated the film in the midst of the fracking contamination debate that itself was further fuelled by the release of Gasland, a chilling documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox that eventually earned an Oscar nomination.

Gasland was rife with images of God-fearing, well-meaning Americans just trying to get by and make a pot of tea, only to have the water from their kitchen faucets ignite from the methane gas that came spewing from their wells. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), appeared to be of little help to them--the agency claimed their water was safe to drink according to current guidelines. Nonetheless, they blamed EPA hydraulic fracking for their water contamination.

Various municipalities have launched groundwater contamination lawsuits against the purveyors of fracking. Others have passed municipal bylaws and various other bans, preventing the practice.

While some pockets of America are well-versed on hydrofracking - and we have been writing about it for years here at - other areas of the country are oblivious to it. The Damon-Krasinski film Promised Land that opens to wide theatrical release this month, will erase that deficit and bring the issue to a new audience, who before now is met with the term and asks ‘what is fracking?’

Fracking has become the dedicated slang referencing the process of hydraulic fracturing. Reserves of natural gas trapped in collections of shale rock deep beneath the surface cannot be accessed through traditional means. To get around that, holes are drilled vertically - in the normal fashion - and then horizontally. Into these holes, hydrofracking companies pump in a mixture of water and hydraulic fracturing chemicals under high pressure to fracture the rock and release the gas reserves to the surface.

Writing in The New York Times (1/10/13), reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis notes that the documentary FrackNation characterizes water fracking to reach these gas reserves as “the miracle of the 21st century.” Proponents of fracking - which FrackNation appears to be - argue that fracking will help fuel the nation’s energy needs for decades to come, is safe and effective, does not contaminate water, provides jobs and a leg-up to struggling farmers by paying them a royalty for the fracking rights to their land.

Catsoulis, in the New York Times notes that previous documentaries produced by McAleer have argued against environmental concerns. In this way, FrackNation takes an almost total opposite view to that of Gasland.

And then there is Promised Land, a film written by actors Damon and Krasinski (The Office) based on a story, according to the New York Times, by writer Dave Eggars and directed by Gus Van Sant, who also directed Damon in Good Will Hunting. Damon plays a fracking advocate who is working for a hydrofracking company and seemingly oblivious to the concerns of the residents, until he actually spends time in the community and eventually comes to see the issue from their point of view.

It should be noted that the two hydraulic fracking films, Promised Land and FrackNation, collided somewhat in April of last year, when filming commenced for Promised Land. The producers of FrackNation were raising money for their documentary. According to writers Talia Buford and Erica Martinson writing in Politico (4/5/12), the filmmakers behind FrackNation let it be known that in their view, “Promised Land will increase unfounded concerns about fracking.”

To that end, FrackNation narrator and chief director Phelim McAleer - also a journalist - appeared in the New York Post (9/26/12) this past September condemning the premise behind Promised Land, noting that wells thought to be contaminated by hydrofracking were tested by the EPA, and it was determined that water from affected wells were not contaminated by EPA hydraulic fracking. There was no water contamination.

Thus, the fracking contamination debate continues with two high-profile movies - one a documentary, the other a Hollywood blockbuster-in-the-making - at direct polar opposites on the issue. One thing, however, is clear: the combination will take the issue of hydraulic fracturing water contamination to a new level of public awareness in the nation.


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