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Fact-Checking Gasland Part II

HBO Special Screening Of "Gasland Part II"

The Department of Energy released a “landmark” study which found no correlation between fracking and the contamination of groundwater fluid. Greens like documentary filmmaker Josh Fox have been banging the alarmist drum on groundwater contamination for some time now. Last week we ran a review of Fox’s latest offering, Gasland Part II. The film attempts to expose the evils of fracking, but like its predecessor, it’s riddled with factual errors.

The DoE’s study hasn’t been completed yet, but as the AP reports, preliminary indications point towards an exoneration of the drilling process that has provided America access to a massive new supply of energy:

Drilling fluids tagged with unique markers were injected more than 8,000 feet below the surface at the gas well bore but weren’t detected in a monitoring zone at a depth of 5,000 feet. The researchers also tracked the maximum extent of the man-made fractures, and all were at least 6,000 feet below the surface.

That means the potentially dangerous substances stayed about a mile away from surface drinking water supplies, which are usually at depths of less than 500 feet.

Obviously, Fox didn’t have access to these results when putting together Gasland Part II. But the results confirm something that, to many, seems to be common sense: the depth at which fracking occurs is well below aquifers. As long as the vertical bore is correctly cased with cement, hydrocarbons and fracking fluid won’t have a chance to leak into groundwater.

Gasland Part II devotes some special attention to these cement casings, and Fox claims that 35 percent of the world’s wells are leaking. But that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, as one contributor to the left-leaning blog Daily Kos points out (that same contributor has also twice debunked Fox’s claim that the oil and gas industries are exempt from the Clean Air Water acts). A little over an hour into the film, Fox shows a graph purporting to illustrate the dramatic increase of casings failures over time, but in what appears to be a case of willful deceit, neglects to show viewers the caption to that graph; the scary red lines don’t show the failures of casings.

Reason released a list of the top five lies about fracking, including the infamous scene from the first Gasland in which a homeowner lights his faucet on fire. The state of Colorado found that that incendiary scene had nothing to do with oil and gas drilling. Many of the places with plenty of shale gas and oil for the taking also have above-average levels of methane in their groundwater, even before the first well is drilled.

Energy in Depth (EiD), a website backed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, has an exhaustive list of Gasland Part II’s mistakes. EiD has skin in the game, and its word shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but it does take the debunking job fairly seriously.

The oil and gas industry is understandably up in arms over this latest green salvo against it, and places like EiD and the Center for Industrial Progress are responding with as much disdain for the environmentalists as Fox showed fracking in Gasland Part II. But the conversation is polarized, the middle ground deserted. That’s a shame, because shale energy needs a rigorous fact-based debate. If we’re going to take advantage of this newly-accessible resource, we need to do it safely. We need to minimize risks like earthquakes. But we also need to recognize the green merits of shale gas, which emits half as much carbon as coal. Hopefully we’ll see more voices like Michael Levi’s, author of the recent book The Power Surge, join the fracking debate.

[Director Josh Fox attends The HBO Special Screening of ‘Gasland Part II’ at HBO Theater on June 25, 2013 in New York City. Image courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • MWFlorida

    When one side regularly take ridiculous positions not backed by facts or science, can there be a middle ground? Can you compromise with extremists?

    You can’t reason with religious environmentalists.

    • Jeff Jones

      That’s because they are less interested in the environment than they are in damaging capitalism. Notice they loved natural gas until it showed potential for massive wealth generation and threatened their attempts at worldwide redistribution.

  • Atanu Maulik

    When does the true faithful concern themselves with facts ?

  • ljgude

    My reason tells me that given the scale of our industry world wide we could really do the environment serious damage, but the greens have lied so much and so often that I don’t trust anything they say. Because a lot of them are watermelons and trying to impose a Marxist vision – which they cannot admit has failed – there is very little progress on identifying real problems much less working on actual solutions.

  • Nick Bidler

    I would be more concerned with environmentalism if environmentalists were not such apocalyptic doomsayers who abandon an energy source as a ‘green alternative’ as soon as it becomes economically feasible.

    Remember the days when Natural Gas was the cleaner, greener alternative to coal power, but, darnit, those evil corporations just don’t care about the environment?

    I don’t like trying to kick a ball through moving goalposts.

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