The Fraud that is Truthland

So I heard about this film Truthland which is purported as a response to GasLand by Josh Fox. While I think Gasland barely scratches the surface of the issue of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction (hydrofracking or fracking) — and promotes the most sensational aspects — I think it is overall a service that it raises awareness and encourages people to explore further.

So having "drank the Kool Aid" so-to-speak, I was skeptical of Truthland. I watched the trailer and it looked pretty good. But then I was thinking, "I wonder where the website is hosted" so I looked into it. It came back "clean" in the sense that it wasn't hosted at a gas company like I expected but by But then I thought, "man, that website looks really good". It'd probably be around $5K to $20K to make something that looks that good. That seems kind of unusual for a family to be able to afford (and without even a mention on, much less media attention or even a Kickstarter campaign.)

And then I thought, you know, the footage in the trailer looks really good too — like too good. I mean, I think it's possible that a mom in Pennsylvania knows how to produce a top-notch documentary, but it seemed kind of unlikely. The quality demonstrated in the trailer ain't from some off-the-shelf Canon no matter how much money you spend: shooting obviously included a recording engineer, someone with fill lights and reflectors, a good cinematographer, and at least two cameras. For instance, at about 1:30 in the trailer interviewing Joseph Martin: note the gap between Shelly DePue and Martin where you can see the tree trunk between them, then in the close-up, the camera is to the left of the first and zoomed, obscuring the tree? A digital zoom after-the-fact would show the same angle. Plus there's obviously wireless microphones to record the interview and reflected light to key their faces in the shade of the trees. These are not things the average person thinks of — only an extraordinarily exceptional person would.

So way at the bottom of the page are two links: one to Energy In Depth, and the other to The Independent Petroleum Association of America. Well gee, that seems weird. Most documentaries give thanks to friends and relatives who ponied up the thousands of dollars it would take to shoot it, but this one cites a couple industry groups.

So I Googled it and a few links down is Fracking Industry's Answer to 'Gasland': Devised by Astroturf Lobbying Group and Political Ad Agency. And that pretty much puts a lock on it. I don't mean to just make an ad hominem fallacy of it all: there is big money at stake, and the central deception (that this started from DePue wanting to find the truth) calls into question everything that is said. And if everything that's said can't be believed, why say it at all?

Watching Gasland at the Little

I had heard some good things about it, so I headed over to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see GasLand. Alas, due to being "short listed" for a possible Academy Award for it, director Josh Fox was not available in person and instead joined a question-and-answer session afterward via Skype (which actually works pretty good.)

Fox lives in his family home in rural Pennsylvania and received a letter from a company asking for a lease of his property for hydrofracking — a technique for extracting natural gas from a specific kind of shale deposit by pumping a chemical slurry through a mineshaft at high pressure to fracture the shale. Not knowing anything about the process, he started filming (presumably shortly after) he started trying to contact the companies involved to ask some questions. Coming up dry, he decided to do some more research and found that fracking has been used in other areas and there was a correlation to contaminated water supplies. As you've likely heard about the film, the dramatic demonstration is tap water that can be set ablaze: the water supplies became contaminated with natural gas which then sputters and bubbles out the tap.

What is incomprehensible to me is that during George W. Bush's term, he signed a law that exempted hydrofracking companies from the clean air and clean water acts. Now, water supplies and air is highly contaminated in hydrofracking communities, yet the companies involved refuse to acknowledge that it is their work that causes it. The simplest explanation to me is that the companies know it is difficult to legally prove the source of contamination, so they offer no cooperation in assessing their role in the problem which makes it nearly impossible for residents to successfully get corrective measures taken. Gasland contrasts this with hydrofracking experts being questioned before Congress and insisting their methods are completely safe — despite that they are pumping known carcinogens and volatile organic compounds underground to fracture shale adjacent to natural aquifers.

My own take is that given the choice between contaminated tap water and expensive natural gas, I'll take expensive natural gas any day. If push came to shove, I could bundle up, insulate my house better, use localized electric heat, or start burning wood. But I would be unable to perform the filtration and fractional distillation necessary to extract safe water rapidly enough that I wouldn't die first from dehydration.

The argument is that there is plenty of water so it doesn't matter. And even though our bodies need a rather pure and clean water, there is presently enough, at least in the United States. But polluting these water sources is no good for anybody. In fact, as Gasland points out, the proposed hydrofracking in Pennsylvania and New York sets the stage to potentially pollute the aquifers that supply New York City, Philadelphia, and Delaware: some 15 million people.

That got me to thinking.

I think everyone has had fantasies of the "post-apocalyptic utopia": the one where the population is decimated, you and all the people you care about survive, and there is now a surplus of resources at your disposal — either a natural disaster, or in recent years, zombie survival fantasies. When I put the pieces together, I wonder if the wealthy, powerful people that head these companies believe they can achieve this sick fantasy. I don't doubt they are in a position to secure clean water, food, and shelter for themselves and all the people they care about. By supplying cheap natural gas, they are in a position to further amplify their advantage over everyone else. And if they also poison the populace — or at the very least make them dependent on corporate-supplied water — they may actually be in a position to live as kings while the world crumbles and dies around them.

While my prediction seems astonishingly dire and alarmist, I really can't conceive of a simpler rationalization. As I had mentioned, if I were working for one of these companies and they outlined the system, my first question would be to ask how the environment would be protected. And I certainly could not make a claim as those who were questioned by Congress. I really can't fathom how people think this is okay, unless I assume their goals include extinguishing the vast majority of human life on this planet.