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Exposing the Natural Gas Industry's Attempt to Silence Its Critics

Natural gas companies, according to the director of the documentary film 'Gasland,' Josh Fox, are 'shameless and have immense resources to pay for spin.'

In June, just before Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland was about to premiere on HBO, a document seeking to discredit the film’s account of the hazards of natural gas drilling suddenly appeared. "Debunking Gasland" was posted on a Web site for Energy in Depth, a petroleum industry public relations concoction that had been whipped up the year before to defend the radical new drilling technology called horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) from growing investigation and criticism.

EID, which claims to be a gas industry “coalition,” disseminated "Debunking Gasland" far and wide, releasing it to media outlets and aggressively advertising its existence through its own Twitter feed and YouTube channel, as well as through pop-up windows on Google and Facebook. Fox, whose film had racked up awards from Sundance to Big Sky, and whose International WOW theater the New York Times has called “fearlessly inventive and virtuosic,” was an amateur film director from the fringe of theater. "Debunking" claimed that Gasland was a montage of misstatements, misrepresentation and outright lies.

Energy in Depth presents itself as the voice of the “small-business industry” that is “American oil and gas.” Executives of the Independent Petroleum Producers of America are listed as “personnel” on the site’s Contact Us page. No address is given, only a telephone number, which is the same as that of the Institute of Energy Research, a petroleum industry think-tank. An earlier version of the page, reposted on Sourcewatch, listed Brian Kennedy as a contact. Co-founder of IER, Kennedy is now managing director of the public relations firm FD Americas Public Affairs, which boasts the energy industry as its “backbone,” touts work for both IER and IPPA, and no doubt, as recently asserted in the Huffington Post, can claim Energy in Depth as its latest strategy to sway perception and policy for the petroleum industry through a multi-million dollar campaign of mis- and dis-information. No amount of mom-and-pop spin can morph the industry from the giant it is, with vast financial reserves not only for toxic petroleum production but for media invention on its behalf.

Now, in a rejoinder called “ Affirming Gasland,” released last week, Fox debunks his unnamed industry debunker. His piece contrasts dramatically with EID’s, not only in its information and analyses about what fracking is and does, but in its methods and tone. From the personal prefatory note, to the introduction of his panel of expert collaborators (each of whose contributions are clearly marked), to the updates of the lives of people in the film, to the abundant facts and references (a 3-page bibliography on the technical issues, science, regulation, congressional activity, and more), Fox's “Affirming” is everything that Debunking is not: transparent, humane, respectful, and accountable. Affirming Gasland will grow over time, Fox tells us, as he and others add insights and information to aid in the grassroots compaign to protect water and air from the petroleum industry's fracking onslaught.

I’ve interviewed Josh Fox before, always on the phone, and always when he's on the move to a Gasland screening or a public event on fracking. Last week, we talked as he dashed from Brooklyn to Trenton, New Jersey, on his way to a hearing about the future of fracking in the Delaware River Basin, where he makes his home and where Gasland, the journey and the movie, began.


Nora Eisenberg: Since “Debunking Gasland” appeared, you've been a very busy man. Gasland premiered on HBO. You've appeared on major TV and radio shows. And you've been screening Gasland in city after city. Why did you take the time from your busy schedule to respond to this industry attack with the very full response of “Affirming Gasland”?