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TRUTHLAND: The natural gas industry strikes back

truthland screen capture

While Josh Fox and his 2010 documentary GASLAND weren’t single-handedly responsible for the increased attention given to the natural gas extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), the film certainly did create an image many people now associate with the process: flaming tap water. It also didn’t win Fox many friends in the natural gas industry. Though industry reps have tried to argue against specific points in GASLAND, they’ve had a hard time overcoming that image of water burning in a Colorado man’s kitchen sink. So they decided to make their own movie.

TRUTHLAND, released online in mid-July, proclaims itself “the factual alternative to GASLAND.” Describing it as “fighting fire with fire” would be appropriate, too: The 34-minute short wraps up with another portrayal of a man lighting his water on fire (with ample explanation that there’s no gas drilling in the area). The film also mimics its predecessor by focusing on mother, grandmother and schoolteacher Shelly, who also happens to live on a farm on top of the Marcellus Shale gas deposits; her family has the opportunity to lease land to drilling companies for wells. But since she’s a conscientious mother, grandmother and schoolteacher who’s seen GASLAND, she sets out on a journey of her own to discover the truth behind fracking.

As you might expect, the facts Shelly discovers are quite different from those presented in Fox’s film, and she is shocked by GASLAND’s casual relationship with the “truth.” I can’t argue directly with the facts presented in the film, and think there’s probably a lot of truth presented here: Natural gas is definitely a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, for instance, and has potential as a “bridge fuel” to more renewable energy sources. What I did find disturbing in TRUTHLAND, though, was the framing of Fox as a “city slicker” out to dupe honest, common-sense country folk. In that respect, the film bore a striking resemblance to a Sarah Palin speech: Shelly would make a perfect “mama grizzly.”

I don’t know if Fox bent facts to fit his narrative. I do know that, so far, the only groups making those claims are those with agendas that run directly counter to GASLAND: anti-environmentalist organizations and the natural gas industry. I’m troubled that the latter would borrow from the narrative of the former to try to discredit Fox as they do in TRUTHLAND: Footage of the filmmaker being challenged on the legitimacy of the “water burning” scene comes straight from the website of another film, NOT EVIL JUST WRONG, which goes after Al Gore and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

Do we need honest discussion about the costs and benefits of natural gas and fracking? Definitely. But whatever honesty TRUTHLAND adds to the debate is buried in emotional manipulation. Don’t take my word for it, though: watch the film yourself and let us know what you think.

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Photo credit: Screen capture from TRUTHLAND trailer