By Keith Mauck
Well, that was the best $20 I’ve spent in awhile.
Last night, after 2 ½ years of laboring under the HBO-induced nightmare of “Gasland,” the other side of the fracking story premiered on AXS TV, a relatively obscure cable channel, unfortunately. The documentary “FrackNation” takes viewers on a journey with journalist Phelim McAleer as he seeks the truth about fracking that environmentalists and their Hollywood friends won’t tell.
The documentary isn’t likely to be covered in many mainstream media outlets, but it was a hit with “the people” long before premiere night. They funded its production through more than $200,000 in small-dollar, online donations. Full disclosure. Yours truly threw in $20 to help the cause.
“This is a film about people, and it will be funded by people,” McAleer said. “... Clearly the truth about fracking is something they wanted but weren’t getting.”
“FrackNation” actually is a response to “Gasland,” the 2010 anti-fracking documentary that inspired the storyline in “Promised Land,” and “Gasland” director Josh Fox is McAleer’s nemesis. “FrackNation” opens and closes with confrontations between the two.
In between those bookends, the film explores both the positive economic impact of fracking and the negative reaction of environmentalists to the drilling technique – and to anyone who dares question the green narrative about it.
The “FrackNation” storyline centers around Dimock, Pa., a rural town of about 1,400 dubbed “A Colossal Fracking Mess” by Vanity Fair and frequented by celebrities looking to score environmental points.
McAleer visits the town and the surrounding countryside to challenge the assumption that fracking is responsible for polluting the water there and to scold environmentalists for killing the dreams of struggling communities and farmers. The documentary also undercuts charges that fracking may cause earthquakes and cancer.
In that sense, “FrackNation” is like the first two documentaries McAleer and his wife, Ann McIlhenney, produced. “Mine Your Own Business” rebutted environmental arguments against gold mining in impoverished Romania, and “Not Evil Just Wrong” disputed global warming claims that could cost jobs in the American heartland.
McAleer and McIlhenney – joined by Magdalena Segieda as a co-director of “FrackNation – clearly relish the role of spoiler to the environmental movement. And they are quite good at it.
Too good for the antagonists in “FrackNation,” from Fox and a public official with ties to him to landowners Craig and Julie Sautner. Whenever McAleer corners them with hard facts contrary to their anti-fracking attacks, they waver between passivity and hostility.
At one point in an apparently chance meeting on a rural road, Julie Sautner showed her gun permit to McAleer and implied that she was about to show him the business end of the gun that went with it. She later called the police on him and made him out to be the bad guy, even though the footage shows otherwise.
“FrackNation” masterfully casts the crew of unlovable, anti-fracking characters against everymen like Ron White, a dairy farmer who has a gas pad 400 yards from his barn.
“I feel good about that,” White says. “I like to stand in the barn and see what’s making money out here. … Since the gas came along, this is the best cow on the farm. I make the most money on this cow and don’t have to buy any grain for it.”
At a minimum, open-minded viewers of “FrackNation” will finish the film more skeptical of the environmentalists and celebrities who decry fracking. And odds are good that they will leave the show as firmly in the pro-fracking camp as the directors are. An achievement the Oil and Gas Industry has been unable accomplish despite their $100 million high-gloss campaigns.
Josh Fox, as we used to say on the basketball courts of Indiana, “Your Ball!”
Note: The documentary will rebroadcasted on AXS TV on January 26th at 12
PM and February 2nd at 10AM EST. Or, the DVD is available for purchase on Fracknation’s website.