When Gasland Director Josh Fox started making what would become one of the most galvanizing forces in the national battle against hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” he thought it would just be a short educational clip for people around his home state of Pennsylvania.
But as he started talking to more and more residents who lived near oil and gas wells, and hearing their contamination stories, the project grew.
“I quickly realized it would be more than a five-minute YouTube video,” he told Boulder Weekly in a recent interview, referring to the film that would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award in 2011.
Fox was in Boulder on May 22 to host a screening of Gasland, Part II, on the University of Colorado campus, followed by a question-and-answer period.
His sequel to the groundbreaking documentary highlighting the possible dangers of fracking premieres on July 8 on HBO and focuses on three of the states he is pictured visiting in the original film: Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Among other things, the film follows the reason why government at all levels has not been more responsive to the outcry over the oil and gas extraction process: The industry holds too much control over our public officials, thanks in no small part to its financial contributions, Fox says.
He explains that while Colorado does not play as prominent a role in the second installment as it did in the first (a Weld County resident was shown lighting his tapwater on fire in Gasland), the state is at the forefront of the national showdown over the controversy.
Fox unloads on Gov. John Hickenlooper, who he refers to as “Frackenlooper,” saying the governor’s recent charade drinking what he deemed “safe” fracking fluid proves even further that he’s “really not paying attention to his own base.”
“There is no such thing as non-toxic fracking fluid,” he says, noting that even if companies developed a clean version, it would come up contaminated after being injected into the earth. “There is only toxic fracking.”
Fox says drinking real fracking fluid is “a suicidal wish” and suggests that the governor be impeached for encouraging such behavior. He also criticizes Hickenlooper for “moonlighting” for the oil and gas industry by appearing in ads for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
He points out that David Neslin, the former head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which is simultaneously charged with promoting and regulating the industry, is now working for Davis, Graham & Stubbs, a law firm that represents Encana Oil & Gas.
“There is a revolving door between the regulators and the regulated industry,” Fox says. “It’s the fox owning the henhouse.”
Indeed, Hickenlooper opposed H.B. 1269, a bill that died in the legislature this spring and that would have reduced conflicts of interest within the COGCC by prohibiting oil and gas industry employees and board members from serving on the commission. (Current law allows the COGCC to have up to three industry employees.)
Fox accuses oil and gas companies of following the tobacco industry model from decades ago, even hiring the same PR firm and engaging in the same tactics of misinformation and creating doubt in the public’s mind regarding health threats.
When asked about the city of Longmont being sued by the state over its voter-approved fracking ban, Fox points out that similar legal battles are being waged around the country, including in Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett’s attempt to suppress local efforts to ban fracking has ended up in that state’s Supreme Court.
“We need to create forms of democracy that are a little more insistent,” he says.
Granted, Fox has his critics. And one of them was in Boulder this week at the exact same time, apparently to create a bit of competition with Fox’s event.
The conservative Colorado Women’s Alliance hosted a screening of the pro-fracking film FrackNation at the Boulder Marriott the same night of Fox’s screening, and the movie’s director, Phelim McAleer, was on hand for a Q&A after the screening.
On Tuesday, May 21, McAleer tweeted that he was “off to Boulder tomorrow to show people an alternative 2 misrepresentations in [Gasland].”