Industry, critics take different view of documentary on drilling
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GARFIELD COUNTY – A new documentary showing on the HBO network has excited gas-industry critics, who view the movie, “Gasland,” as an important look at the effects of gas drilling and pumping on human health and the environment.
At the same time, the film, by independent filmmaker Josh Fox of Pennsylvania, has angered industry supporters, who say it is factually inaccurate and politically motivated.
The film has been particularly well-received among activists in western Colorado and Garfield County, some of whom appear in the film.
Among them are Tara Meixsell and Rick Roles, two residents of rural Garfield County who have been following – and criticizing – the industry for years.
They both appear in the film, and both say it offers a needed glimpse into what they feel are the true costs of the ongoing U.S. natural gas boom.
“It seems … everywhere they drill for gas, they contaminate water wells,” said Roles, who has complained that noxious fumes from nearby gas wells are sickening him, as well as others in the area.
“There have been all kinds of accidents,” he continued. “With all the technology we’ve got these days, there shouldn’t be any accidents.”
The film’s fans cite images of farmers in eastern Colorado who can ignite the water coming from the taps in their homes, as proof that chemicals are seeping into their water supplies from nearby drilling operations.
“Josh Fox did an amazing job in less than six months,” said Meixsell, who also is the author of a new book on industry’s impacts, titled “Collateral Damage,” and is featured in the film.
“It’s hard-hitting,” she said of the film. “It asks some difficult questions.”
Industry spokespeople, however, are not impressed by the film, questioning the accuracy of Fox’s reporting.
“Accuracy is too often pushed aside for simplicity, evidence too often sacrificed for exaggeration, and the same old cast of characters and anecdotes,” declared the Energy In Depth online industry organ (energyindepth.org).
“Mike Hale of the New York Times called ‘Gasland’ a muckraking film” added David Ludlam, director of the Western Slope chapter of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), “and is correct in his assessment. And while ‘Gasland’ might steal market share from the Michael Moore Fan Club, the film does little to encourage civilized, honest discussion about America’s clean energy future, and how abundant reserves of natural gas must be a part of backing up renewables in America.”
Trish Conoly Schuller, president of the statewide COGA, added that even after industry critiques prompted changes to the film, “it is filled with much misleading information.”
Williams, the most prolific drilling company in Garfield County, called the film “a harsh and inaccurate look at natural gas development.”
Regarding the industry’s position, Meixsell scoffed, “Of course they will [blast the film and the filmmaker]. What else can they do? Think they’re going to like it?”
She pointed to the Erin Brockovich story, in which one woman took on the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. over industrial poisoning issues and won, as a precedent for the current gas-drilling controversies.
“I am not against industry,” Meixsell said. “I am asking for a more balanced approach, and protection for the environment and for people.”
The film, “Gasland,” will be playing intermittently on HBO this year and next year, according to the film’s website (www.gaslandthemovie.com), and DVDs will go on sale in December of this year.
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