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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

GASLANDERS

"There is no proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water."
-EPA chair Lisa Jackson

The last straw for me watching television shows usually comes after several episodes of building annoyance.  If I have liked a show in the past (The Glades, for instance) I keep wanting to give them another chance, just in case the writing picks up or the actors get better.  Everyone has off days, and not every episode is going to be great, I figure.  But usually, if you can see a show getting bad, its not going to pick up.
I've enjoyed the A&E show Longmire tremendously over the two seasons so far.  Its been entertaining, well acted, interestingly written, and the setting and concept are things I really appreciate.  There are some lingering slight annoyances, such as their apparent need to make a big long story out of the show rather than just episodes, but that can work if done well.
But the last episode I watched just about drove me away.  It was about a fracking operation* and the death of a Cherokee living on the local reservation from a fire in his home.  Now, ordinarily, Longmire will handle this kind of thing very well, without making either side look evil and the bad guy is usually unrelated to the apparent events.  And for the most part, they did that pretty well in this episode.
The problem is the first five minutes of the show were basically about how fracking is evil and wrong.  They didn't just come out and say it, but the theoretical cause of the fire and explosion was methane in the water caused by the evil big energy company.  One of the characters rightly points out that its never been proven that fracking causes gas to come out through water lines, but then Sheriff Longmire lights the water on fire and it burns spectacularly.  The wrong color for methane gas, of course, but it burns.  "I'd call that proof" the reservation sheriff sneers.
It reminded me of the last CSI show I watched with Lawrence Fishburn in it.  CSI had been getting increasingly activist, but the episode was all about the evils of fracking and how it was destroying farms and the eeevil corporation got away with it after several long rants by various characters about the horrors of fracking and big business.  I was disgusted, and just stopped watching.
And I think I know where these shows come from.  There was one of those fake documentaries about fracking called GaslandGasland has several infamous scenes where the camera shows someone lighting the water on fire from their water hose and sink.  Look at the methane pushed into the water supply by Fracking!  Its evil and dangerous!  Clearly this must be stopped!
Except... it wasn't.  Emails from the director and producer of Gasland (named Fox) reveal how he faked those fires.  he attached the water supply to a gas line and voila, burning water!  Oops.  Why did he have to do this?  Well, because even the US Environmental Protection Agency after years of studies is unable to find a slightest link between fracking and water pollution let alone methane in water supplies.  And these guys really really wanted to find one.
They wanted to find a connection so bad that they finally managed to put out a study showing a problem... but they did so by digging up to three times as deep as any fracking operation ever digs.  Which is to say, the study was worthless.  No evidence has shown any relationship or danger of Fracking causing earthquakes, either (another fright from Gasland and other sources).
It is true that some areas have slight methane deposits naturally occurring in the water table and that can be lit on fire, but it has nothing to do with fracking.  And it is true that fracking operations result in large reservoirs of contaminated water that energy companies are less than scrupulous in maintaining or properly storing.  But the actual harvesting of natural gas?  Nothing.
Still, Gasland (and part II) won lots of awards and turned the director into a celebrity.  And when you're a Hollywood writer type, well you eat that stuff up like Adam Richman attacks a food challenge.  They probably haven't ever even begun to question the validity of the claims in the films, and never have heard the stuff I linked above.  So they see Gasland or the director's appearance on The Daily Show and run home full of righteous indignation to write up scripts with the presumption that nobody would ever lie about this stuff!
Its not that the fracking companies are good guys, they're greedy bastards who'll lie and cheat to get their product just like Fox lied and cheated to put out his film.  Its that the actual process isn't the horror that these people promote it as, unquestioning, and that annoys me.  There might be genuine concerns to be dealt with in fracking, but this isn't how to go about it, its just a brute attempt to stop the process entirely.
Why put out stuff like Gasland?  Well its all part of a package.  Its the presumption that oil companies, let alone any big corporation, are evil, combined with a desire for oil to be expensive and hard to get so that people are pressured to get away from fossil fuels entirely because its overheating the earth and dooming us all and yadda yadda.  Facking is letting America supply more and more of its own fuel needs, with cleaner, cheaper natural gas.  That opposes the goals of guys like Fox.  And probably the guys who put out shows such as Longmire and CSI, when it comes down to it.
Related to the whole Gasland/Fracking fraud deal is the film Crude which actually captures lawyers and activists conspiring to defraud Ecuador and oil companies which I wrote about a while back but needs more attention.
Shorter version: Stop it with the activist writing in shows; fracking doesn't make water burn, Longmire.
*Fracking is short for Hydraulic Fracturing, which is a method of extracting the vast amounts of natural gas America enjoys.  Water and other chemicals are injected into the ground, pressurizing the gas and forcing it up for collection.  Popular Mechanics has a good article on the topic if you want to know more.

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