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The Return of Gasland

Award-winning filmmaker Josh Fox discusses the state of fracking and the sequel to his explosive documentary, Gasland.  

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Five percent of all wells leak immediately upon installation, and their cement casings fail. And 50 percent of them leak over a 30-year period. It's the industry's own science.

So in the same way that the tobacco industry had these memos in their drawers that said, "Oh, we knew all along that nicotine's addictive and that tobacco's harmful," the gas industry has their own research. And some of that stuff has been published, even. It's not even hidden. Some of it is hidden and we uncover a lot of that material in the new film.

MS: They made a fake trailer before your new trailer.

JF: The fake trailer is hilarious!

MS: How much do you think they've spent on it?

JF: One of my publicists did at one point estimate hundreds of millions of dollars to try to change the message. It goes from the sublime to the ridiculous, but that stuff I don't worry about as much.

What I worry about right now is a different tactic from oil and gas, which is the reasonable voice. It reminds me a lot of those liberals who came out and said that the Iraq War was a good idea, back in [2003]. There were these people who said, "Oh yes, well, we should go along," and ten years later they're like, "Oh, we made a big mistake." ...

It's this idea of safe fracking and that we can regulate it, this idea that like Governor Frackenlooper said, "You can drink fracking fluid," which he had to retract. There is no such thing as non-toxic fracking fluid. It doesn't exist. There's no such thing as a leak-proof well. It doesn't exist. There's no such thing as safe fracking. It doesn't exist.

Unfortunately, governors that lie about the issue do exist.

MS: So what do you say to people who insist that there is no credible evidence of the dangers of fracking? What's your best, most irrefutable data, your strongest argument, your best proof on your side?

JF: This is not even a question of proof. You look out there — and I've been to 25 states and all over the world investigating this issue — the contamination is clear from all the reporting. The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica, there are thousands of pages written on the contamination. Anyone who's saying it doesn't exist is living on a slightly different planet.

But the best evidence of why these things are happening comes from the gas industry itself. Their own reports, which are featured in Gasland II. We know it is happening, and the first film is evidence of that. All the reporting is evidence of that. All those people are evidence of that. ...

And a lot of this has to do with PR. Who can win the PR war. ... And all I'm trying to say is, "Look at this reporting. Look at what's actually being wrought on these people." And it's not a small number of people. Finding contamination cases making the first Gasland was not difficult at all. ...

MS: The EPA released its first progress report in December 2012 on its two-year study of potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, with a final draft promised by 2014. What do you think of that report so far?

JF: I haven't seen the progress report. The EPA would be in conflict with their own findings on several occasions if they were to come out and give fracking a clean bill of health.

One of the first interviews I did was with Weston Wilson; we know him as Weston Wilson the Whistleblower, in Region 8 offices at EPA. He blew the whistle on a 2004 report by EPA, which said, "Yes, we're injecting toxic material into the ground but it is no risk." [Laughs.]

He said it was an Orwellian world. Unfortunately what we've seen, and you'll see demonstrated in Gasland II, is that the EPA is subject to the same political pressures as any of our state agencies are. And that the industry has an incredible grip on our regulatory agencies.

In Pennsylvania, [in] the public accountability initiative report ... called "Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania," they examine all the people who are supposed to be regulating on behalf of the citizens, and they said it's had a corrupting effect and that the industry has captured the regulatory agencies that are supposed to represent the citizens. It does not mince words. And we're seeing the same situation over and over again. ...

MS: The Obama administration is supposed to issue new fracking regulations any day now. [It did two weeks ago, to criticism from both sides.] What do you expect from it?

JF: The Obama administration has clearly embraced natural gas. ... There were natural gas talking points in the State of the Union address. I don't think they did that with good science, with an eye towards the brilliant reporting that's happened. I don't think they did that with the idea of good government in mind. And one of the things that we'd like to do is reach out to President Obama and say, "Your base is not with you on your position on natural gas, you need to do what we elected you to do."