Fracking Ignites Fiery Debate

Two films square off on fracking,

an issue that could possibly surface on

the state's November ballot.

There is a movement to ban fracking in Michigan even though oil and gas companies have fracked about 12,000 wells in the state over the past 50 years.

Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, a process used by oil and gas companies to pulverize shale rock, buried thousands of feet below the earth's surface and water table, into natural gas. None of the roughly 12,000 wells drilled in Michigan has ever caused a threat to the environment or public health.

The anti-fracking group Ban Fracking Michigan began circulating petitions a few weeks ago that would place on November's ballot a proposal to ban all hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. Founded by LuAnne Kozma, Anna Kathryn Sluka and Julia Williams, the group's aim is to shut down fracking in Michigan, with no studies to improve efficiency and environmental impact, no consideration of better regulations, and no concern for the positive economic impact fracking has.

Who are these people and what is their experience with fracking? Kozma is the assistant curator of Folk Arts at the MSU Museum, Sluka's claim to fame is that she was the first female arrested at Occupy Wall Street two years ago, and Williams is a nurse who ran for Congress on the Green Party ticket.

The current movement to ban a practice with a 50-year-old spotless safety record most likely stemmed from the film Gasland, produced by Josh Fox. It played at the Traverse City Film Festival in 2010, and again at the State Theatre last March.

One of the most shocking scenes from Gasland was Colorado resident Mike Markham lighting his kitchen tap water on fire. Fracking was faulted for the fiery faucet in the film. However, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Markham's well was drilled into a natural gas pocket with naturally occurring methane long before any fracturing took place.

The scene ignited a frenzy of fundraising in the environmental community and a movement to ban fracking.

After Irish journalist Phelim McAleer (Financial Times, The Economist, UK Sunday Times) discovered that Gasland's flaming faucet was not the result of fracking, he decided to investigate the film by producing one of his own.

McAleer's film, "Fracknation," was financed by raising over $212,000 from 3,305 backers (none from the oil or gas industry) on the fundraising website Kickstarter.com. In "Fracknation," McAleer dispells several claims made in "Gasland" in the manner of a "genial Michael Moore," according to the Associated Press review.

The movie featured the following scenes:

– Craig and Julie Lautner insisted that fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale caused their tap water to look like coffee with milk, but on the day McAleer visited it came out of the tap clear, and several EPA tests stated that there was no contamination of their groundwater by fracking in the Marcellus Shale.

– Penn State Water Resources specialist Bryan Swistok discusses one of his studies that shows there was no difference in the quality of local groundwater after hydraulic fracturing.

– Dairy farmer Ron White says his drinking water is fine and he raises cows just 400 yards from a fracking well. White says the lease payments he receives from the gas company allow him to continue farming.

In the film, McAleer speaks with Jon Entine, who once served as Tom Brokaw's producer at NBC and as executive producer for ABC's 20/20. Entine says the "shale gas crisis is in the media coverage, not in the danger that shale gas presents to the U.S. or the world."

He cites shoddy coverage in the NY Times that was rebuffed on two consecutive Sundays by paper's own ombudsman. He called the coverage unethical and manipulative and is calling for more fair coverage of the industry and its practices.

"Fracknation" is a well-produced film that sheds more light on fracking and the anti-fracking movement. I hope you'll have a chance to watch it before you consider signing any petition to ban fracking. Perhaps a local community group could ask the State Theatre, an apolitical non-profit, to put "Fracknation" on the big screen as it did for "Gasland," twice.

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