The movie’s premise is simple: a Susquehanna County mom, concerned about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, goes on a cross-country journey to determine whether the warnings raised by Josh Fox’s “Gasland” are legitimate.
Except…it’s a bit more complicated than that. During a Harrisburg screening of “Truthland,” star Shelly Depue admitted she was approached by the energy industry – and not the other way around – to produce the film. They booked the interviews she conducted, and set the agenda. And while Depue wasn’t paid for her participation, the Independent Petroleum Association of Pennsylvania and Energy In Depth picked up her travel tab.
The energy industry is aggressively marketing the 34-minute movie this summer, scheduling screenings and panel discussions across Pennsylvania. And while “Truthland” is getting negative production reviews – the Patriot News’ Donald Gilliland called it a mix of bad art and corporate messaging – several of the facts it highlights are well-established:
- Methane migration has been a problem in northeastern Pennsylvania for decades, and isn’t always directly tied to natural gas drilling. (That’s certainly not to say it’s never tied to drilling. The Department of Environmental Protection says faulty well casing caused Dimock’s well-documented migration problems, and DEP is currently probing the role nearby drilling played in a 30-foot Tioga County methane geyser.)
- There’s yet to be a case where hydraulic fracturing fluid conclusively contaminated drinking water. (The Environmental Protection Agency thinks fracking may have led to groundwater contamination in Wyoming, but that investigation is…complicated.)
Why the focus on refuting “Gasland?” Energy In Depth’s John Krohn explained via email: “Quite simply, Gasland has been the source of much of the controversy surrounding natural gas extraction. As such, the film is meant to be a resource for concerned citizens with questions on natural gas development that originated from that film.”
Depue agreed. “I think Gasland was the big one that got everybody up in arms. …The more people that watch that, the more people are up in arms, the more people that need to see the other side.” She asked whether I could name another film focused on natural gas drilling. I couldn’t.
What does Fox – who recently released a short follow-up to “Gasland” – think about this rebuttal? StateImpact Pennsylvania has reached out to the filmmaker, and will publish his response if and when we receive it.