'Truthland’ offers 'Gasland’ rebuttal

Posted July 19, 2012

By Michael Bradwell

Shelly Depue admitted she was concerned when she learned that her family’s dairy farm in Montrose, Susquehanna County, would be the site for as many as 10 natural gas wells.

The news came to Depue, her husband and family members around the time that the documentary “Gasland” was being viewed around the country, with its famous scene of a man setting fire to water as it flowed from a spigot in his kitchen sink.

Depue, 55, who also teaches Earth science, told an audience of more than 200 people who came to see an initial screening Tuesday of “Truthland: Dispatches from the Real Gasland,” in which she stars, that she wanted to get answers to her questions that arose from her viewing of director Josh Fox’s “Gasland.”

“Truthland,” screened at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe, was sponsored by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Energy In-Depth.

In the 34-minute film that was underwritten by Energy In-Depth, the education arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and others in the gas industry, Depue said she was contacted by the Joint Landowners Association of New York, which was looking for someone to star in the film.

She said she agreed to do the film because she had a lot of questions, including the types of chemicals used in fracking, whether drilling companies followed state and federal laws, and her concerns about crops and livestock.

Depue said later that neither she nor any of the people she interviewed were paid to appear.

Before she is shown interviewing scientists and environmentalists, Depue said neighbors around Montrose recalled the longtime phenomenon of being able to ignite water that carries naturally occurring methane.

In an early scene, she visits a stream in Salt Springs State Park near Montrose and briefly ignites the water.

One of the first people to be interviewed by Depue is John Hanger, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, who also was interviewed in “Gasland.”

“(Gasland) has a mission, the mission is to shut down the gas industry,” Hanger tells Depue. “It’s very effective in stirring fears. The truth about gas drilling is much more complicated and complex than what was presented in Gasland.’

“We’ve never had one case of frack fluids going down the gas well and coming back up and contaminating somebody’s water well.”

In another interview, Jim Marston, director of the Texas regional office of the Environmental Defense Fund, tells Depue that while “Gasland” is long on drama, its focus on fracking as the root of all problems with natural gas drilling is misleading.

“Obviously (“Gasland”) has a lot of pretty dramatic events,” Marston says. “I think where I would differ with Josh (Fox) is his conclusion that those problems were all related to fracking.”

Depue also returns to the area of Colorado where “Gasland” depicted a man igniting water coming from his kitchen spigot.

Depue learns from another resident that he has a similar problem in his house, noting that it was a condition that existed before any gas drilling occurred in the area.

During a panel discussion moderated by KDKA-TV’s Jon Delano, Depue said the main mission of the film was to counter Fox’s innuendos that the process of hydraulic fracturing was to blame for contaminating water tables.

The other panelists were Pat McCune, president and CEO of Community Bank, co-founder of the Tri-County Oil & Gas Expo and a founding member of Washington County Energy Partners; Lou D’Amico, executive director of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association; and J. Scott Roberts, a professional geologist with 25 years’ experience with DEP and now an adviser with L.R. Kimball, an engineering firm.

In underscoring Depue’s comment about “Gasland’s” focus on fracking, Roberts said the problems of water table contamination such as those that occurred in Dimmock weren’t related to fracking, which occurs after a well is drilled several thousand feet below the surface and any potable water tables.

“Gas mitigation is a well-construction issue, not a fracking issue,” said Roberts. Both Roberts and D’Amico acknowledged that there are other problems associated with drilling that include spills, the way in which materials at the drill site are managed on the surface and the construction of the wells, themselves.

The panelists also agreed with Delano that until now, the natural gas industry hasn’t done a good job of attacking the anti-fracking message.

Delano also drew a round of applause when he stated that the media had not done a good job of covering issues related to natural gas drilling.

During a question and answer period following the panel discussion, Southpointe resident Margaret Fisher asked if there could be some “middle ground” between the alarmist approach of Fox’s “Gasland” and “Truthland’s” rebuttal.

“What happened in Dimmock happened in Dimmock,” Fisher said.

Roberts said that the Dimmock case is a milestone, in that it underscored “a bigger problem with a well-construction problem,” noting that improper casing around the drill was found to be the cause of contamination.

The Environmental Protection Agency later determined through testing that the water in Dimmock was safe to drink.

John Krohn of Energy In-Depth noted Thursday that after the Dimmock incident, new requirements were written for the ways drill casings were to be constructed.

Krohn said “Truthland,” which debuted June 13, currently has scheduled about 40 screenings, of which 15 are public.

The movie also can be viewed free at the website Truthlandmovie.com.

Copyright Observer Publishing Co.