Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

January 21, 2013

New documentary targets critics of fracking

(Continued)

In strictly visual terms, FrackNation also quietly makes a point by showing that most of the Pennsylvania countryside in drilling areas is still beautiful, and not a wasteland. Though drilling is an industrial process, the iconic wells and fleets of noisy trucks that service the process disappear from a drilling pad after a few weeks or months.

But though "FrackNation" discredits some of the most extreme anti-fracking rhetoric, it also sometimes goes too far in dismissing legitimate concerns. For example, in tiny Dimock, Pa., where drinking water wells were tainted with methane, McAleer leaves viewers with the impression that drilling never caused problems for about a dozen families.

In fact, state environmental regulators determined that a drilling company contaminated the aquifer underneath homes there with explosive levels of methane and issued huge fines. The state later determined the company had fixed the problems, and most of the families reportedly reached an out-of-court settlement.

"FrackNation" also doesn't acknowledge that Texas regulators say there were some problems with leaking gas and air quality in the early days of the boom there, and The Associated Press recently found that federal officials did have evidence that gas drilling may have contaminated some water wells in that region.

On such points, "FrackNation" is guilty of some of the same sins of exaggeration that it criticizes Fox for.

Yet Shellenberger said anti-fracking critics such as Fox and advocates such as McAleer may both be necessary.

"The radicals often play an important role in these environmental conflicts, to hold regulators' feet to the fire, to motivate industry. I think the radicals have played a positive role — but it can go too far," Shellenberger said, while adding that the presumption that environmentalists are all "on the side of all things good" is too simplistic.

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