Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 21, 2013

New documentary targets critics of fracking

PITTSBURGH (AP) — "FrackNation" is a new documentary that attacks opponents of fracking for oil and gas, but it also raises a bigger question: Is it possible to criticize environmentalists without being a tool for big industry?

Fracking is a method of stimulating oil and gas from deep underground that's led to a historic boom in U.S. production while also stoking controversy over its possible impact on the environment and human health. "FrackNation," an independent documentary produced by Los Angeles-based filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, addresses the issue from an unusual perspective.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — The author, Kevin Begos, covers the fracking industry in Pennsylvania for The Associated Press. With "FrackNation" opening Tuesday, he offers this view from the ground.

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The release of the documentary now is clearly an attempt to play off a current Hollywood film on fracking, "Promised Land," which stars Matt Damon. But the David vs. Goliath roles are turned upside down, since McAleer's pro-fracking production received thousands of small donations on the fundraising site Kickstarter, while Damon's film, which has an anti-fracking angle, had millions of dollars in funding, including some from the United Arab Emirates.

McAleer says anti-fracking activists have based their crusade on faulty claims and a disdain for the actual wishes of many people in the rural communities where land is drilled. His main target is Josh Fox, the director of "Gasland," the 2010 award-winning, anti-drilling documentary that has inspired many critics of fracking.

One leading environmentalist welcomed "FrackNation's" take and said he can't wait to see it.

"It's great this guy's done this documentary. I think it's sort of a second wave to the more hysterical first reaction" to fracking, said Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, a Berkeley, Calif., nonprofit that argues for new ways to address environmental problems.

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