FrackNation: An Adventure in Honest Reporting
Having grown up in and around the Delaware River Valley, I know that the people there are hard working, good old fashioned Americans, trying to make a living doing what they love. Often times, just being a farmer, no matter how much you love it, doesn’t make you enough money to live on. FrackNation is a documentary film by Phelim McAleer about fracking itself, but also all of the men and women who have leased land to gas companies in an effort to supplement their incomes. Fracking is now banned where I grew up, and, according to the film, the land that farmers could be using to farm is not making any money for them or the oil and gas companies they leased it to. McAleer also asserts that an unfortunate and often un-thought of consequence of this is that a lot of those families are forced to close farms that have been in their families for generations because they don’t have enough money to keep them open. All of this is caused by what is referred to in the film as “misinformation about fracking.”
Before we get started, let’s first answer the question: what is fracking? In the simplest terms, it is a method by which oil and natural gas companies get oil out of the shale rock that’s farther down in the earth’s crust which, prior to the invention of fracking, was harder, if not impossible, to get to. It involves shooting a high pressure mixture of water and chemicals through pipes into the ground, causing the shale rock to break and release it’s oil reserves. Aside from being a very efficient method of extraction, it’s also incredibly controversial, and a lot of people have different opinions on it.
At the start of the film, McAleer attempts to talk to filmmaker Josh Fox in regards to the seemingly ridiculous claims he made in his film Gasland about the impact fracking has on the environment. The most outlandish of the claims was that fracking causes methane gas to leak into nearby water supplies, causing the water to spontaneously burst into flames. McAleer found research that stated this was happening in the small Pennsylvania town Fox showed in Gasland long before fracking even existed, which discredited Fox’s claim that it was happening because they oil companies started fracking there. When confronted, Fox answered by saying that those findings were irrelevant to the story he told in his film. McAleer clearly didn’t agree with Fox’s assessment of the information, so he decided to make his own movie to, in his words “debunk the myths about fracking.”
From small towns to big cities, he tackled this topic with what can only be described as passionate gusto. He took on all the big myths about fracking and framed this controversial issue in a very well thought out and detailed way. Even though he was threatened with law suits, and a lot influential people called him crazy, he pushed on anyway and made a film not only was very educational on a content level, but it showed me a lot about the effort and the determination that goes into projects like this.
The first thing I learned is that research is so important! This film would not be the film that it is if it was just a series of shots in the dark, or people scrambling to find information. McAleer and his team had to conduct vast amounts of research in order to make sure that every bit of information they put into the film was based in fact. They had to do research to find the experts they interviewed, they had to do research to figure out where to go, and they did it well. I don’t think I fully can understand just how much time that takes until I get there, but I can only imagine that it takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort, and that when done correctly can reap many a benefit.
The second thing I learned or, in this case, relearned, is that when you have passion for what you’re doing, it makes the story that much better. Phelim McAleer and his wife Ann McElhinney have been making documentaries together for a long time, and they are not afraid to tackle big issues. They are passionate about everything they put their minds to, and because of that, they make content that is as controversial as it is informative, taking on everyone from celebrities like Mark Ruffalo to the environmentalist groups they believe are causing more harm than good for the world they claim to be protecting. There are a lot of things that I care about very deeply, and this film inspired me to be vocal about them, and to call out the seemingly unjust wherever it is, in whatever avenue it exists. Documentary film is intended to be a long form story that shows real people and real things, and this is an example of what it means to take advantage of every second available to tell a story that matters to them.
All in all, this is a wonderful film, well executed and very well informed. McAleer and McElhinney present a no holds barred story that shows all the real effects of fracking, effects that go far beyond our environment. I would recommend this film to anyone who wants to learn more about fracking, but also anyone who really wants to see a people driven, cause and effect revealing story.
Kendall is a 20-year-old aspiring documentary filmmaker from Park City, Utah. After film, some of her chief loves are those of coffee, dogs, and snow. Every week, she takes a look at the odd, uncommon, particularly interesting, and outright obscure ways that people produce creative visual art for the world to see.