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Citing DeSmogBlog Series, “FrackNation” Screening Cancelled by MN Film Festival

4:39 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

FrackNation,” the documentary film about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) with close conservative movement ties, recently had its showing cancelled at Winona, Minnesota’s annual Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF).

Citing DeSmogBlog‘s two-part investigative series published in May 2013 on “FrackNation,” FRFF Director Mike Kennedy told the Winona Post his rationale for cancelling the film is that it was, “pretty apparent they were paid to make these movies to counter Gasland [Part II].”

“DeSmogBlog.com appears to be the main source of allegations that ‘FrackNation’ was industry-funded,” wrote the Post. “DeSmogBlog claims connections between [film Co-Director Phelim] McAleer and conservative groups, industry groups help[ing] promote the film after its was made, and the fact that McAleer directed an industry-funded documentary in the past, as proof that ‘FrackNation’ is cut from the same cloth.”

The cancellation has caused a major kerfuffle in conservative media circles, covered by outlets ranging from Fox News, Fox BusinessThe Blaze TVTown Hall, Watchdog.orgHot Air and others.

FrackNation issued a press statement in response to the cancellation, spawning the conservative media backlash. 

“The film festival organizers seem to hate alternative points of view, they seem to want to quash diversity. They seem to be scared of the truth,” McAleer said in the press statement. “Basically the Frozen River Film Festival organizers have given in to bullying and taken the easy way out and censored a film that might offend environmental elites who think they know best.”

But an email exchange** provided by film festival organizers to DeSmogBlog shows, far from a case of censorship, “FrackNation” did not agree to the standard operating procedure for screening the film. In turn, festival organizers decided they wouldn’t screen it.

“FrackNation” Rises to Prominence

Co-Directed by Magdalena Segieda, Ann McElhinney and McAleer, “FrackNation” came out a few months before the release of Josh Fox’s “Gasland: Part II” and around the same time as Gus Van Sant’s Hollywood film critical of fracking, “Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon.

Since its release, “FrackNation” has done many screenings nationwide for state-level Americans for Prosperity (AFP) groups. AFP is a front group founded and bankrolled by the Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch. It’s also done many screenings for oil and gas industry trade associations.

“FrackNation” also played in front of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in February 2013, which Dave Weigel of Slate reported ”around 40 Republican staffers and members of Congress” attended.

In contrast, Josh Fox was arrested at the same Committee’s hearing a month earlier while filming for his then upcoming film for “unlawful entry.”

Missing Context: “FrackNation” Snubs Festival Screening Terms

McAleer’s claim is that “FrackNation” has been bludgeoned into silence by the FRFF organizers.

“What country am I living in?,” he asked rhetorically in an interview with the Winona Post. “I thought that this was America. I thought that people actually appreciated dissent.”

But that’s not the whole story, according to FRFF organizers, who said it’s the festival’s standard operating procedure that film representatives come for post-film discussions and question-and-answer sessions.

“Upon original acceptance we stated that a filmmaker attend with the film and join in a moderated public forum, as engagement is an important part of our mission,” reads a press release they posted on Facebook about canceling the film’s screening. “We offered to pay travel and lodging to anyone from the film who could attend. They declined to send someone, so we will not be screening the film.”

FRFF provided DeSmogBlog the email exchange between Festival Director Crystal Hegge and “FrackNation” co-director Magdalena Segieda outlined in FRFF’s press release.

“Is there anyone associated with the film that could come to the festival?,” Hegge asked in a December 19 email. “If no one from the film can come to the festival I may have to rethink my arrangement because there will be a lot of dead time in this particular theater without a Q&A or panel.”

Segieda responded, but didn’t address the possibility of the “FrackNation” screening being canceled if a film spokesperson couldn’t attend the festival.

“Unfortunately, no one from the FrackNation team would be able to come,” wrote Segieda in a December 20 email. ”Let me know when you set the the time, I will wait for your laurel to start promoting the screening.”

FRFF told DeSmogBlog it had a local frac sand industry sponsor give $1,000 to the film festival to support a member of the “FrackNation” team coming to the film festival.

But after Segieda informed Hegge that “FrackNation” couldn’t comply with FRFP’s request that they participate in a post-screening panel and after “FrackNation” asked for $10,000 from the sponsor according to Kennedy, the sponsor pulled out. From there, it was game over for screening the film at FRFF.

Initially, Kennedy envisioned a “Super Bowl” of fracking documentaries to take place at FRFF, with a debate between to ensue between McAleer and Fox. Fox couldn’t make it out.

But in his place, Calvin Tillman — the former Mayor of Dish, Texas featured in the second “Gasland” — will be on-site as a representative and speaker for the film, according to Kennedy. 

Film Fest Organizers Not Backing Down

Despite the backlash by the “FrackNation” team, FRFF organizers say they won’t back down.

They told the Winona Post, “true documentaries are independently funded,” pointing out that its role model film festivals, Telluride Mountain Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival have both also snubbed “FrackNation” and concluded, “there is a growing national consensus that the film does not qualify as a documentary.”

In place of screening “FrackNation,” FRFF is hosting a forum titled “Documentaries Today: My Fact Your Fiction,” which will center around the fine line between factual documentary film and propaganda documentary-style film.

Asked if he thought the post-cancellation was manufactured and deceptive, Kennedy told DeSmogBlog, “let’s just say it was likely well thought out and coordinated and leave it there.”

**Update**: In an email interview with “FrackNation” Co-Director Magdalena Segieda, DeSmogBlog has learned additional emails were exchanged (published here with Segieda’s permission) after December 20 between the film festival coordinators and Segieda.

These emails weren’t included in the initial batch sent to DeSmogBlog by the festival organizers. In a January 7 email, Film Festival Director Crystal Hegge informed Segieda the film screening would be at 10:00 AM on January 26.

“Thanks – do you have a laurel by any chance so I can start promoting the screening on our social media?,” Segieda wrote in response to Hegge’s email.

After Hegge told Segieda all she had was a “generic laurel,” on January 10, a week passed. Then, according to the email exchange provided to DeSmogBlog by Segieda, Hegge emailed Segieda to say they had to cancel the screening a week later on January 17.

“I am writing to inform you that we will not be showing FRACKNATION during our 2014 festival,” Hegge wrote. “Due to the high quantity of films at the festival we have decided not to show this feature film without a filmmaker attendant. Thank you for your submission and please consider us in the future.”

It didn’t take long for Segieda to respond.

“But we have already published and promoted the screening with time and address to thousands of our fans on our social media,” Segieda wrote less than ten minutes later in a response email. “I have also just finished create (sic) a promo poster attached here and was going to push it out over the next couple of days.”

Asked about the discrepency in the story versions between the two camps, Phelim McAleer provided this statement to DeSmogBlog:

It is unfair that the Frozen River Film Festival has cancelled the FrackNation screening and misrepresented the true situation in the media. I think its clear that they have caved to political pressure and as a result there will not be diversity of opinion and ideas at the festival. This is not what a film festival should be about.

New “Frackademia” Report Co-Written by “Converted Climate Skeptic” Richard Muller

11:46 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

MyFDL Editor’s Note: Read more about the Muellers on Firedoglake.

Richard Muller in class

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. The skinny: it’s yet another case study of “frackademia,” and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking“ and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Muller, it concludes that fracking’s climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study “about two years ago.”

“We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player,” he said. “The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking.”

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

“They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas.”

The Mullers co-head the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), a non-profit that at one time received funding from the Koch brothers. BEST published a study in 2011 affirming that climate change is real and caused by humans.

There is an important detail buried on the last page of the Centre for Policy Studies report: Liz Muller’s position as founder and Managing Director of the China Shale Fund. One copy of the study is even published on the China Shale Fund’s website.

EDF Study, “FrackNation,” PM2.5

In their paper, the Mullers rely heavily on the recent University of Texas-Austin fracking climate change study published in October in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund. DeSmogBlog characterized that study as another example of “frackademia,” science funded by Big Oil with accompanying results favoring the industry’s bottom line.

The Mullers’ report also cites the Koch Brothers-funded documentary “FrackNation” to dispute the veracity of fracking causing water contamination.

They also juxtapose the PM (particulate matter) 2.5-emitting Chinese coal industry (named such because the PM is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) with a powerful source of energy they claim does not emit PM2.5: shale gas. They do so both in the report itself and in an accompanying YouTube video.

Unmentioned is the fact that fracking has all kinds of accompanying air quality issues of its own, documented comprehensively in Earthworks’ recent report, “Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale.”

Also unmentioned is the issue of frac sand mining — the fine-grained cyrstaline sillica sand shot down a well to facilitate fracking - which emits immense amounts of PM2.5.

“We were not trying to make a comprehensive review of the subject. Our goal was to alert people to the fact that shale gas, if responsibly developed, can mitigate both air pollution and global warming,” Richard Muller told DeSmogBlog when asked why frac sand went undiscussed in his study. “There is nothing intrinsic about the mining of sand that means it cannot be responsibly extracted.”

China Shale Fund

Though the title of the report says nothing about China, “China” and/or “Chinese” appears 58 times in the report. BEST is also currently a partner of the non-profit organization Future 500, teaming up to bolster China’s rising tiger shale gas industry.

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Obama EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study

8:05 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A must-read Los Angeles Times story by Neela Banerjee demonstrates that – once again – the Obama administration put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) groundwater contamination, this time in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Though EPA said Dimock’s water wasn’t contaminated by fracking in a 2012 election year desk statement, internal documents obtained by LA Times reporter Neela Banerjee show regional EPA staff members saying the exact opposite among friends.

“In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation…staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production,” writes Banerjee.

“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that ‘methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.’ The presentation also concluded that ‘methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work,” Banerjee further explained.

It’s essentially a repeat of Steve Lipsky’s water contamination by Range Resources in late-2010 in Weatherford, Texas. In that case, EPA conducted a taxpayer funded study, determined Range had contaminated his water, sued Range – and then proceeded to drop the suit and censor the study in March 2012.

EPA also recently kicked the can down the road on a high-profile fracking groundwater contamination study in Pavillion, Wyoming, originally set to come out in 2014. That release is now expected in 2016, another election year. Just days after EPA’s decision, a Duke University study again linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale.

“We don’t know what’s going on, but certainly the fact that there’s been such a distinct withdrawal from three high-profile cases raises questions about whether the EPA is caving to pressure from industry or antagonistic members of Congress,” Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told the LA Times.

Ed Rendell and Friends At Work Again?

Located in the heart of the Marcellus Shale basin, Dimock was featured prominently in both Gasland documentaries, as well as in FrackNation, the industry-funded film created to counter Josh Fox’s films, produced and directed by climate change deniers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.

In the case of FrackNation, McAleer used EPA’s desk statement for propaganda purposes. He portrayed Craig and Julie Sautner – whose water was contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas – as “crying wolf” for expressing anger that EPA privately told them their water was contaminated, then publicly stated that it wasn’t.

The Sautners aren’t alone in their frustration, however, and they’re in good company.

“What’s surprising is to see this data set and then to see EPA walk away from Dimock,” Robert Jackson, co-author of the June 2013 Duke study that included Dimock water samples, told the LA Times. “The issue here is, why wasn’t EPA interested in following up on this to understand it better?”

Jackson raises the million dollar question: Who from the industry pressured USEPA to censor the actual results of the Dimock study? In Steve Lipsky’s case it was former head of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell.

Rendell – tied to the shale gas industry via Ballard Spahr LLP law firm and venture capital firms Element Partners and Greenhill & Co. - privately lobbied EPA to shut down its study and lawsuit centered on Lipsky’s groundwater contaminated by the Pennsylvania-headquartered Range Resources. His lobbying proved successful, likely in part due to three of his former aides now working as industry lobbyists.

One of those lobbyists is K. Scott Roy, Rendell’s former “top advisor.” Roy not only lobbies for Range Resources, but also sits on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Prior to serving in the Rendell administration and becoming a fracking lobbyist, Roy worked in the office of former PA Republican Governor Tom Ridge, who went on to serve as “strategic advisor” to the Marcellus Shale Coalition in 2012.

Did Roy contact his old boss Ed Rendell and request the Obama Administration step away from the Dimock study? That’s a question for a follow-up investigation.

Dereliction of Duty, or Par For The Course?

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FrackNation Part Two: The Koch Astroturf Ties That Bind

9:12 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Gasland Promo image

Gasland Part 2 is under fire from an competing astro-turf documentary.

Part one of the DeSmogBlog investigation of FrackNation - a film made in response to Gasland 2 – honed in on the past track records and funding streams of co-directors Phelim McAller and Ann McElhinney.

We revealed that Donors Trust/Donors Capital - the “dark money ATM of the right” – partially funded their first two films, Mine Your Own Business and Not Evil, Just Wrong.

We also revealed that Not Evil, a climate change denial documentary, was utilized by a partner of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) to push the Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE) campaign.

That campaign calls for a “balanced” scientific teaching of the climate change “controversy” and parallels ones pushed for via an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, by the Discovery Institute, and by the Heartland Institute.

Yet, what about FrackNation? Who bankrolled it and are the screenings and is the tour really a grassroots endeavor?

It might seem that way based on its marketing, but as Jean de La Fontaine once said, “Beware, so long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance.”

Grassroots or Astroturf? Follow the Email List

Interested in where FrackNation and its film-making team are getting their funding from, I signed up for its email list. In so doing, I learned that Market Aces LLC runs it.

“From the start, Market Aces had a vision to offer low-cost website development solutions to small businesses and a niche market within the political and non-profit sector – but only those who are dedicated to protecting the American Dream and freedom,” its website reads.

Market Aces LLC shares an office with The Leadership Institute (LI).

According to LI’s website, it “teaches conservative Americans how to influence policy through direct participation, activism, and leadership.” Its website also explains that “since 1979, [it] has trained more than 119,000 conservative activists, leaders, and students.”

Playing by API’s Employee Advocacy Playbook?

Beyond getting email list building help from one of the key “feeder” nodes in the right-wing network, it’s also questionable how many of the funders of FrackNation were of the grassroots variety. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explained,

[T]he roster of “executive producers” who have donated at least $1 includes scores of energy industry associates. The filmmakers said Thursday they plan to return any donations given by “senior” workers in the industry, which they define as executives.

Among those who donated money to the KickStarter campaign: ”the director of an Ohio-based oil and gas outreach program and the head of external affairs at Cabot Oil and Gas, the company that’s fought accusations of water contamination in Dimock, Pa., for the past several years,” according to the Post-Gazette.

Within four weeks of the Kickstarter fundraising campaign’s launch, FrackNation had already raised over $150,000, raising over $22,000 in the first two days of fundraising.

Perhaps FrackNation is playing by the American Petroleum Institute‘s employee advocates’ “corporate citizen” playbook.

In a presentation given at an industry PR conference attended by DeSmogBlog in Houston, TX titled, “Educating Employees On Key Issues To Encourage Brand Management Energy Nation: Empowering Employee Advocates,” API’s Director of External Mobilization Tara Anderson explained how – in essence – to create an armada of fracking advocates from within the employee base of oil and gas corporations.

“Employees are the best brand ambassador you can come by…The most important principle to remember is to create a culture of advocacy,” she said in Houston. “This is really a community that regularly communicates and engages in the political process. It gives them all the necessary tools and empowers them to get involved and make a difference.”

This may explain why the film not only raised money with such rapidity, but also has full industry backing for its nationwide tour

FrackNation Tour’s Americans for Prosperity Pitstops

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