Overturn of ‘Gasland’ Verdict Highlights Fundamental Flaw in Anti-Fracking Agenda

Late last week, Judge Martin Carlson vacated a jury award of more than $4 million to two families in Dimock, Pennsylvania who claimed in 2010 that hydraulic fracturing contaminated the ground water in their small Pennsylvania town. The loss of the Dimock verdict, which was popularized in the Academy Award nominated documentary Gasland, is a huge setback for the anti-fracking movement.

Wait, So What Is ‘Gasland’?

Released in 2010, Gasland is a documentary that claims to provide a glimpse at the environmental hardships caused by fracking. The writer and director, Josh Fox, spent several months interviewing residents and speaking to scientists about the potential dangers of fracking in his quest to vilify the practice. In that goal, Fox was imminently successful.

On its release, Gasland earned rave reviews from all the places you’d expect — Variety, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, etc. It even helped influence and chronicle a court case in which two families in Dimock, Pennsylvania claimed to have suffered health issues as a result of contaminated ground water caused by hydraulic fracturing.

It’s stirring stuff, which is why environmentalists have been using Gasland to scare the ever-loving crap out of impressionable people for seven years.

So, Why Would a Judge Set Aside Such a Righteous Verdict?

In the grand tradition of documentaries that make their case too well, it turns out that Gasland was a total hit job that used sensationalized information to make its anecdotal and incorrect point. While professional movie reviewers praised Fox’s narrative structure, actual scientists were dismayed by Gasland’s melodramatic and scientifically baseless story.

Let’s take, for example, an editorial written for Forbes just after the film’s release. In it, engineering professor Dr. Michael Economides passionately attacks the film for its blatant fictions. In one of the film’s most famous scenes, for example, a Colorado local actually ignites his tap water because, ostensibly, the evil act of fracking has caused natural gas to leak into the man’s water supply. Economides easily refutes this point by highlighting a Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission statement released after that organization specifically investigated the faucet-lighting scene.

What’s happening here is staged. Plain and simple.

“There are no indications of any oil- and gas-related impacts to your water well,” the COGCC concluded, adding, “Methane gas is common in water wells in Colorado. It occurs naturally … as a byproduct of the decay of organic matter.”

That’s just one example of the hyperbolic and simply untrue “information” used in Gasland. In overturning the verdict, Judge Carlson pointed out several more inaccuracies and concluded:

“[T]he weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ case and proof, coupled with serious and troubling irregularities in the testimony and presentation of the plaintiffs’ case – including repeated and regrettable missteps by counsel in the jury’s presence – combined so thoroughly to undermine faith in the jury’s verdict that it must be vacated and a new trial ordered. Moreover, the jury’s award of more than $4 million in damages for private nuisance bore no discernible relationship to the evidence, which was at best limited …”

The Verdict on Drinking Water Contamination Is In, Folks

There’s a romanticized notion rumbling though the media and among anti-fracking activists that hydraulic fracturing is poison to ground water. For more than a decade, environmentalists have been struggling to make the case and, to date, they’ve failed to do so. What’s more, it seems as though anti-frackers are actively ignoring scientific proof to the contrary.

In 2015, the EPA completed a 5-year study that concluded that fracking wasn’t a threat to the groundwater. In the media, however, the bigger story was the “heroic team of scientists” who rushed in to dismiss the findings and return their own report. Then, for some reason, when that team of fracking haters also concluded that fracking didn’t harm ground water, there was little press representation to be found.

In fact, “fracking hurts water” is still a woefully common argument against the practice, in spite of the fact that there isn’t a single reputable study that supports that claim.

Science Isn’t as Compelling as Sad People

Honestly, Judge Carlson’s verdict is more likely to be viewed as a win for the “oppressive oil and gas industry” more than it will be seen as yet another illustration of the fragility of the anti-fracking movement.

Why? Because listening to some grizzled, old, sad person tell a scientifically baseless, but emotionally compelling story is way more fun than trying to incorporate dry facts into your worldview, regardless of which is more reliable.

United States Oil and Gas Independence Could Change the World

While OPEC has stymied production in the hopes of clearing a surplus of oil and gas on the world market, the United States’ shale producers have gleefully amped up production to fill the hole created in OPEC’s absence. As a result, the United States’ is poised to continue a transition  begun under President George W. Bush and then heavily promoted under President Obama.

Thanks to some international developments and some recent domestic discoveries, the United States is poised to become truly energy independent. And the entire world that stands to benefit.

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The Details Behind Lafayette, Colo. Civil Disobedience Ordinance

The Colorado energy industry got a short delay on Tuesday, January 17 when Lafayette’s City Council tabled the vote surrounding a controversial ordinance that would allow acts of civil disobedience and non-violent protest aimed at hampering the development of oil and gas projects in the area. The council members called for the delay when three City Council members failed to show up to the meeting.

The ordinance facing the Lafayette City Council is a first of its kind for the country and has been a point of contention among the city’s citizens. What exactly is at stake in the ordinance? And what are the potential ramifications of its passing?

What Does ‘Civil Disobedience’ Mean in This Case?

If ratified, the ordinance would lend legal protection to “sit-ins, strikes, workplace occupations or blockades” orchestrated by the opponents of fracking. So long as the protestors are keeping their hands to themselves, the Lafayette ordinance would put them on the right side of the law.

In short, police would be barred from dispersing crowds who were actively attempting to thwart oil and gas efforts. That could range from camping out on a worksite complete with obligatory poster board to a move similar to the one pulled in Olympia, Washington, when a crowd of people camped on railroad tracks for a month in order to prevent the delivery of fracking sands to sites in the Midwest.

In response to the proposal, debate has been fierce on both sides of the aisle. Proponents of the bill have argued that the measure will help them gain further control over their local climate. Meanwhile, opponents of the ordinance claim that it’s flat-out illegal. Lafayette City Attorney David Williamson has even admitted that the bill’s language is so vague that it would be difficult for police to back it up. In addition, the attorney said the ordinance itself could be unconstitutional.

How Big a Deal Is This, Anyway?

It’s important to realize that Lafayette, Colorado has a long history of attempting to resist the development of oil and gas in the region. There is a slight mahjority in the community that’s vehemently opposed. As a result, the industry hasn’t really taken hold in the city. Only about .4 percent of the city’s yearly income comes as a result of oil and gas extraction. The city’s website says there’s about 14 active wells within the city’s limits.

In other words, the passage or defeat of the measure would have little to no impact on either the local or statewide oil and gas industry, in spite of the obviously irreparable impact it will have the individual rigs’ employees. Considering some estimates a single land rig supports as many as 350 jobs. Now, clearly that radius includes several industries that rely indirectly on the industry, however, that’s still just shy of 5,000 jobs that could potentially see less stability if the ordinance is legalized. Even though the state’s oil industry wouldn’t be greatly affected, that’s still a good chunk of jobs for a city that only 25,000 people call home.

Can Canada and the United States Maintain a Profitable Oil and Gas Relationship?

As we near the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, increasing reports from Canada indicate that the administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as the country is able. With the Trump administration publicly focused on ramping up energy production and refinement, one has to wonder how these seemingly opposing world views will impact the historically amicable relationship between the two nations.

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