NATURAL GAS:

Anti-drilling 'Gasland' gets Oscar nomination

The anti-drilling documentary "Gasland", which trained national attention on hydraulic fracturing and shale gas drilling, has been nominated for an Academy Award.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today that the film is one of five nominated for an Oscar.

The HBO film follows Josh Fox, a New York filmmaker whose family owns a vacation property in northeast Pennsylvania, after a gas drilling company offers to lease the land.

The lease offer sets Fox on a cross-country exploration of the gas industry, drilling hazards and hydraulic fracturing. The most memorable moments come when neighbors of drilling sites show that they can light their tap water on fire. They say that drilling has released methane into their water supply.

The film has been a galvanizing force among critics of the burgeoning shale gas industry, who have frequently organized viewings of the films at their events. They say the film gives voice to their concern about the environmental hazards of drilling.

But industry has assailed the film as inaccurate. For example, industry groups and companies have said that in many cases methane seeps into water wells naturally. Today's nomination drew a swift condemnation from America's Natural Gas Alliance, a coalition of gas companies advocating for more use of gas.

"This nomination is particularly troubling because natural gas is routinely and safely produced across this country and holds such extraordinary potential to advance our nation's clean energy economy," said Tom Amontree, ANGA's executive vice president. "Contrary to the film's claims, natural gas development can and does exist in harmony with our environment, and it can play a central role in improving our nation's air quality and solving our energy challenges."

Lee Fuller of the industry group Energy In Depth suggested the film may have been nominated in the wrong category. "It's unfortunate," he said, "there isn’t an Oscar category for propaganda."

The landscape around Fox's property has not been drilled extensively. A little-known regulatory agency called the Delaware River Basin Commission has imposed a moratorium on production within its jurisdiction until it develops regulations for drilling (Greenwire, Sept. 13, 2010). But an "exploratory well" has been drilled near the Fox property.

The DRBC has proposed the regulations and recently announced a series of public hearings to get public comment on them (Greenwire, Dec. 12), 2010.

In the film Fox interviews Al Armendariz, who as the EPA administrator for Region 6 is locked in a battle with Texas regulators about clean air rules and gas drilling enforcement (Greenwire, Dec. 8, 2010).

At the time the interview was done, Armendariz was a Southern Methodist University professor who had studied air pollution from natural gas operations in the Barnett Shale.

Competitors with "Gasland" in the documentary feature category are: "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Inside Job," "Restrepo" and "Waste Land." The winners will be announced at the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 27.

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