NATURAL GAS:

Industry group urges Oscar judges to steer clear of 'Gasland'

The oil and gas industry doesn't want a golden Oscar statuette to grace the mantel of "Gasland" filmmaker Josh Fox.

An industry group sent a letter today to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, saying that a litany of errors in the anti-drilling film should render it ineligible for best documentary feature.

"The filmmaker alternates between misstating and outright ignoring basic and verifiable facts related to the impact of these activities on the health and welfare of humans, wildlife and the environment," said Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy in Depth (EID), in a letter today to the academy.

But Fox says his documentary is "backed up by facts 100 percent," and it is the industry that perpetuates falsehoods.

"Gasland exposes what they've been doing and they don't like it," Fox said in an interview today. "EID is a smear organization, a PR firm that has nothing to do with reality."

EID is an industry group formed to fight federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing, a process portrayed in the film as a central danger of oil and gas drilling. The group is closely affiliated with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, where Fuller is vice president of government affairs.

The group, which began criticizing the movie when it was released at the Sundance Film Festival a year ago, enclosed a copy of its seven-page critique of the film, titled "Debunking Gasland." In response, Fox highlighted a rebuttal posted on the "Gasland" website titled "Affirming Gasland."

Fuller wrote that the errors he cites demonstrate that the film does not live up to the academy's requirement that award winners must maintain an "emphasis ... on fact and not on fiction."

The HBO film follows 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 offer sets him 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 how 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. It was nominated for the acadamy award last month (Greenwire, Jan. 25).

But industry has repeatedly assailed the film as inaccurate. For example, industry groups and companies have said that in many cases methane seeps into water wells naturally.

The EID critique cites state and federal regulators who say several of the incidents Fox cites -- including a fish kill in Pennsylvania and methane seepage in Colorado -- were not actually caused by oil and gas drilling. But the pro-"Gasland" rebuttal cites evidence from regulators that the incidents could have been caused by drilling.

It is not clear how such an effort might affect the documentary's prospects for winning top honors.

The heated criticism of "An Inconvenient Truth" by climate skeptics in 2006 failed to keep an Oscar out of the hands of Al Gore for the climate change documentary (Greenwire, May 17, 2006).

But charges of inaccuracy dogged the nomination of the 1999 Denzel Washington film "Hurricane," which then did not win an Oscar.

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