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The Sky is Pink: Fox Frames Fracking’s Merchants of Doubt

June 21, 2012

It’s tight, it’s taut, and it skewers the fracking industry by revealing its tactics while exposing its flaws.

So you might want to watch The Sky is Pink, an 18-minute short film by Josh Fox, producer and director of GASLAND, today. Then watch it again tomorrow, and take notes. Read about it here, in Rolling Stone. Then show it to your neighbors.

Hill and Knowlton: PR Firm Denies Fracking Failure Rate

The Sky is Pink disrupts the fact-denying public relations machine which specializes in manufacturing doubt, an art first mastered by the tobacco industry. It shows that Hill and Knowlton (the public relations firm which was so successful in selling the American public the notion that those who say smoking causes cancer — i.e., scientists and public health advocates — should not be believed) is now working for the shale gas drilling industry. Hill and Knowlton is helping cover up the industry’s inability to stop groundwater from being contaminated by its drilling and fracking operations.

Fox’s film shows that that the actual (rhymes with factual) failure rate for shale gas wells (failure meaning that fluids migrate outside the steel and cement well casing) in Pennsylvania was 6.2% for 2010, 6.2% for 2011, and 7.2% for 2012 so far. In other words, the industry can’t solve this problem, which is why regulators can’t solve this problem. Shale gas drilling is inherently contaminating.

But the way Fox gets that point across, it being a film and all, and him being Josh Fox, is approximately a million times more interesting than just reading about it here on this blog. The source of that failure rate arithmetic? Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) public data, analyzed by Anthony Ingraffea, Cornell University’s Dwight Baum Professor of Engineering and internationally known expert on fracturing mechanics.

Fracturing Emotion: Fox’s Framework

Fox conveys a bit of the full life-cycle impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling in a short overview of fracking impacts. He also touches on one of my favorite topics: emotion.

I’ve been studying the way all of us — especially women — continue to be targeted to the extent we express — ever — anything that could remotely be considered “emotion.” In fact, we are targeted for being “emotional” even when we are being absolutely on the level: factual, level-headed, grounded and clear.

If we talk about clean, safe water as if it actually matters; if we talk about public health as if it matters; if we talk about asthma and breast cancer linked to shale gas drilling as if it matters; if we talk about people who’ve been sickened or killed by the fracking industry as if they matter, we are accused of being “emotional.” And if our facts are accurate, our science superb, our sources authoritative, and we still insist on talking about the truth as if truth itself matters, we are dismissed even more emphatically with the “emotion” brush.

It’s useful to remember that Rachel Carson, an impeccable scientist herself, was attacked for her “emotion-fanning” work, because she brought the scientific points home so vividly that people remembered her message. It’s the  vividness, the power, poetry, political clarity, and directness of such communication that is really under attack.

I’ve long since lost count of the number of times an industry suit — or a suit worn by a friend of the industry — has spoken into the microphone after I’ve raised a question or made an accurate statement at a public forum, condescending to address me with the words,”I appreciate your passion” [they might as well add ‘little lady’] “but we have to determine policy based on fact, not on emotion.” What they are really saying is that they don’t like my facts. They don’t like me talking about the scores or hundreds of families who’ve had their drinking water replaced by water buffaloes (large plastic tanks containing clean replacement water) in shale country; they don’t like me mentioning that methane is 103 times more potent in warming the planet than CO2, on a twenty-year time frame.

On those occasions, it doesn’t matter that my sources are authoritative: a biochemist, a fracturing mechanics engineer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It matters, quite honestly, that I am a woman and that I speak with my heart involved, even as I speak with well-informed clarity. I speak “as if” the future of the planet matters, I speak “as if” poor people matter and rural people matter;  I speak “as if” public health matters; I speak “as if” the industry has no right to keep its toxic impacts secret; and — most threatening of all — I speak “as if” we can and must do things differently. We can go sane.

Rachel Carson, a scientist, was targeted for being “hysterical” by chemical industry spokesmen, including one who made no less than 28 speeches attacking Silent Spring. Carson was also called a “fanatical defender of the cult of the balance of nature” by her chemical industry detractors. The chemical industry rolled out a parody, “The Desolate Year,” intended to take the sting out of Silent Spring‘s well-informed exposure of pesticides’ cascading ecological impacts. Sound familiar? The gas industry is right now rolling out their own short film to counter Josh Fox’s documentaries.  Among the industry’s new PR tactics, they even bought the name Josh Fox on Google.

And how the industry loves to point out Fox’s background as an actor! That makes him almost, well, like a woman, I guess in their eyes. You know. So emotional and all.

The honor roll of those dismissed as “emotional” continues. Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya which has planted well over 40 million trees, was targeted physically as well as verbally, beaten bloody for defending Kenya’s forests and Nairobi’s park.  Rosalie Edge, founder of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, singularly effective defender of raptors and songbirds alike — the “woman who saved conservation from the conservationists” by exposing Audubon Society’s many deals with the devil at that time (contributions from the gun industry) was called a “common scold.”

Edge’s answer? “Fancy how I trembled.”

What does Josh Fox have to say in The Sky is Pink about this topic of being “emotional”?

He simultaneously hits the nail on the head and heals the fracture the fracking industry tries to foist upon us “as if” there is actually a chasm between science and emotion.

“How can you separate the science from the emotion?” Fox asks in The Sky is Pink. “It’s the science that tells you how to feel.”

  1. Audrey permalink
    June 21, 2012 4:34 pm

    Iris, thank you for talking about the “emotion” issue. I am so sick and tired of having facts I share discounted because I’m a “fear mongering, emotional enviro”. I have found, however, that this is usually said when they can’t dispute the facts! Kudos to Josh Fox for ‘The Pink Sky’ and all that he does to educate us about this dirty fossil fuel industry.

  2. June 21, 2012 6:44 pm

    I shared this on twitter and facebook

  3. June 22, 2012 11:38 am

    They’re waging war on science. Thank you, Iris, for remaining steadfast in battle. And thanks, Josh Fox, for including the shot of that pink gas rig. unbefrackinglievable.

  4. June 26, 2012 3:08 pm

    Excellent and informative article, Iris. You go right on being “emotional.” 😉
    When it comes to protecting our environment, people are just too interested in compromise and in putting cash in their pockets. Thank you for your report.


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