A Few Questions for Phelim McAleer
Phelim McAleer, the new darling of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and of the shale gas industry more generally, is the perfect master of spin. Specializing in personal invective delivered with such a charming Irish accent that some audiences are apparently taken in rather than being repelled by his viciousness, McAleer is on tour with his film, “Frack Nation.” Susan Phillips of StateImpact (WHYY/NPR) reviews Frack Nation here: “Dueling Fracking Films Battle for Pennsylvanians’ Hearts and Minds.”
In “Frack Nation,” McAleer works hard to make it appear “as if” it is just one person, Josh Fox, and not all the scientists, engineers, physicians, researchers and impacted people — residents and workers alike — who is galvanizing a large, increasingly well-developed and well-organized movement. His film makes it appear “as if” Dimock is the only place impacted by fracking, and provides a shameless rewriting of the history of impacts in Dimock. In reality, there are hundreds of places badly impacted by fracking and many films of many lengths, not just GASLAND, documenting those impacts. So the “dueling films” is not a duet but a chorus. “Triple Divide” is another important, well-made film now available on vimeo. “Gas Rush Stories” is a series of short documentaries by Kirsi Jansa (several posted on this blog). “Fracking Hell: The Untold Story” is a short, professionally produced 18-minute overview; more raw, powerful new interviews are available on the emerging “Fracking Our Future” series.
You wouldn’t learn any of this, or much of anything, from attending “Frack Nation” screenings anywhere, but we recommend you do go. And we recommend you go prepared to ask McAleer a few questions (though he will only let you ask, at most, one; he is an absolute control freak with that microphone, confident of his right to dominate any who disagree).
Q and A? or Performance Art?
During “Q and A” sessions with McAleer, questions of substance are generally not tolerated, nor (if someone manages to ask one) answered. Instead, McAleer changes the subject multiple times in the course of avoiding answering a question such as, “Mr. McAleer, Ireland has a moratorium on fracking, yet here you are promoting shale gas in the U.S. Can you explain why Ireland has a moratorium on fracking?”
While speaking at a Q and A session in Montrose, PA earlier this week, McAleer pretended the Ireland moratorium question had not been asked at all, preferring to make fun over and over of a Dimock resident whose water was contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas drilling… because the Dimock resident wore a baseball cap.
That’s right. A baseball cap, apparently, disqualifies a person from speaking about their own contaminated water, in the twisted world of Phelim McAleer.
Sound stupid? It is. Phelim also talks (and talks and talks) about how interested he is in accuracy, truth, and science. But when a scientific study is actually mentioned by a knowledgeable person in the audience — such as the SUNY Buffalo study that shows that fracking mobilizes uranium which naturally occurs in the shale — then he will not only change the subject at lightning speed, but actually cut off the questioner. In Bryn Mawr, he talked over a questioner, trying to make it look like the questioner was misbehaving for attempting to ask, “Phelim, the actual Marcellus cement casing failure rate in Pennsylvania for 2012 is 8.9% (up from 6.2% in 2010); why don’t you include any real facts or data such as that in your film, which is supposed to be all about accuracy?”
Coincidental Choreography: The Same Question Every Night
Phelim also manages his “performance art” — which is what his Q and A sessions really are — in such a way that coincidentally, towards the close of his performance, a person from the audience asks an identical question each night: “Phelim, what do you think the motivations of people like Craig Sautner and Josh Fox are?” This piece of touching choreography enables Phelim to pontificate in an ugly way and call Craig Sautner a greed-driven liar over and over again, knowing full well that Craig is legally bound not to answer back because the Sautners signed a non-disclosure clause with Cabot Oil and Gas as part of the legal settlement over the water contamination that turned his and his family’s lives upside down for years. Non-disclosure clauses are part of the corporate legal infrastructure that enable the Phelims of the shale gas industry, with its army of PR hacks, to spout lies and libel without consequence.
Asked the same coincidental question each night, Phelim moves on from the Sautners back to Fox again. He rants and raves about Josh Fox being a “true believer,” which somehow turns into painting Josh Fox as “un-American,” which shortly thereafter becomes “anti-American.” Phelim has collapsed in his own mind that most democratic of all roles, the whistle-blower, into its opposite. Apparently, in Phelim’s mind, it is “un-American” and possibly criminal to expose damage and to stand up for clean water, clean air, and a sustainable future. And it is all-American to blame victims, such as Craig and Julie Sautner, whose water first went bad on September 11th, 2008.
While I’d heard people saying that Phelim is a “charlatan,” and that his reputation in Ireland is not that of a journalist but rather that of a “limelight-seeking joke” to those who knew him there, it took first-hand experience to understand just how dangerous this spinmaster actually is. When you go to see Frack Nation, go prepared.
Eight Questions for Phelim McAleer
Scott Cannon, of Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, has written eight questions for people attending Q and A sessions or any kind of talks with Phelim McAleer to ask. We recommend not asking a question he can answer with a yes or no, because that gives him a quick out. Ask him to explain. For example, what is it that he thinks he is debunking regarding earthquakes? Activists have been explaining to the general public for years that re-injection wells cause earthquakes (in Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia) — and geologists clearly agree — which is a major issue. In addition, fracking itself has been documented to produce small man-made seismic events which Oklahoma geologists have measured, Pennsylvania residents have felt, and which are significant enough for the UK to call off fracking after measuring seismic events underground during shale gas exploratory drilling. What exactly is it that he thinks he is debunking, then?
Here are Scott Cannon’s eight questions for Phelim McAleer:
#1 Phelim, you have said that the water in Dimock has always been fine, but that statement is false. Could you please explain why PA DEP issued a Consent Order against Cabot Oil and Gas for Cabot’s contamination of 18 water wells, affecting 19 families, in Dimock? Here is the link to the final Consent Order on the PA DEP website.
You also say the water in Dimock is fine right now, but that statement is also false. There are problems that still aren’t resolved in 2013; read “Dimock Water Problems Continue,” by Tom Wilber.
Phelim, since you claim to value accuracy, truth, and science, what is your comment about PA DEP’s scientific evidence that gas drilling by Cabot Oil and Gas caused the contamination in Dimock? If you choose not to address that evidence, does that prove that you, like Cabot Oil and Gas, live on a planet where the facts don’t matter?
Phelim, you’ve said that “Fracking’s been done safely since 1947, if there were problems, we’d know about it.” (Fox Money TV Show). But the PA DEP’s Abandoned Wells and Orphaned Wells Program states that there are approximately 180,000 orphaned unplugged wells. Of the 8,000 that the PA DEP know about, 550 are considered problem wells. Approximately 129 are prioritized as extremely dangerous and leaking and polluting water and soil. That’s just in Pennsylvania alone.
Phelim, you say there hasn’t been one case of fracking causing groundwater contamination, but you don’t say what does cause most of the groundwater pollution problems, which are spills and methane migration from the drilling process. Could you explain why you omit the truth about shale gas development and its impacts on water?
Among the many reported cases of fracking causing groundwater contamination is this confirmed case of fracking causing ground water contamination in Edmonton, Canada by Caltex Energy Inc., Hydraulic Fracturing Incident,16-27-068-10W6M, on September 22, 2011.
A study of fracking causing groundwater contamination is ongoing in Pavilion Wyoming, where researchers have confirmed that fracking is the only explanation for the presence of fracking contaminants, such as benzene and 2-butoxyethanol, at high levels in the groundwater there.
Phelim, several Dimock residents have come forward claiming that you told them you were making a film to save Ireland from fracking, in order to obtain interviews with them. Is this true?
Phelim, you claim, early in your movie, that Josh Fox had one of your videos removed from YouTube and Vimeo and allege that was because he had something to hide. You failed to mention that you committed copyright infringement by uploading scenes of the HBO owned “Gasland” in your clips. YouTube copyright policy states that YouTube cannot determine what is considered “Fair Use.” It would have to be settled in a court of law. Did you have this settled in a court of law?
Phelim, you say that some water has had enough methane in it to be able to be lit on fire for centuries, (Fox Money TV Show), which is true. But you don’t say the methane migration from the drilling process is confirmed to produce concentrated methane in people’s water wells – at levels which make the water flammable and which create an explosion risk for those people’s homes — where there was no flammable amounts of methane before. Can you explain why you don’t mention this? You seem to accuse Josh Fox of these omission tactics, yet you do them yourself.
Phelim, you make the statement in your film that environmentalists say that “Fracking is completely unregulated.” That statement is false. We don’t say that. We say it is exempt from requirements in the underground injection control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which is true.
We also point out that flaring, shale gas drilling flowback waste, drill cuttings; air emissions from well pads, separators, dehydrators and compressor stations, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, are vastly underregulated, which is true.
Phelim, Loren Salsman, the resident of Dimock who shows you the Sautner home in your film, shows up in the film Truthland produced by Energy in Depth. He holds a crystal clear glass of water with the star of the film and says “Let’s drink some Dimock water” and they drink. The film doesn’t show the elaborate water filter system it went through provided by Cabot Oil and Gas because they were found guilty of contaminating his well by the DEP. Can you comment on that? Here is the video link.
Your Questions and Observations
Phelim has been at it for a while; for a tidbit from recent history, a pro-Tea Party blog called “ecosense” raves about Phelim’s masterful arguments against slowing down climate change here.
Please feel free to report your experiences with Phelim McAleer, and write your own questions, in our Comments section below this blog post. Thanks.