“I’m a journalist from Northern Ireland,” Phelim McAleer said. “No one tells me to shut up.”
McAleer, co-director of the recently released documentary FrackNation, has plenty of people who would like him to shut up.
The filmmaker’s mere presence elicits howls of anger and ad hominem attacks from environmentalists. “Freak” and “male prostitute” were just a few of the choice words hurled at him when he showed up where several Hollywood celebrities were touring fracking sites in upstate New York.
McAleer’s sin is questioning the science behind the environmental movement’s opposition to hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking.” The process draws natural gas from the earth by fracturing large shale deposits.
FrackNation premiered in select theaters in January before being acquired by Marc Cuban’s AXS TV and airing on Jan. 22. The film takes a critical look at Gasland, an Oscar-nominated anti-fracking film directed by Josh Fox.
The release was also timed to coincide with Matt Damon’s Promised Land, which focuses on a small town’s resistance to fracking.
Meanwhile, McAleer said the response to FrackNation has been “amazing especially on social media,” noting that his film is closing in on 19,000 Facebook “likes,” while Promised Land only has roughly 11,000.
However, he said he has no beef with Damon’s film.
“I quite liked Promised Land,” McAleer said. “It has a bit of sex, a bit of drinking, and bit of fighting. It’s an Irishman’s perfect movie, really.”
McAleer said works of fiction like Promised Land shouldn’t be held to strict fact-checking. Disingenuous documentaries like Gasland draw his ire.
McAleer was spurred to make FrackNation after a public exchange with Fox. McAleer questioned one of the most dramatic scenes in Fox’s documentary—when a resident living in fracking country lights his tap water on fire.
Gasland implies this was the result of chemicals seeping into the ground from nearby fracking wells. However, McAleer contends methane can be found in water due to decades-old drilling, not necessarily because of fracking.
Fox’s lawyers had the YouTube clips of the exchange pulled down, a move that McAleer not only calls censorship but also journalistic malpractice.
“Journalism has consequences,” he said, and Fox’s omissions and subsequent refusal to address those omissions did a disservice to the public debate surrounding fracking.
Publicists for Gasland did not respond to requests for comment.
As a reporter who cut his teeth in Northern Ireland during the Troubles before moving on to documentary work, McAleer does not take such actions lightly.
“Journalism is about revealing something that someone doesn’t want revealed,” said. “It’s about taking on power.”
The environmental movement along with wealthy celebrity supporters and sympathetic media is the new establishment, according to McAleer.
McAleer and his spouse Ann McElhinney have created several other documentaries that take aim at environmentalist claims, such as Not Evil, Just Wrong, which assaulted Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
Interest groups still hotly contest the safety hazards of fracking, and dueling scientific studies have done little to settle the debate.
The EPA is performing a large-scale study on the effects of fracking on groundwater, but the agency is not expected to release the report until 2014.
Not content to wait until the facts are in, celebrities have lined up to take tours of fracking areas in upstate New York and have used their public platform to agitate against the drilling practice.
Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon (net worth $500 million and $200 million, respectively) took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling on a fracking ban in the state.
Ono and Lennon are part of “Artists Against Fracking,” a loose coalition of celebrities united in their opposition to the process.
Other artists in the anti-fracking group include Dancing at the Blue Iguana actress Daryl Hannah and transcendentalist fraudster Deepak Chopra.
Artists Against Fracking also did not respond to requests for comment.
Absent the financial backing of oil-rich sheiks and heirs to the Beatles fortune, McAleer and McElhinney funded FrackNation through Kickstarter, an online platform that allows individual users to fund projects.
Although the list of supporters included many oil and gas employees, McAleer said they returned any donations from industry executives, and the average donation was just $60.
The project easily cleared its $150,000 goal, eventually hauling in $220,000.
“It’s the American Dream,” McAleer said.