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FrackNation film screening takes bizarre turn

A promo for FrackNation:

After Josh Fox's 2010 documentary, Gasland, was nominated for an Oscar and galvanized an environmental movement to ban fracking, an Irish filmmaker named Phelim McAleer has now come out with a rebuttal.

About 200 people turned out for a screening of McAleer's pro-gas documentary FrackNation in Albany last night, and the filmmaker was on hand to take questions from the audience.

But the evening took a bizarre turn when McAleer started talking about gay rights and equated buying foreign energy to supporting "a country that hangs gay people."

"When was the last time someone was hung in Pennsylvania for being gay?" McAleer asked the crowd.

"I don't think we're here to talk about gays," said a woman in the audience.

"Look, give your money to Saudi Arabia," replied McAleer, "Hang the gays tomorrow. That should be the slogan."

"The fracking truth"

The screening took place two days before the state Department of Environmental Conservation faces a deadline to finalize its fracking regulations.

McAleer presents himself as an independent journalist who used small online donations from KickStarter to fund the film. He says he was looking for "the fracking truth."

The documentary begins by questioning one of the most iconic images of Gasland: someone lighting a water faucet on fire.

McAleer points out that this phenomenon is caused by methane, which can naturally migrate up to the surface and get into water supplies. That's true, although nearby drilling operations can speed up the process of methane migration

FrackNation shows old black and white footage of people swimming in a water fountain with a flame at its top, and McAleer asserts that it was disingenuous of Fox to make it seem like "tap water torches" are always caused by fracking.

The film also takes the audience to Dimock, Pennsylvania, which has been ground zero for the fight over the impacts of fracking.

Residents complain to McAleer that the press has misrepresented their community as a toxic wasteland, and he interviews a number of people who say their water is fine and that they support gas drilling. McAleer also questions the credibility of one couple who filed a lawsuit against Cabot Oil & Gas.

But, as the Associated Press points out, the film leaves the audience with the impression that gas development didn't cause any problems in Dimock:

In fact, state environmental regulators determined that a drilling company contaminated the aquifer underneath homes there with explosive levels of methane and issued huge fines. The state later determined the company had fixed the problems, and most of the families reportedly reached an out-of-court settlement. "FrackNation" also doesn't acknowledge that Texas regulators say there were some problems with leaking gas and air quality in the early days of the boom there, and The Associated Press recently found that federal officials did have evidence that gas drilling may have contaminated some water wells in that region. On such points, "FrackNation" is guilty of some of the same sins of exaggeration that it criticizes Fox for.

McAleer also interviews a pair of scientists from U.C. Berkeley who dismiss the ideas that fracking chemicals pose a health risk to humans, and that earthquakes associated wastewater disposal are a serious concern.

What do gay rights have to do with it?

During the question and answer portion of the screening, McAleer was asked by a man in the audience if he'd spoken with anyone in the Obama administration for the film.

McAleer admitted that he had not, but suggested the president was not particularly supportive of shale gas development. (Both President Obama and his former energy secretary Steven Chu have voiced support for fracking and natural gas development.)

"Maybe [Obama's] going to be in favor of gay marriage for frackers now. I don't know," McAleer joked.

He continued in that vein when asked by another audience member about the problems with relying on foreign energy.

McAleer repeatedly said that buying foreign energy is like supporting hanging gay people.

This article has been updated to reflect the following correction: McAleer equated buying foreign energy to supporting a country that hangs gay people, not a company.