Oil industry representatives are calling on their local supporters to show up at a free movie screening in a Bakersfield church hall Saturday to counter what they see as the film’s misleading anti-fracking message.
An email sent last week by a California Independent Petroleum Agency official to Taft oil veteran Fred Holmes indicated the group is “quietly looking to fill the seats with pro-industry people” at a 5 p.m. showing of filmmaker Josh Fox’s two-hour “Gasland Part II” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2216 17th St.
“The Gasland movies are false pieces of propaganda that have widely been discredited. We want to ensure that people hear the truth from experts that actually know how oil and gas operations work,” CIPA CEO Rock Zierman wrote in an email Thursday.
California’s fracking debate has heated up lately as environmentalists push a state bill that would place a moratorium on the controversial but highly effective technique that has been used for decades in Kern, producer of about three-quarters of the state’s oil.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, injects water, sand and sometimes toxic chemicals underground at high pressure to open access to hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits. Many environmentalists worry the process could pollute air and water, while the oil industry insists fracking is safe.
Industry plans to recruit industry supporters for the screening came to light Thursday when the website Daily Kos posted an email sent April 24 by CIPA’s regional affairs director in Bakersfield, Blair Knox.
“We will have our campaign team there to answer questions, pass out information, etc.,” Knox’s email reads. “The goal is to inform, not be confrontational. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a big contingent there to show our strength in Kern.” (The full text is here: http://m.dailykos.com/story/2014/04/30/1296021/-ALERT-Californians-Intercepted-email-revelas-frackers-plan-to-stack-Gasland-2-screenng)
The trade group reached out to St. Paul’s, which is hosting the event at the request of Clean Water Action, a 42-year-old environmental group with 21 offices around the country.
“We were invited to attend but not make a presentation,” CIPA chief Zierman wrote. “So local members of industry are attending just like other members of the public.”
“Gasland Part II” is a sequel to a 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary that helped put fracking in the national spotlight. It famously contained footage of residents living near fracking operations who could light their tap water on fire. The implication was that natural gas released during frack jobs had infiltrated and tainted their groundwater.
According to the sequel’s website, the film “argues that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a myth and that fracked wells inevitably leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families and endangering the earth’s climate with the potent greenhouse gas, methane.”
The oil industry has railed against the original movie, “Gasland,” saying it presented an unfair view of fracking, which is credited with sparking the domestic fossil energy boom. Executives say the water sources shown to catch fire in the movie naturally contain flammable gas, and that they would have ignited with a match even if fracking had never been invented.
A Clean Water Action organizer in Kern County, Rosanna Esparza, proposed Saturday’s screening as a parishioner at St. Paul’s. She said an oil industry representative contacted her but did not offer to help cover the cost of showing the movie, and so the industry will not be invited to make a presentation at the church.
“As I understand, the oil industry has a huge budget to support community events and underwrite grants to local organizations,” she wrote in an email. “They are welcome to pay the cost for rights to show ‘Gasland II’ and present their side of the issue.”
The Rev. Deborah DeBoer, assistant minister at St. Paul’s, said Saturday’s showing was not intended to be a community forum or a lobbying effort but an educational event relating to a “stewardship of the Earth issue.”
“If oil companies want to bring folks and spread their literature, I guess they can do that, but it seems kind of rude to me,” DeBoer said, noting Clean Water Action had paid for use of the venue, which can seat a bit more than 200 people while squeezing in more if they stand.
DeBoer said she plans to address the audience before the screening about a biblical understanding of environmental issues.
After the movie a question-and-answer session with Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of Dish, Texas who appeared in the film, is scheduled. His family left the city in 2011 when Tillman’s sons started having bad nosebleeds he attributed to nearby fracking. Recently he assisted a health survey project sampling air in Lost Hills.
Fracking recently became a divisive subject locally.
After Bakersfield’s Moo Creamery turned up on a list of California eateries against fracking, some local oil industry supporters threatened this spring to stop eating at the restaurant and even picket in front of it.
The social media and phone campaign against the restaurant continued despite the owners’ insistence they hadn’t knowingly signed the petition and didn’t even know what fracking was.