Panic Street Lawyer: Don't swallow the frack Part II

Sunday, 23 June 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20130616 gaslandtwologo 150Last week’s Panic Street Lawyer began with a song title from the band The National but turned into a preview of a movie about fluid drinking and hydraulic fracturing. Lest you think that my use of the word “swallow” in the headline of a column on these topics is unique, think again.

I ended last week with a “teaser” about this week’s column: Part II would be about the public advocacy surrounding Gasland Part II, which debuts on HBO July 8. There was an advance screening of the documentary film Thursday evening here at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, the final stop on a U.S. tour by writer/director/cast member Josh Fox.

If I were to tie in today’s PSL with music, there is one obvious choice: not a song’s title or meaning, but an act’s name. They are two brothers from Surrey, England, whose “brilliant” first studio album of electronic music, Settle, was released on May 31. That album debuted at number 1 on the U.K. Album Chart. Sadly, the duo’s October 2013 U.S. tour does not include a stop in Pittsburgh. Their name: Disclosure.

20130623wap joshfox 490Josh Fox, director of the "Gasland" anti-fracking documentaries, appears at a rally in the Pennsylvania Capitol by anti-gas drilling activists last week. Marc Levy/Associated Press

Thursday’s evening premiere of Gasland Part II had a number of Pittsburgh-related disclosures. After Fox was introduced to the crowd wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap, he next disclosed that a couple of his assistants had Pittsburgh ties (including one who got some cheers with her mention of “Steeler Nation”). However, it should be noted that companies drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale have also figured out that sports can sell Pittsburgh to its advantage.

20130623wap dougshields 150Doug Shields. APAs for the film itself, Pittsburgh was praised by Fox as the first place in the United States to impose a moratorium on fracking within its borders, and two local politicians -- former City Council member Doug Shields and current Pennsylvania state senator Jim Ferlo -- had scenes which brought loud cheers from the Oakland audience. Most other politicians (from both major parties) did not fare as well in Gasland Part II, including a former Pennsylvania governor from Philadelphia who also played a villainous role in another documentary film, The Art of the Steal.

Following the film’s showing, Fox estimated that there were 1,700 people in attendance, which made Pittsburgh number one in turnout on his pre-HBO tour. Fox also revealed that, two evenings earlier, the Williamsport PA screening of Gasland Part II was challenged down the street by a “counter screening” of FrackNation, which filmmaker Philem McAleer said he made after he “realized that there was more to the story of fracking than Josh Fox was letting on.” According to Fox, the attendees final score Tuesday was: Gasland2 1,000, FrackNation 18.

Back in April there had been an attempt by McAleer to confront Fox directly, at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Gasland Part II. However, McAleer – along with accompanying ticket-holding landowners from the Marcellus shale region who favored fracking – were not permitted to enter the theater. One New York Times environmental blogger, who “felt bad” for the excluded farmers and laborers, said in part:

… I’d like to think that there might have been a chance for an open discussion of the economic and environmental realities in shale-gas country if the tickets had been honored... But given McAleer’s track record, the chances for a productive conversation if the pro-fracking group had been allowed in were low.

Still, proper ground rules for post-screening discussions could have limited the chances of disruption and allowed at least a taste of the real divisions in such regions as residents (and elected officials) consider a diverse set of risks and opportunities …

20130623 philemmcleer 150Philem McCleer. APWhile a conversation at Tribeca could have been enlightening, two “conversations” between folks around here on opposite sides of the fracking debate have been criticized for nondisclosure.

First, a local anti-fracking state representative went beyond posting criticism of the process in his own name and created fictitious online personae to not only post criticism of fracking but to also criticize real people who criticized him on the issue. The representative has apologized for his actions.

Second, a local university president who wrote this month why he joined the board of a new organization founded by energy companies and environmental groups was confronted days later with a report that criticized that organization for its lack of transparency about substantial and undisclosed ties to the gas drilling industry and for “greenwashing” the industry’s environmental image.

By the way, a second pro-fracking film, Truthland, has been criticized by anti-fracking groups because it was being promoted by an “astroturf” organization, which is yet another example of nondisclosure on this issue.

Because I want you to watch Gasland Part II with a minimum number of “spoilers,” I do not plan to tell you anything more about Fox’s latest movie, including anything about the film’s soundtrack. But since I have now taken us back to the subject of music, I will end this week’s column with an apt quote from one of my all-time favorite musicians, David Byrne. Byrne writes a blog when he is on tour, and last week from Charlotte he wrote about the experience of visiting the NASCAR Museum (feel free to insert your own Talking Heads joke here). Byrne’s final observation about the museum – complete with photographic evidence – was this:

NASCAR is big on sponsorship. It’s honest and transparent about it – there’s no mistaking who is funding a driver and his team.

Would that every politician, artist or entity of any kind with corporate sponsorship revealed his or her backer so honestly and blatantly.

More from and about Mr. Byrne next week.


The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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