A Free-Market Energy Blog

Why Every American Needs to Watch FrackNation

By -- January 29, 2013

The main thing you need to know about FrackNation is that you should watch it. More importantly, given that this blog’s audience is unusually educated about hydraulic fracturing–frac’ing–you should encourage friends and family to watch it.

The use of hydraulic fracturing and (less-publicized) horizontal drilling to extract oil and gas from shale rock is, to the best of my knowledge, the most important technological revolution of the last decade. The existence of enormous deposits of shale has long been known–some of the earliest experiments with kerosene involved shale–but the ability to affordably get oil and gas from these deposits has been elusive for over a century. In Ayn Rand’s 1957 Atlas Shrugged, one of the heroes manages to solve the problem, and it is rightly regarded as an epic achievement.

But, to read today’s media coverage of frac’ing, you would have no idea that it is a heroic, life-giving development. You would regard it as a health menace that must be banned from every town, city, and state.

Until you watched FrackNation. For an entertaining documentary, FrackNation does a remarkably thorough job of giving the truth about frac’ing, including:

  1. The technology is an absolute game-changer economically. If unleashed, it can be the foundation of a new era of prosperity.
  2. Given that safety challenges are inherent in any human endeavor, the oil/gas industry has become incredibly good at minimizing them in frac’ing.
  3. This is born out by the track record of frac’ing, which even the Obama EPA acknowledges has not contaminated water.
  4. The claims of Josh Fox’s Gasland are at best misrepresentations and in many cases outright lies.
  5. There are many natural sources of water contamination–anyone who knows about hydrology knows that there has always been water that naturally contains methane gas.

My favorite parts of the movie were the extensive sections featuring the landowners who lease their land for frac’ing–who are portrayed in Gasland and Promised Land as unwitting dupes of evil industrialists.

But these landowners knew far, far more about both frac’ing and water than the pseudo-documentarians who infantalize them. These landowners matter-of-factly explain how in many places you have always been able to light water on fire, and explain why they are not afraid for their water supply. In fact, they are so savvy that they drew up a contract that became an archetype for future company/landowner relations.

This is inspiring, and drives home the point that the villains are not the oil/gas companies, and the victims are not the landowners–the companies and the landowners are victims of the Josh Foxes of the world, who irresponsibly smear their livelihood.

Where Josh Fox is concerned, FrackNation does not pull any punches. Journalist Phelim McAleer, co-director and star of the film, repeatedly tries to get Fox to back up his claims. Fox hangs up on him and, more revealingly, in a public Q&A refuses to answer a straightforward question about why Fox pretended that water catching fire was unnatural.

I imagine it is hard to watch this movie without concluding that Josh Fox is a deeply immoral human being (I held this conclusion before I watched the movie) and should not be listened to at all on an issue in which he is equal parts ignorant and mendacious. It is arguable that the movie is too fixated on Fox, in the sense that one does not want to focus too much on any one head of a hydra. There are many others like Josh Fox with an unlimited ability to make up falsehoods. I would have liked to see more of an explanation of how to think of the issue of risk that viewers could carry with them going forward as new events and accusations occur.

It’s important for Americans to know that every activity has safety challenges, and frac’ing has a lot fewer than many others (driving, avoiding doctor/nurse mistakes at the hospital, etc). We are not obligated to prove that no instance of frac’ing has ever caused any problem. Frac’ing is not guilty until proven innocent, and a misuse of frac’ing in no way justifies a ban on the use of frac’ing.

That said, FrackNation is primarily a work of journalism, and its job it not to make the entire case for frac’ing. What it does superlatively is give Americans access to the overwhelming body of evidence that frac’ing is amazingly beneficial–evidence that the journalistic community has largely failed to provide. Which is why when our friends and family ask about frac’ing, telling them to watch FrackNation should be one of the first things we do.

Alex Epstein is Founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, a Principal at MasterResource, and creator of Energy Ethics 101.


  1. Ken Langford  

    I’m looking forward to receiving my copy of FrackNation next month. I worked on the northslope of Alaska for 10 years back in the ’80’s and ’90’s and fracking was in use back then. It’s not such a new technology and it has been perfected with time.


  2. Mike Mellor  

    Alex, I live in South Africa, where Shell has discovered quintillions of cubic feet of shale gas lying under the semi-desert Karoo region.

    Recently our Minister of Energy lifted a moratorium on shale gas exploitation. Shell and other players are now preparing to proceed.

    I’ve been part of the anti-fracking community for a couple of years now, and my views have matured considerably.

    I no longer blindly believe that fracking causes earthquakes and contaminates underground water.

    At the same time, Shell has admitted that the new jobs created will fall far short of earlier claims.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on foot in ecologically sensitive arid regions including the Karoo, the Kalahari and Ovamboland.

    I see pictures of the infamous Jonah Field, Wyoming, and now the same destruction is about to be visited upon the fragile beauty of our own Karoo.

    Until the surface impact has been reduced very substantially, I will remain an opponent of fracking.


  3. Bob van der Valk  

    On July 10th you can watch FrackNation on AXS -TV if you have cable service in your area.


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