State chamber bashes 'Gasland' | Arkansas Blog

State chamber bashes 'Gasland'

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The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce sent out a letter to local chambers in the Fayetteville Shale region asking for their support in criticizing the documentary "Gasland", which will show in Arkansas this week. There is also, as you might imagine, a heavy dose of cheerleading for the natural gas industry. The letter is addressed "Dear Editor" and, according to chamber president and CEO Randy Zook, was to be submitted to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for publication. Zook said the letter was a work in progress, but that it was his intention that it be published as is. (He was surprised and inquired how the Times had obtained a copy. We're not saying.)

"Gasland," a film that calls into question the practice of hydraulic fracturing - a process whereby millions of gallons of water and a host of unknown chemicals are shot into the ground to crack shale formations and release natural gas - will be showing in Clinton, Fayetteville and Little Rock on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday respectively. The letter is a typical industry response to criticism, calling into question the integrity of the filmmaker, Josh Fox, while ignoring any cost associated with gas drilling that isn’t strictly economic (road damage in Arkansas is already far in excess of the amount produced by a small increase in the gas severance tax). The Times has documented problems that can arise from gas exploration (Check here, here and here). The letter essentially says, let’s continue blindly into this foray for short-term economic gain while ignoring the health and well-being of our citizens and long-term economic and environmental impacts.

As representatives of thousands of businesses across our state, we find it ironic that during these challenging times, Arkansas has received a visit from a New York City filmmaker who is airing a “shockumentary” and has publicly stated that he wishes to shut down the natural gas industry in shale production regions across our country. While questioning his scientific and journalistic integrity might be in order, what is not in question is the great benefit to our state that the exploration of the Fayetteville Shale has been in sustaining our economy during this difficult time.

Two of those businesses the chamber represents are Chesapeake Energy and XTO, both considered "summit members" for their contributions of $25,000 in support of the chamber. Southwestern Energy is listed as a $10,000 contributor on the Chamber website. Read my story about the film and how early interviews in Arkansas set the tone for the documentary. For more information and viewing times, check out GreenAR by the Day. This isn't the first time Fox has suffered criticism. Upon the film's release he prepared this document to refute claims made by industry shills. The full letter is on the jump, plus a response from "Gasland" director Josh Fox.

August 20, 2010


Dear Editor:

As our nation is undergoing what has been described as the worst economy since the Great Depression, our state has weathered this storm with a budget that is still in the black and has endured only a modest increase in unemployment among our residents. While this is not the economy we hope for, it is far better than what others are experiencing in most states.

As representatives of thousands of businesses across our state, we find it ironic that during these challenging times, Arkansas has received a visit from a New York City filmmaker who is airing a “shockumentary” and has publicly stated that he wishes to shut down the natural gas industry in shale production regions across our country. While questioning his scientific and journalistic integrity might be in order, what is not in question is the great benefit to our state that the exploration of the Fayetteville Shale has been in sustaining our economy during this difficult time.

In 2004, Arkansas ranked 15th in the nation in natural gas production. Now, we are the 7th largest producer of marketed natural gas. With this growth has come enormous economic benefits including billions of dollars in investments, 30,000 jobs, average annual incomes of almost $60,000, immense growth in sales, income, severance & property taxes, and millions of dollars in royalty income to our residents. And, the biggest benefit — a cleaner burning, less expensive American energy source that is found right beneath our feet and does not have to be imported from overseas.

Is this development perfect? No, but tremendous progress has been made, and new, greener technologies are being pursued and developed every day. The filmmaker’s ideals of utilizing wholly renewable energy sources are admirable and may be attainable in the next 50 years, but to compromise the facts and impose a great cost to businesses and our citizens while stymieing the economic growth of our state at a time when we need it most does not make sense.

Please join us in ignoring the rhetoric, let the facts and common sense rule the day, and let’s continue building a business climate in Arkansas that has the best interests of all Arkansans in mind.

Sincerely,

Randy Zook, Arkansas State Chamber

LR, NLR, and Fayetteville Shale Chambers of Commerce

"Gasland" director Josh Fox's response:

They called it a ‘schockumentary’ and I would say, yes, it is quite shocking what the natural gas industry is doing to Arkansas. The shock is entirely due to the fact that they’ve overrun the state and they’re causing huge problems. It’s shocking the government isn’t doing anything about it. It’s shocking that the chamber of commerce has decided to put Arkansas in the bind of getting a few short years of energy production for a future of contamination throughout the state.

The situation of drilling in Arkansas right now is unsafe and it will continue to be unsafe while the drilling companies are exempt from the four major environmental laws: the clean water act, the clean air act, the safe drinking water act and the superfund law. There are safeguards that should be put in place right now to protect against some of the horrific situations some Arkansans are going through. The only reason they’re not being put into place is because they lessen the profit margins for those companies. What we’re dealing with here is not a necessary evil, it’s greed and it’s their profit margin.

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