A Colorado landowner ignites his cigarette lighter and holds it close to tap water running from a faucet in his home. A few seconds pass, and the single flame bursts into a ball of fire that sends the man reeling backward.
This shocking scene appears in the 2010 documentary Gasland, produced and directed by filmmaker Josh Fox, which he touts as an exposé on the evils of a particular method of drilling for natural gas called hydraulic fracturing or “fracing,” pronounced “fracking.” Fox claims that nearby drilling contaminated area groundwater, causing the fireball to burst from that Colorado tap.
What Fox ignores is the fact that the landowner, Mike Markham, lodged a complaint with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in May of 2008, and while investigators did find methane in Markham’s well water, they determined it to be strictly from natural sources. “There are no indications of oil and gas related impacts to [the] water well,” reads the report, and the regulatory agency declared the issue resolved in September of the same year.
Gasland tells a similar story of another Colorado homeowner, Renee McClure, whose well-water faucet could also breathe flames. McClure brought up COGCC, opining, “They’re not there to work for the people. They are there to work and help the oil and gas companies.” But she failed to explain in her reference to COGCC its March 2009 investigation and the independent analysis the agency obtained on her well gas from Isotech Laboratories. Both studies agreed McClure’s water contained only “naturally-occurring biogenic methane gas in [the] well” and found “no impact from oil and gas operations.”
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