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Josh Fox (left) is best known for his Oscar-nominated 2010 anti-fracking documentary, <em>Gasland</em>. Pro-fracking film-maker Phelim McAleer, is the producer of <em>Fracknation</em>. The two met briefly outside a NY Senate hearing. Photos: Karen DeWitt.
Josh Fox (left) is best known for his Oscar-nominated 2010 anti-fracking documentary, Gasland. Pro-fracking film-maker Phelim McAleer, is the producer of Fracknation. The two met briefly outside a NY Senate hearing. Photos: Karen DeWitt.

Fracking filmmakers dispute at the Capitol

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Dueling pro- and anti-fracking filmmakers were in Albany for screenings and promotions for their films Monday, as they await a decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on whether natural gas extraction by hydrofracking will be permitted in New York.

If the state Department of Environmental Conservation is to allow a rule making process on fracking to conclude by the end of the month, it must first make public its generic environmental impact statement on fracking.

Tensions are high, as both sides wait to find out whether the state will go ahead with fracking. And as the opposing film makers waited in the halls of the Capitol, those tensions erupted.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Phelim McAleer is the creator of Fracknation, a film that claims to rebut charges made by environmentalists and the popular anti-fracking movie "Gasland". He came to Albany to hold a screening of his film.

McAleer says he's an investigative journalist who has worked for UK publications like The Financial Times and The Economist; he has a history of making films that explicitly challenge the claims of environmentalists.

"I wanted to look at the science behind it, and also the truth behind it," McAleer said. "That's what's been missing so far ".

McAleer says he has no stake in whether fracking goes ahead in New York, but wants the claims made by opponents to be more thoroughly researched by the media.

"Journalists need to treat big environment the same way they treat big business," said McAleer. "The environmental movement is a vast, multinational globalist movement."

McAleer says the environmental groups should be asked "the same difficult questions".

Filmmaker Josh Fox, who made the movie "Gasland", was also at the Capitol. Fox attended a press conference with State Senator Tony Avella, who is introducing a bill requiring stricter worker safety requirements for gas drillers.

Fox released a trailer for his new film highlighting the worker safety concerns.

"My experience with dealing with this issue for the past four years is that the people who are most at risk, who are the most ground up by this industry, are the workers," Fox said.

Also at the press conference, were Nancy and Charlotte Bevins. They are the mother and sister of CJ Bevins, who was killed in a drilling accident in Smyrna, New York in 2011. Bevins was working on a vertical gas drilling plant, which is currently allowed in New York, for a company contracted to the now bankrupt Norse energy. CJ's mother and sister say he died because of inadequate worker safety standards that included 15 hour days and longer and dangerous conditions, like trying to set up a new well on a muddy, unstable site. Nancy Bevins says her life has been changed forever.

"When it's time for bed, all I can picture is my son, sitting there, with no family around, in pain," said Nancy Bevins.

Bevins died during the hour long ride to the nearest hospital, in Syracuse.

Senator Avella says if horizontal hydraulic fracturing is eventually permitted by the Cuomo Admisntration, then there should be strict worker safety rules implemented as well.

At one point, the two opposing filmmakers met. As "Fracknation" filmmaker McAleer was in the midst of an interview, he caught sight of Josh Fox, as the "Gasland" filmmaker strode through the Senate lobby, accompanied by Nancy and Charlotte Bevins.

McAleer and others rose to confront him.

 Fox refused to engage. He sought refuge in the office of the Senate Sargent of Arms, who called state troopers. They stood guard as Fox and the two women as they got on a nearby elevator.

Later, Fox explained why he refused to discuss the subject with the pro-fracking filmmakers.

"There's been an extensive smear and misinformation campaign on behalf of the oil and gas industry that's been going on since the film came out," Fox said. "It has ranged from the hysterical to the ridiculous."

 McAleer and the others say they were merely trying to engage in a discussion with Fox about the gas drilling process and dispute points made in his film Gasland.

Tensions are high, as both sides wait to find out whether Governor Cuomo will go ahead with fracking. If the State Department of Environmental Conservation is to allow a rule making process on fracking to conclude by the end of the month , it must first make public its generic environmental impact statement on fracking. It would have to do so in a special publication for state regulations that is due out on Wednesday. However, earlier in the month, Cuomo's environmental commissioner, testifying at a legislative budget hearing, cast doubt on whether the administration's self imposed deadline of late February will actually be met, meaning that a decision on fracking could once again be delayed.

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