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Trouble in Gasland

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A first-time documentary filmmaker is outraged by the natural gas industry's "despicable" attempts to kill his movie's chances of winning an Academy Award.

Energy In Depth, a group sponsored by a coalition of natural gas companies, sent a letter to the Academy asking that Gasland -- a film about a controversial mining technique called hydro-fracking -- be removed from the Documentary Feature category.

"I'm continually amazed by all the developments," filmmaker Josh Fox said during a screening of the film at NYU this week, "both in terms of great things that have happened and real acts of courage that I have seen, and also these incredible, despicable attacks from the industry. I find them utterly irresponsible and horrific."

It marked the latest clash between Fox and Energy In Depth over Gasland, which debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. In June 2010, Energy In Depth released a point-by-point criticism of the film. Fox responded with an equally detailed rebuttal on his website in July.

The organization's letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which came a week after Gasland was nominated for an Oscar, contends the film falsified facts and should not qualify for the documentary category.

Jim Smith, a spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, which helps fund Energy in Depth, agreed that Fox's film is not a documentary. "The genre calls for facts by definition," he said in a phone interview. "This was not. It was clearly an opinion piece, entirely fiction."

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a process that uses massive amounts of pressurized water and chemicals to release natural gas from underground shale deposits.

The practice has raised concerns about environmental and health safety. In December, then-Gov. David Paterson issued a moratorium that would prevent horizontal hydro-fracking in New York until an extensive environmental study is completed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, no sooner than July.

United For Action, a grassroots anti-fracking organization, co-sponsored the Feb. 1 screening at NYU. The group hopes the film will stir action to permanently ban fracking in New York.

Audience member Elana Bulman, 20, said Gasland inspired her. "I am like fired up about this," she said. "I am ready to get a moratorium passed and get involved in campaigns."

Michael Bopp, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said while he doesn't agree that everything depicted in Fox's film relates to New York, he understands the public concerns raised by the documentary. Bopp said his agency is working to protect the state by carefully studying the effects of horizontal hydro-fracking.

"We felt that this required a whole new sort of framework for environmental protection," Bopp said. "We understand the risks associated with it and we are being as diligent as humanly possible."

Fox said he will continue to campaign for a total ban on hydro-fracking and won't be deterred by opposition from the gas industry.

"They're not going to be able to spin their way out of this with PR money," he said.

Post by Alissa Ambrose

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