Documentary filmmaker Josh Fox and his crew on Wednesday walked into a congressional hearing on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a controversial natural gas drilling technique. Fox left in handcuffs, charged with unlawful entry.
The meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment was focused on the Environmental Protection Agency's Dec. 8 draft report on links between fracking and water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo.
Fox, working on the sequel to the HBO documentary "Gasland," planned to attend the hearing because the EPA investigation highlights subjects from both "Gasland" and the sequel. Thus, he told HuffPost, "we were not really going to be told 'no.'"
"Since the change in Congress when Republicans took over, we have been getting a lot of flack trying to get into the public hearings," Fox said.
Fox asked to attend when the hearing was announced on Monday. By Tuesday morning, he had been refused by Republican leadership on the committee. Fox appealed to the chairman, but did not hear back before the hearing. His crew, he said, was told, "If you're working for 'Gasland,' just forget it." Any credentialed reporter working on the documentary "will have their credentials jeopardized," he said the crew was told.
Fox said he sent emails and posted his struggles to attend the hearing on Facebook. As a result, the committee's Republican leadership "knew what was going on," he said. "It seemed there was someone there prepared to meet us."
Fox was unable to get official filming permission, and as he set up his camera tripod in the Rayburn building room on Wednesday, Fox said he was asked to turn off his camera. He refused. "The word from the chairman comes back -- 'He can stay, but his camera has to leave.' And I said, 'I don't believe that's the law, I'm within my First Amendment rights.'" Capitol Hill police arrested and handcuffed him.
While a committee has the right to prohibit cameras at a hearing, it is rare. Fox later reflected, "It was my understanding that my credentials are my American citizenship."
As the events unfolded, others began filming, Fox said. "Congressional staffers are actually coming in to watch what's going on and they start videotaping! That's why you have a videotape of me getting arrested -- congressional staffers all had their iPhones out. And the only one being threatened with arrest is me."
The committee's leadership directed Capitol Hill police to detain Fox and his crew. He was taken to the Capitol Hill police station. "If it weren't for the campaign contributions going to the Republican party on behalf of the oil and gas industry, I would not have been arrested," Fox said.
The hearing resumed after the film crew departed.
Jim Martin, the EPA administrator for the region that includes Wyoming, said the agency's analysis of geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field shows "groundwater in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing."
Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) refuted the study, saying, "In a remarkable display of arrogance and disregard for the plain facts, the president last week proclaimed his support for expanded shale gas production, while at the same time allowing every part of his administration ... to attack these practices through scientific innuendo and regulatory straight-jacketing."
During his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama said companies should disclose the fracking fluids they use, but in nearly the same breath declared, "We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy."
"It was a painful moment for myself and a lot of the people who are concerned with fracking," Fox said of the president's speech. "He's wrong that there's a way forward in the future."
Ultimately though, "It doesn't really matter who the president is," Fox said. "The people make the change ... I don't think anyone is ever going to be challenged, at least in the near future, about walking in to a congressional hearing with a camera."
UPDATE: 2 p.m. -- Following Fox's arrest, the Working Families Party wrote a petition asking for Rep. Harris to apologize and commit to open hearings in the future. As of Monday, the petition had garnered over 22,000 signatures.