LOVELAND, Colo. — Roughly 200 residents filled the renovated art-nouveau Rialto Theater on the main drag here Saturday to view Josh Fox’s Gasland, Part 2, a sequel to his first fracking documentary.
This one traces the role played by oil-and-gas money in chipping away at drilling regulations since the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans won majorities in statehouses around the country. Local poet Bhanu Kapil, protest “guitar slinger” Michael Bellmont and Gasland regional campaign director and blogger at Fractivist, Shane Davis, introduced the film, encouraging residents to “love the land in Loveland” and protect against the industrial extraction that has encroached on residential spaces and that threatens to foul the natural environment that attracted most of the residents to this part of the country.
The event underlined how the movement for and against drilling in the era of the fracking boom has increasingly become intensely local. Fracking is a subject that routinely makes national headlines but it’s one that plays out in miniature around the country in towns like Loveland, places where frozen partisan political positions run with fissures and occasionally crack open as citizens wake up to find their neighborhood streets coursing with big-rig traffic and drilling towers erected overnight in their backyards and along the running tracks at the children’s schools.
Roughly 15 grassroots organizations attended the screening. Members took turns doling out flyers. Davis described the screening as a solidarity event with Protect Our Loveland, the community organization that battled to put a fracking moratorium question on Loveland’s ballot in November.
One of the topics addressed in the film is the information war that rages around the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Studies and data sets cited by environmentalist are disputed by the oil and gas industry, which commissions its own studies and produces rival data sets. The film places efforts by the drilling industry into a the same category of disinformation that characterized tobacco industry efforts for decades. The point then and now was only to spread doubt.
Minutes after the film wrapped, during a question-and-answer period, Robert Schutzius, who said he was a “member of the oil and gas industry” but who declined to name his employer (likely active local driller Anadarko), took the floor to call into question the assertions made by the film.
“If there were five or six or seven things in this documentary that were left out, why should I believe anything it said?” he asked. He said some of the studies referred to in the movie were inaccurate or at least yet to be confirmed. He called Josh Fox “slanted” in his filmmaking.
Davis responded by directing audience members to information available through the fracktivist website. He said the information on groundwater contamination there, for example, was compiled by state officials. It’s “factual, unrefuted data,” he said and, what’s more, it doesn’t cast the state in a good light. On the contrary, it clearly shows the state failing to protect the environment and the people, he said.
Schutzius and Val Zahourek of Loveland Energy Action Project — an industry-supported campaign headed by former Loveland state Rep. B.J. Nikkel — stood outside the theater passing out “GASLAND DEBUNKED” flyers after the movie.
“As a community we need to know all the facts,” Zahourek said.
“There’s a lot of energy being put into this fight. They want to alarm you and scare you,” Schutzius said. “It’s making people want to lie down in front of bulldozers.”
He and Zahourek agreed that Loveland doesn’t have a lot of natural gas to extract, anyway.
Loveland city council voted against including drilling moratorium language on the ballot last November. A legal battle over that vote continues. Anti-fracking events like the screening in Loveland are a part of growing grassroots resistance to the drilling industry along the Front Range. Residents have recently voted for fracking bans in Longmont, Fort Collins, Lafayette, Broomfield and Boulder. Loveland is less typically progressive than those towns.
Speakers at the event encouraged Loveland residents to take direct political action.
“We all have to be a part of the solution,” said Philip Doe. “I think if anything is happening, it will have to be on a local level.
“What do you do when your own local elected officials will not listen?” asked one audience member. It’s a concern that repeated on a constant loop last year during debate in Denver over gun-control legislation. By November, two Democratic state senators were recalled from office and a third had stepped down. A handful of rural counties threatened to secede.
If they don’t listen to you, Davis said, “recall them!”