By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF
“Gasland,” a film that turns a harshly critical eye on the perils of natural gas drilling, has earned an Academy Award nomination for best documentary.
The Oscar nod guarantees even wider exposure for the controversial film, which uses images of flames leaping from kitchen faucets and polluted streams to make an argument for the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique where water and chemicals are injected at high pressure deep underground to free up previously inaccessible natural gas deposits.
The spread of fracking has vastly expanded the nation’s gas reserves and brought prosperity and jobs to some depressed areas, but environmental advocates featured in the film charge that it has done so at the cost of widespread damage to the environment and human health.
“Gasland” made its television debut on HBO last summer and previously won the prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
“This is a great moment that will bring more attention to the problem,” Josh Fox, the director, told The Times Herald-Record, which serves areas in Pennsylvania and New York where fracking has divided residents. “It’s all about drawing more attention to the problem and the families who’ve been hurt by drilling.”
The natural gas industry reacted scornfully to news of the film’s Oscar nomination.
“While it’s unfortunate there isn’t an Oscar category for propaganda, this nomination is fitting, as the Oscars are aimed at praising pure entertainment among Hollywood’s elite,” said Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy In Depth, a pro-drilling group.
The film has been criticized by the drilling industry and some state environmental regulators for including dubious claims about the perils of drilling. Regulators in Colorado and Pennsylvania have conducted investigations that appear to debunk several alleged instances of pollution that Mr. Fox’s film associates with fracking.
“This is a deeply disappointing development given that Gasland’s allegations have been widely disproven,” said Tom Amontree, executive vice president for America’s Natural Gas Alliance. “State and federal regulators investigated the claims made in the film and found them to be false.”
Mr. Fox is pushing back hard against assertions that episodes in the film have been debunked. “The movie is absolutely factually accurate — we are compiling responses to every one of their claims,” he said in a recent interview.
In a review of the film for The Times in June, Mike Hale found the film compelling but sloppily executed at times, opening the door to criticisms. In one “particularly unfortunate” sequence, Mr. Hale wrote, the film features an audiotape of an anonymous caller accusing Halliburton of illegally dumping chemicals in a Pennsylvania creek.
“It’s maddening to see how easy he makes it for the film’s critics to attack him, and how difficult for sympathetic but objective viewers to wholly embrace him,” Mr. Hale wrote.
“Mr. Fox shows a general preference for vivid images — bright red Halliburton trucks, beeping but unidentified scientific instruments — over the more mundane crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of investigative journalism,” he added.