What Are They Hiding? “Gasland” Filmmaker Handcuffed, Escorted Out of Public Hearing on Fracking


Why would House Republicans bar an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker from last week’s public hearing on hydraulic fracturing? Hmmmmmm. Could it be that they’re hiding something? Nah, couldn’t be – particularly in light of the fact that the filmmaker happened to be environmental crusader Josh Fox, whose film “Gasland” awoke America to the grave environmental and public health risks tied to fracking. It was an unfortunate episode nonetheless, adding yet another layer to the veil of secrecy surrounding the controversial natural gas extraction process known as fracking.

Remember, we’re talking about an industry that finds transparency so distasteful that it refuses to disclose the chemicals it injects deep into the ground to extract natural gas.

At the behest of Maryland Republican Andy Harris, chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee, Capitol Police handcuffed Mr. Fox and forcibly removed him from the hearing. The subcommittee was looking into an EPA study tying groundwater contamination to fracking. So why was Mr. Fox so rudely excluded from all the fun? Consider this from a Feb. 1 New York Times report by John Broder:

Mr. Fox is preparing a sequel to “Gasland,” which has contributed to widespread concern about fracking, a method of mining that uses large volumes of water and chemicals under high pressure to free gas deposits from underground shale.

The chairman of the subcommittee conducting the hearing, Representative Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, objected to the presence of Mr. Fox and another crew. A committee chairman has the discretion to bar cameras from hearings, according to a committee aide.

… Representative Brad Miller, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, asked that the crews be allowed to stay and called for a vote. After a recess to round up more members, the Republicans prevailed and the cameras were barred.

As police dragged him from the room, Mr. Fox had some parting words: “This is a public hearing! I’m being denied my First Amendment rights.” I couldn’t agree more, and I believe most level-headed Americans would be with me on this. My guess is Rep. Harris, not to mention the entire GOP leadership, wishes the episode had never taken place. It was a poorly executed abuse of power. As I mentioned at the top, the arrest and removal from a public hearing of a noted documentary filmmaker is sure to give the cynics out there one more reason to mistrust the fracking industry and its boosters in Congress. More from the New York Times report:

Mr. Fox was released by the Capitol police shortly after 1 p.m. with a misdemeanor citation for, in his words, “practicing journalism.” He said in a telephone interview that he did not have to pay a fine or post bail. A court date is set for Feb. 15.

… “We have followed this case for three years, and it seemed as if this hearing was an attack on the E.P.A. and we wanted to be there,” Mr. Fox said. “We wanted this to be transparent to the American people. This is emblematic of what is happening across the world.”

He said that he did not buy the argument that the committee chairman had the right under House rules to bar cameras or uncredentialed reporters from hearings.

“No one on the Hill is exempt from the Constitution,” Mr. Fox said. “Period.”

The fracking industry needs more transparency not less. Rep. Harris’s reflex to deny access and shroud the fracking process in secrecy helps neither the industry nor the growing number of citizens concerned about the risks tied to the controversial practice. If we, as a nation, are to reach a consensus on how best to implement and regulate fracking, it will come from a well-informed public not one that is kept in the dark.

I commend Mr. Fox for his dedication to shedding light on the dark art of fracking. Please keep up the good work, my friend, even when the Powers that Be trample your civil rights.

Read the NYT report here: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/gasland-filmmaker-arrested-at-capitol-hearing/

For all the latest news on fracking, visit: http://www.frackingofamerica.com/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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