The public response to Gasland was phenomenal.
It was an appropriate reaction to a state of crisis. But no matter how popular something is you still have to campaign. We would show 10, 20 or 30 minutes [of the film] on the side of the road before it was even done. We would go out there and use it to educate people. We’ve never stopped. I’ve done a tour of 250 cities.
The oil and gas industry reaction was predictable...
I was quite surprised that they attacked the film. I thought they would completely ignore it. They got people to watch it who would never have watched it!
They spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to combat the message of the film in every conceivable form. If you search my name or Gasland on Google, you come up with their misinformation campaign. They’ve done YouTube videos, they’ve done two feature films, they go on the news, they’ve bought ads promoting natural gas. It’s not just me they are fighting, it’s the truth and the science that drilling contaminates people.
On the internet and in the media you’ve been called anything from a liar to a luddite. What kind of influence on public perception has this had?
I think it creates doubt. It’s like when the tobacco industry was shown to be harming people’s health, they created bogus reports. They engaged universities in fake science. That confuses people.
However, I don’t think they’ve had the reach that the clips from the film, people setting alight their water, have had. We’ve kind of won this PR war. People overwhelmingly don’t want fracking.
So I don’t think [the industry’s propaganda] really works, but it creates delay. They deny the science because it interferes with the worldview they want to promote – that we need to be dependent on oil and gas – and they want to make money. We don’t need that dependency any more, which is why they are getting so hysterical.
What does fracking do to communities?
There is a high probability of water contamination and increased air pollution, depending on how close you are.
You’re overrun by thousands of truck trips every single day. You have a high fatality rate among workers in the gas industry, seven times the US average – a lot of that is truck accidents.
You have a community that ends up being fractured, because inevitably there are people who make money and are in favour and there are people who are devastated, upset and angry.
After a while, the whole reason for your town’s existence is to extract oil and gas. The Gulf of Mexico has now been reduced to an oil and gas zone, with an ecology that no longer functions, with a coastline that no longer serves its public, with a fish and seafood base that you can’t use any more, with an eco-system that has crashed, and with people working in that industry who have no other choice. You reduce the value of those areas simply to the value of the oil or gas. Your schools are sponsored by the oil and gas companies, as are your roads and highways, you don’t have a place to combat that pervasive element.
What message does the fracking saga in the US send out about corporate power and its influence on government and democracy?
When you have all that toxic cash running into our state and federal government, the citizens are squeezed out of that picture. I believe we cannot have democracy without freedom from fossil fuels. Because they are so dominant in our democratic political systems, not just in the US but in Australia and other countries.
The government’s been hijacked by a very small group of people who are enormously wealthy. When you have a political system so influenced by money you really have devolved into a kind of plutocratic rule where a tiny group of people who have billions of dollars are dictating policy over hundreds of millions. This situation has to change.
People’s movements, community involvement – do they give you hope?
Oh absolutely, I’m hopeful every day. The anti-fracking movement worldwide is one big community. You can go anywhere in the world and find people who are fighting the same scenario and they’re in the same boat and these are people who you link arms with, they’re friends, they’re people who will really understand what you are going through. That gives life a lot of meaning.