‘Fracknation’ is a journalist driven documentary that sets out to explore the science and consequences of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is more popularly called. From this starting point, it pretty much immediately deviates into an agenda driven film, built almost entirely around anecdotal evidence and Google searches (screen time is even given to a computer showing search results). There are some well-made points buried within the film, but they tend to get lost beneath its biased message.
Phelim McAleer, a freelance investigative journalist, is the face of the film. With the aid of a Kickstarter campaign, he investigates whether previous claims over the damages of fracking are true. In order to do this, he chooses Gasland, an Oscar winning documentary on Fracking, and sets out to disprove it. McAleer does raise a few interesting points against Gasland that beg real answers, including a strong dismissal of the famous claim that fracking causes tap water to become flammable, but as soon as a hole is found in the anti-fracking argument the film devolves into an attack piece on the evil environmentalists and the people who support them.
Interviews with locals are the bread and butter of the film, and in many cases they do give a voice to people who have likely not been heard from in anti-fracking documentaries. However, this reliance does not add much to the overall debate. This is still a controversial issue and for every person for fracking there are just as many people against it. Science and environmental scientists are largely absent from the film. Most of the film’s “science” centered arguments are made by authors, journalists, and the like. The few actual interview clips with scientists appear heavily edited, and McAleer fills in many of “their” conclusions in a voiceover.
By the end of the film it is unclear what exactly has been proven in the documentary. A lot of worthy skepticism and questions were raised, but there is no real resolution. At one point McAleer is driving in his car as a voiceover goes through a list of things he says the film has proven, but many of them were given little to no coverage or discussion in the film itself. It is unclear what his standard of proof is beyond the raising of doubt. Following the bit in the car, the documentary immediately cuts to a short segment about a friend of McAleer’s who underwent a successful kidney transplant, with the implication that energy from fracking is necessary and life saving. It is transitions like this, which appeal to human feelings, rather than actual facts or evidence, that make up the core argument structure of the entire film.
‘Fracknation’ is an underwhelming and exceedingly biased attempt to counter the message of anti-fracking documentaries like Gasland. Its overreliance on anecdotal and unscientific evidence, as well as provoked and ad hominem attacks against particular supporters of the anti-fracking community, does a disservice to the pro-fracking community’s message. McAleer brings up important criticisms of the anti-fracking argument that cry out to be investigated in a documentary that will do them justice. It is likely true that some of the claims in Gasland were exaggerated or false, but that in itself does not discredit all criticisms of fracking. ‘Fracknation’ is not a documentary that will persuade people to change their mind, but it will certainly appease those who already agree with its main points.