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Fracking Films Reflect Twists In Drilling Debate

By KEVIN BEGOS

PITTSBURGH (AP) â¿¿ The boom in natural gas drilling has cast two opposing documentary filmmakers in unlikely roles.

Josh Fox, a liberal environmental activist, finds himself at odds with President Barack Obama. Phelim McAleer, a free-market conservative, is echoing the Democratic president's support for natural gas.

The two don't see eye-to-eye on much of anything, especially each other.

"He's a very skillful filmmaker," McAleer said of Fox. "He's one of the most trusted scientists in America at the moment, even though he has zero qualifications. I don't accept that, but a lot of Americans do."

Fox, in an email to The Associated Press, said McAleer "is not a credible source of information" and is "a climate change denier."

Their dueling documentaries â¿¿ the sequel to Fox's Oscar-nominated "Gasland" aired July 8 on HBO and McAleer's "FrackNation" aired the following night on AXS â¿¿ have clear aims when it comes to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the gas drilling method by which chemical-laced fluid is injected into the earth to free natural gas trapped deep underground.

Experts say the pro- and anti-drilling movements represented by the filmmakers each have some good points â¿¿ even though Fox claims the process is an environmental and public health disaster while McAleer says Fox distorts facts and ignores the benefits of drilling.

Jeff Frankel, an economics professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said, "The fracking revolution is clearly good news from the national security and economic standpoint" since it reduces imports and generates jobs and investment in America. He said the most extreme fracking critics don't seem to understand how much the gas boom is reducing pollution by cutting the amount of coal that gets burned in power plants.

Yet the fracking critics have legitimate concerns, Frankel said.

It makes sense that they would want to be cautious about drilling in some areas such as sensitive watersheds, Frankel said. Residents should get to choose whether they want drilling locally, he said.

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