Frackity-frack, don’t talk back!

Life’s so unfair. You’re just a guy, right, out to save the world and do good by the planet, and people really ought to sit down, shut up and listen while you lecture them on the subject. Least they could do, right?

And you’d expect BBC journalists, of all people, to stay with the script and grant you a respectful audience. I mean, these guys have a narrative to uphold, you don’t expect them to go suddenly go rogue and start throwing hardball questions, as if you were some sort of climate denier or Donald supporter. But that’s what’s happening.

And then when you naturally interrupt them, they don’t stay interrupted, they start interrupting you back! And then they have the nerve to go off-script and ask you unexpected stuff. It’s so very obvious the dark tentacles of the oil and gas industry have got to the BBC and now they’re regurgitating denialistic talking-points cunningly disguised as awkward questions about water contamination – the very audacity of it!

I mean, what do these journalists think they’re meant to be doing? Yeah, they’re meant to zip it and listen attentively when you deign to tell them what the science says, that’s what.

So anyway, here’s a transcript of the moment when heroic globe-trotting fracktivist warrior Josh Fox valiantly took on the insidiously evil might of the entire oil and gas industry, personified by Mishal Husain on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, last Wednesday:


Mishal Husain: If we extract gas through fracking, as we’re set to do after the government’s decision last week about a site in Lancashire, where does that leave our goals on low-carbon energy and on climate change? The Oscar-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox made a documentary in 2010 about fracking, credited with sparking a rise in “fracktivism” or environmental activism against fracking. In his new film, he travels to six continents to look at the effects of climate change.

[Ominous music starts.]

Josh Fox: Can a person stop a wave? Could you stand on the shore and stop a wave from crashing?

Mishal Husain: Well, the film is called How to Let Go of The World And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change. It’s directed by Josh Fox, he’s with us in the studio – good morning.

Josh Fox: Good morning.

Mishal Husain: What are you trying to say in this film?

Josh Fox: Well, I – the film starts with us actually beating the fracking industry in my own back yard, which is something that no-one’s ever – would have have happened, we actually defeated the fracking industry and they were never able to come into the Upper Delaware River basin or New York State, we banned fracking there. Um, and so – but I quickly realised that climate change – even though we can beat the fracking industry in my own back yard – climate change could come and wreak havoc on everything that we love.

Mishal Husain: Right.

Josh Fox: Because the trees, er, in my area, the forests are dying from a parasite that’s increasing because of warming temperatures, and then right after that, Hurricane Sandy slams into New York City – it’s a kind of one-two punch that jolts me out of our celebrations and says “You gotta get back to work”.

Mishal Husain: Okay, and you end up travelling to six continents, twelve countries –

Josh Fox: All across the world –

Mishal Husain: – to look at this.

Josh Fox: Yeah, because we’re in –

Mishal Husain: Yeah, but it – and Gasland, the film you made about fracking, was very influential in, particularly in the American debate on the fracking technique. Was your problem with fracking about the fact that it produces more carbon or was it about the safety of the process?

Josh Fox: Well, it’s manifold – I mean, obviously the science says that fracking contaminates water supplies, it says that it pollutes the air, it says that it creates a public health crisis –

Mishal Husain: Hang on, you say the science says that, but –

Josh Fox: Oh, 850 peer-reviewed studies – I mean, look, when I first started this in 2008, doing citizen-based journalism on fracking, going all across the United States and all across the world investigating the effects of this technique, there was no citizen – peer-reviewed science, now there are 850 studies that prove every single thing that is in that film, from water contamination to air pollution to earthquakes –

Mishal Husain: Okay. Hang on, why –

Josh Fox: – to the contamination of our political system.

Mishal Husain: – why – why, in that case – just picking up one of your points – why if it’s so clear on the contamination of drinking water, did the former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency say to Congress that there have been zero proven cases of water contamination, due to fracking?

Josh Fox: Well, she was lying. Er, Lisa Jackson was absolutely not saying correctly the information.

Mishal Husain: She was [inaudible] – she testified before Congress –

Josh Fox: Yes, I know –

Mishal Husain: – and you say she was lying.

Josh Fox: And I – and I interviewed her just shortly after that, in which she retracted those statements and she said that they were taught by the oil and gas industry to make it see out sound [?] but she was repeating oil and gas industry points, but, you know, just because a person from the US EPA said something, the US EPA has been caught manipulating science over and over again, in this process. In fact, their Science Advisory Review Board just came out and said that the EPA’s own conclusions were miss-stated on the cover of their report. So US EPA is actually not a valid source of information on fracking, right now – it is not.

Mishal Husain: It’s – it’s the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency –

Josh Fox: I made an entire film called Gasland II, which details very clearly the collaboration between the government and the oil and gas industry, which is more – on a different level of contamination, due to fracking, which you’re suffering right here in the UK, which is the –

Mishal Husain: Hang on, wait –

Josh Fox: – contamination of your politicians.

Mishal Husain: – I want to get on to what we should do here, in just a moment, but just going back to something that was a key part of what you put into Gasland, where you show people who are living in areas where fracking’s taking place being able to set their water on fire.

Josh Fox: Yeah, and there are peer-reviewed studies that show you’re 17 times more likely to have methane in your groundwater if you live within one mile of a fracking site –

Mishal Husain: But that’s not because – right, but the presence of methane is not because of fracking.

Josh Fox: No, that’s absolutely not true. When you are fracking in the sub-strata, and then you drill down through the water table and you have a leaking gas well – and most of these gas wells leak – look –

[They start to speak over one another.]

Mishal Husain: Isn’t it the case that long, long before – look, hang on, just want to get –

Josh Fox: – this science has, this science is peer-reviewed, we don’t need to re-litigate [?] the fact that fracking contaminates water supplies –

Mishal Husain: – wait, you say it’s proven, but some people have a very different view, and is it –

Josh Fox: Well, I say it’s proven, and I just explained to you how it happens.

Mishal Husain: – is it not the case that long before fracking started in some of these areas, people could take a match to –

Josh Fox: No, it’s absolut- no it’s –

Mishal Husain: – hang on, you haven’t heard what I’m going to ask you –

Josh Fox: – absolutely not the case, and this is –

Mishal Husain: – that people could not – that –

Josh Fox: – this is not, this is absolutely not the case, and if I’m allowed to state my position and tell you the science before you interrupt me –

Mishal Husain: – hang on, but you don’t – you don’t know – you haven’t heard the end of my question. Is it not the case that people could set fire to their water in some areas, before fracking ever took place in those areas?

Josh Fox: Yeah, it is also the case that people got lung cancer who didn’t smoke, but the primary cause of cancer in those cases was smoking, and the primary cause of people’s water contamination and being able to light your water on fire, and other contamination, right, oil and gas contamination, volatile organic compounds such as benzene getting into people’s water is a direct link to fracking, and that’s been proven over and over again. And –

Mishal Husain: All right. Well, it’s –

Josh Fox: – it doesn’t make any sense to go back into this right now – this is oil and gas contamination of the dialogue on this subject, because what they’ve done is a concerted effort and a campaign to try to spread misinformation on this subject.

Mishal Husain: There have been a million wells fracked for shale gas –

Josh Fox: And oil and gas –

Mishal Husain: – right, and have there been any proven cases of water contamination from that –

Josh Fox [sighing]: Hundreds of proven cases, thousands of proven cases, this is very clear, it’s in the EPA’s own report. Um, but the Obama administration was caught, like I said – when you have a scientific report that’s a thousand pages long, I don’t know if you’ve read it – I know that I’ve read it, because I’m a specialist in the subject. What most people do is read the cover letter on the top of it, and the Obama administration was caught manipulating the cover letter –

Mishal Husain: Just finally –

Josh Fox: – on top of the report.

Mishal Husain: – on – because we’re in a very different era in this country, where the green light has just been given to –

Josh Fox: When you had a citizen –

Mishal Husain: – hang on, where the green light has just been given by the government to fracking in one area. Now, what – what is being said here is that fracking in this country will be much better regulated than it has been in the US –

Josh Fox: But it’s –

Mishal Husain: – hang on – so the Environment Agency will issue permits, the government will track emissions, the Health and Safety Executive will scrutinise every well, then operators will have to gain further consent in order to minimise unnecessary gas emissions –

Josh Fox: We’ve heard this over and over, we heard in Pennsylvania –

Mishal Husain: – that means it’s as safe as it can be.

Josh Fox: Well, as safe as it can be – you cannot change the laws of physics. When you drill through the strata and you have temperature changes and pressures down there, you cannot build a gas well that is impervious to leakage, and the oil and gas industry’s own science, their own studies said the best that they can do is 5% leakage, er 95% of these wells won’t leak. But that’s 5%, that’s one out of 20, and if you drill a hundred wells, you know, do the math – you’re talking about a very significant contamination rate, when one well itself can contaminate an entire aquifer, and as time goes by, you’re talking about 30-50% of those wells leaking, so this is what the people in Blackpool are saying – they’re saying “We did everything right, we were citizens, we created a grass-roots movement so that –

Mishal Husain: Right. Josh Fox – Josh Fox –

Josh Fox: to make sure we didn’t have any health and safety problems.”

Mishal Husain: Josh Fox.

Josh Fox: Um…

Mishal Husain: Thank you very much.

[Josh Fox sighs audibly.]

Sarah Montague: It’s now 29 minutes past 8, time for some sports news, and Rob Bonnet is back with us – hello Rob.

Rob Bonnet: Thanks Sarah, yes. [Josh Fox is muttering loudly in the background.] Er, defeats for Scotland, 3-0 in Slovakia – our gentleman’s just going – and for Northern Ireland, 2-0 in Germany…


  1. It’s probably no comfort to know that we get the very same inarticulate cheer-leading nonsense from our politicians here in Canada. See for example our Catherine McKenna, Queen of all things green, pronouncing on the UN’s recent “historic” vote on HFC’s – and refusing to answer a *very* simple question from CTV reporter:


  2. This Josh Fox does get around. He was interviewed in the Guardian

    “I recently filmed activists in China risking their freedom to speak out against coal; indigenous people deep in the Amazon confronting the ravages of oil companies; Pacific Climate Warriors blockading coal tankers with canoes, chanting: ‘We are not drowning – we are fighting!’”

    (Shouldn’t that be: ‘Not drowning but virtue signalling?’ It probably sounds better in Tahitian.)

    Most of the 700 commenters were not impressed.


  3. Mr. Fox has created a career dependent on seeing what he wants and ignoring the rest. I would love to ask him why do you think methane is called natural gas? I live close to Marcellus, NY where the Marcellus formation reaches the surface. Locals can take you to locations where the methane naturally seeps out of the ground and you can cook an egg if you light it. Needless to say the locals also vent their water wells to avoid flaming faucets.


  4. Thanks for the transcript Alex. I had missed the remark at the end from the sports reporter when I listened to it! I also liked your intro.

    What I thought was amusing was that after having been allowed all that premium air time on the BBC’s flagship radio news programme, he was fuming at the BBC on twitter, accusing them of oil & gas denialist lies.


  5. Gasland contained many factual deceptions and distortions. Worse than propaganda, partly based on outright falsehoods. Does not speak well for Mr. Fox honesty. BBC should have called him out more.


  6. Six years later, it’s fascinating to re-visit the interview in Alex’ article. How times change.


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