Interviewed in the North Texas Daily (2014)

NTDaily Screen Cap 8-26-14This interview was originally published by the North Texas Daily on August 26th, 2014.

By Dalton LaFerney/Staff Writer

While Denton decides what to do about hydraulic fracturing in and around its neighborhoods, UNT graduate student and local documentarian Garrett Graham will film the proceedings and movements for his latest documentary, “Don’t Frack With Denton.”

The film will feature the people affected by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking and share their passions and arguments, Graham said. The expected release date is sometime this spring.

Fracking Frustrations

There is currently a moratorium, or a temporary halt, on fracking until September, to give city officials time to decide what to do next.

Denton’s moratorium isn’t favored by the industry because it stalled production and created uncertainty for the companies that have invested resources in this region. However, Graham sees a different story.

“It’s been a back and forth on what to do with regulation—not so much between the people wanting something and the Denton City Council wanting something else, but rather the city council deferring to the wisdom of the industry,” Graham said. “There’s a bottleneck of information, a lack of data and there’s certainly a lack of regulation.”

This indecision has lead to the most recent effort to ban fracking in the Denton city limits.

On July 15, the road to rid Denton of fracking ended up in the City Council chambers for hearing and debate. Top energy industry officials, like those from Vantage Energy and EagleRidge Energy, attended and spoke to a chamber full of listeners. After the hearing, the City Council officially added the fracking ban to the November ballot.

Those with mineral rights of a property can legally allow companies to produce their minerals beneath their land, yielding economic gain and prosperity. If the ban on fracking succeeds, Denton will be subject to numerous lawsuits from the gas industry as well as private citizens who own mineral rights, because the city will have committed what is called a “taking.” This means ,they’ve taken away a property owner’s right to benefit economically, said Steve Everley of Energy In Depth, a research and educational program in the oil and gas industry.

Graham said he would possibly expand the film in order document the legal battles that may follow the November vote.

Getting the Fight on Film

In the meantime, “Don’t Frack With Denton” will be under production, highlighting the long debate in Denton. Graham, who has produced another documentary, “Blockadia Rising: Voices of the Tar Sands Blockade,” said his unique contributions “have always been media-related.”

“I’m the guy who always volunteers to make a flyer or a video when there’s a demonstration,” he said. “I’ve always loved it and I’ve kept making videos ever since.”

Graham assisted on a documentary by an Austin-based man named John Fiege called “Above All Else,” a film that featured landowner David Daniel in his struggle with the Keystone XL pipeline. The film, like Graham’s “Blockadia Rising,” is currently screened around the country.

While Graham has always been active within protests such as the Tar Sands Blockade, he said he’s just an observer in this one, but he makes clear on his website, garrettgraham.org, his stance in the synopsis of “Don’t Frack With Denton.”

“Climate change continues to deliver record-breaking summer heat while … beneath their feet, deep underground, millions of gallons of public water are being mixed with toxic chemicals and pumped into the earth in order to extract natural gas in a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing,” the website reads. “It’s a David vs. Goliath story about ordinary people fighting for control over the city they love.”

Graham points out Denton’s “quirky” tune that “stands apart from the surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth” area.

“Part of the reason I wanted to do this documentary is that I’m very sympathetic to this cause and I am very impressed by it,” Graham said. “I’m a proud resident of Denton.”

Graham reminds his following that “Big Oil calls all the shots” in the Denton area and that shouldn’t be so.

“This is fundamentally about community autonomy,” Graham said. “This is Denton and who is Denton? This is an interesting community, and of course the most important part about this story is that people are suffering and being poisoned without their consent.”

Across the nation, towns like Denton continue to fight fracking, but Denton has a unique history. It sits on the Barnett Shale, where fracking and horizontal drilling were combined in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The combination proved beneficial, as the Barnett Shale at one point was the highest shale gas-producing region in the nation.

“I hope this documentary will be instructive to other communities facing similar issues,” Graham said. “I’m seeking to highlight what communities are doing about these issues, and what they can do.”

The filmmaker believes it’s important to document each stance in this debate.

“I do see a number of divergent viewpoints within the movement and I am interested in presenting a spectrum of ideas,” Graham said. “However there is, to my mind, no compelling argument why people should be poisoned without their consent.”

Graham compared the current energy companies’ strategies similar to that of the tobacco company. He said it’s hardly controversial to agree with comparison.

While he aims to document the differing viewpoints, Graham said he’s not interested in hearing somebody from the EagleRidge public relations department read a press release about how their product is totally safe.

There are some individuals who have active drills on their property and receive compensation for the drilling. Graham recently interviewed a woman who uses those checks for her children.

“There are some who are against fracking in principal, who are in favor of no fracking,” he said. “And there are other people who are for tougher regulations that have no problem with natural gas drilling in general.”

Another debate, Graham points out, is the scientific debate on whether or not fracking is as harmful and poisonous to the human body as it’s averred to be.

“The biggest obstacle is the lack of data. Not enough people are researching it and not enough people are keeping track of it,” Graham said. “So for those who want answers, they find the answers are not very forthcoming.”

There are some citizens who say their health began to deteriorate because of fracking and its supporting operations. Graham spoke of a family in South Texas who received thousands in compensation after they claimed fracking poisoned their health.

While some are winning compensation, others hold true that fracking isn’t of harm to those living near the procedures.

Dr. Stephen Holditch of Texas A&M University has been working in the fracking industry for more than 40 years.

“There is absolutely no evidence hydraulic fractures can grow from miles below the surface to the fresh water aquifers, Holditch said.

Government employees agree.

“There’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But Graham said if the fracking ban fails to pass in November, it would be an example of climate injustice.

“Anybody who drinks water or breathes air is an environmentalist. They just might not know it yet,” Graham said. “I’ve been an activist for many years, and it’s taught me first and foremost there are a lot of amazing people out there. People are moved to activism out of sense of what’s wrong with the world.”

He said those people are who motivate the film.

“My relationship to Denton has been radically transformed by this project.”

This interview was originally published by the North Texas Daily on August 26th, 2014.

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