The break-out success of GasLand and GasLand 2, documentaries by Josh Fox about the dangers of largely unregulated hydraulic fracturing, has prompted the natural gas and drilling industry to adopt an aggressive public relations strategy to combat critics. Last year, at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, a group of high-profile lobbyists and communications staffers celebrated the development of a pro-fracking movie designed to rebut Fox's documentaries called TruthLand, which premiered in January.
Recently filed tax documents show the link between industry and TruthLand is much stronger than previously reported. The movie was funded with a $1 million grant from a DC-based trade group called America's Natural Gas Alliance, a consortium of fracking firms including Devon Energy, Apache, Noble Energy, Range Resources, XTO Energy, Southwestern Energy, and Pioneer Natural Resources, among others.
Notably, the tax form shows the million-dollar grant for the film was given to Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an ANGA member company and prominent fracking corporation. TruthLand has gone to some lengths to conceal its ties to business interests. As Ben Nelson of LittleSis reported, the TruthLand website domain was briefly registered to a Chesapeake's Oklahoma office. Shortly after, TruthLand changed the website address to hide it behind a proxy. Nelson also obtained documents relating to the production of the film, which was led by Republican advertising consultant Fred Davis.
The TruthLand movie has been panned by environmentalists for downplaying the risks of methane leaks and groundwater pollution. But it has been widely distributed thanks to the promotional efforts of several oil companies and Americans for Prosperity, whose founders, David and Charles Koch, are deeply entwined with the fracking industry.
The America's Natural Gas Alliance 990 form also shows the industry has increased spending on media and public relations efforts. Other grants include:
- $864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas;
- $25,000 to ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod;
- $25,000 to Environmental Media Association, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of the entertainment industry and the media to educate the global public on environmental issues and motivate sustainable lifestyles”;
- $25,000 to Third Way, a centrist Democratic research think tank;
- $8,500 to America's Promise Alliance, an education nonprofit founded by Colin Powell;
- $250,000 to IHS Global, a research company that produced a report last year claiming that the fracking industry will support 1.7 million new jobs.
Another interesting discovery from the disclosure relates to how much America's Natural Gas Alliance has contracted with Democratic political consulting firms to build support for their policies. The 990 shows that ANGA paid the Glover Park Group over $2.9 million for “research/advertising” and Dewey Square Group $738,957 for “grassroots communications.” Both firms are run by mostly former Clinton administration officials. Though Glover Park Group is well-known as a lobbying firm, the company did not register for its work for ANGA last year.
This post first appeared at The Nation and is reposted here with permission.
Lee Fang is a reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, now known as Type Investigations, now known as Type Investigations.