Appalachian Basin

Something Rotten in Gasland

Every mention of the movie Gasland includes a reference to the supposed $100,000 lease offer that Josh Fox says he received from a natural gas company — an offer, the story goes, that he magnanimously turned down so he could save the world from natural gas.  Indeed, if you Google “Josh Fox” and “$100,000,” you get 31,700 results — including these examples:

No. 1 – “Would you poison the planet for $100,000?  According to a recent article, filmmaker Josh Fox faced this question when he received a $100,000 offer in exchange for the natural gas drilling rights to his property in the Delaware River Basin.  Instead of taking the money and keeping quiet, he decided to use his talents to make a film that exposes the harsh reality of America’s natural gas drilling campaign.”

No. 2 – “What do you do when a gas company offers nearly $100,000 for the right to drill on your land? If you’re Josh Fox, you refuse the money — then make an award-winning documentary portraying the natural gas industry as an environmental menace that ruins water, air and lives.”

No. 3 – “In 2008, filmmaker Josh Fox received a $100,000 offer to lease his 19 acres in northeastern Pennsylvania for drilling by the booming natural gas industry.  Fox promptly responded with a decisive “no thanks.” Then he set off on a road trip across 24 states to investigate the environmental impact of natural gas drilling on local communities.”

The narrator of this Gasland trailer says Fox, in 2006, received a letter in the mail offering him $100,000 for permission to drill for natural gas on his land.  Actually, the offer came to him in May 2008 — at least according to what he told the Huffington Post. But considering all the other distortions the movie presents in the name of art, this is a very tiny error.  The $100,ooo offer, however, is central to the carefully cultivated narrative of an easy-going, banjo-pluckin’, resident of tiny and rural Milanville, Pa. who passes on what amounts to more than three years’ salary for most folks in our area so that he can instead slay the evil natural gas industry.

But here’s a question for you: What if there was no offer of $100,000 to begin with? Do a little digging, and you find out pretty quick that Fox’s entire backstory is a sham, something long suspected by the local residents who couldn’t imagine how Fox was issued a lease bonus with a value per acre twice that what anyone else had received. As far as we can tell, only one journalist actually questioned the story of the $100,000 offer: Mike Soraghan of E&E News in Washington.  Here, in his New York Times report, is some of what he learned:

In the movie’s opening segments, Fox often refers to the 19.5 acres in Milanville, Pa., as “my land.” He also talks about “my $100,000” in reference to money offered by a gas company that wanted to drill on the land. Fox says that he was offered a “signing bonus” of $4,750 an acre, for a total of $92,625. He rounded that figure up to $100,000.

As one might sense from the history Fox relates about the place, it is owned by his family, specifically his father. Many supporters of drilling in the area have questioned any implication that Fox is a local, saying he is a New Yorker whose family has a weekend property in the area.

Nearby landowners who have leased their land have frequently questioned Fox’s assertion that he stood to make $100,000 to allow drilling on the land. Fox forwarded to Greenwire a proposed lease agreement that would have added up to as much as $90,000, assuming 5 acres of land disturbance beyond the basic, 5-acre well pad. He said he no longer has documents of earlier offerings, which were slightly more generous.

Apparently, Fox told Soraghan he received a $4,750 per acre lease bonus payment (he said the same to PBS). But when pressed for documentation, Fox relied not only upon the lease bonus payment, but also a $3,000 per acre fee for disturbing 10 acres of land on the assumption that he would receive a well.  There are several major problems with Fox’s story:

1.  Although reporters continue to take Fox’s explanation at face value, anyone at all familiar with gas leasing knows very few properties actually receive wells because the production units typically approach 640 acres in size or thereabouts with the well pad (on which are located 6-8 wells) situated in the center.  Smaller properties seldom get wells because it is difficult to achieve required isolation distances on such properties.

Fox’s property (actually belonging his father) consists of two parcels totaling  19.29 acres. One of the parcels is fairly steep in parts and lies between John Davis Road and Milanville Road.  The other is situated between John Davis Road and a stream.  Both are relatively narrow (each about 500 feet wide) and given that a typical well pad is just slightly less than 500 feet square and requires fairly level ground — and ground that’s at least 500 feet from any major stream, building, well or septic system (under the terms of the lease he displays) — there is simply no possibility of a gas well being located on the Fox property.

Therefore, the additional $30,000 is not real.   It is a complete myth. Disturbance payments (well fees) are not the same as lease bonus payments — the former are rarely paid, even on large properties.  They are contingent fees and, in this particular instance, would never have been realized under any conceivable circumstance.

2. The lease depicted in Gasland is easily identifiable because every company’s lease document has a unique format.  I have copies of the lease documents for every company that has done business in Damascus Township (where the Fox parcels are located) or made offers there.  These include Chesapeake Energy, North Coast Energy, Cabot Oil and Gas and Hess Corporation (Hess/Newfield joint venture).

One of those lease documents, and only one, precisely conforms with the format and wording of the document displayed in Gasland.  That is the Hess lease and, more specifically,  a draft version of that lease that was distributed in the summer of 2009.  You can compare for yourself by freezing the screen from one of the movie trailers and matching it up with this draft lease.  No other leases match in any respect.

Comparison of frames from Gasland movie (4:06) with the draft Hess lease.  One can readily see they are the same document.  Fox used a draft lease from a year later to argue he was offered $100,000 in 2008.


This is important because Hess wasn’t operating in the area, making offers or even doing gas deals in 2006 or May 2008 — the two dates between which Fox has alternated most frequently when asked when his offer letter arrived.  Truth is, Hess didn’t even start making offers until the summer of 2009, just in time for the film’s production schedule, but more than a year after Fox claimed everything had taken place.  He got no offer from Hess in 2008 (or probably ever, as Hess largely avoided that area of Damascus Twp.) and, obviously, later substituted the widely distributed draft Hess lease for whatever standard document he did receive, if anything.

He had a good reason to substitute the Hess lease for whatever offer he may have received from one of the other companies, however, because it was the only one structured to provide not only a basic well fee ($15,000 for 5 acres of disturbance) but also offer $3,000 per acre for any disturbance above that.

Fox, in other words, could only construct his theoretical $100,000 offer by relying upon the Hess lease and some extraordinarily faulty assumptions about getting wells drilled on his property.  Therefore, the lease depicted in the film, and the one to which he apparently refers in his explanation to E&E News, is not the one he actually received.

3. As mentioned, there were simply no companies making offers in Damascus Twp. or elsewhere in the region in 2006.  There were three companies making offers in early 2008, however.  These included Chesapeake, North Coast and Cabot.  North Coast dropped out of the picture around March 2008, after a landowner group with which I was associated didn’t accept its group offer.  Chesepeake and Cabot made a variety of offers that ranged between $2,000 – $2,650 per acre.

So: If the $2,650 figure was applied to the Fox parcels, they would have yielded lease bonus payments totaling $51,118 — about half what Fox says he was offered.  If we round-up the acreage to 20 acres, apply the highest Hess offer from Damascus Twp. ($3,000 per acre over several payments across both exploratory and development phases) and add in the mythical $30,000 for disturbance, we get $90,000, which one assumes is what Fox gave to E&E News. It is utter nonsense, of course, but one can follow the logic.

The problem, for Fox, is that there was no Hess offer made in 2008, Hess not even being in the game at that point.  Moreover, the assumption of well fees that were not realizable, combined with his stretching of the $90,000 to $100,000, means the whole thing is a sham.  Fox may have received an offer in 2008 for something on the order of $50,000 but it was more likely far less than that — in part due to his small property size, and in part due to his lack of affiliation with any of landowner group negotiating for higher rates.

What does all this tell us?  Well, at a minimum, it demonstrates Fox doesn’t care much for details or getting them straight.  Being an “artist” is, to him, a license to to distort the facts in service of a larger “truth” — ends always justifying the means.  That’s essentially what he says about his flaming faucet lies and what he said about his anti-American movie “Memorial Day” when he told an interviewer: “To do the film we got totally immersed in a different kind of reality.  A deeply uncomfortable reality that we had to go into with equal parts reckless abandon and dire seriousness.  It was an exercise in total immersion.  Everything in the film was planned, every scene was either scripted or outlined beforehand–but everything really happened, because it was real, in a sense, we were immersed in that reality.”

Clearly, he also created such a new reality with his oft-repeated story about a $100,000 offer that turns out, like most of Gasland, to be a fairy tale.  Unfortunately, he has been able to market that fairy tale to a gullible group of journalists who report what Fox says uncritically, recognizing that to do additional research would be to put at risk a great story.

It also demonstrates Fox is nothing like the altruistic pose he loves to strike.  He didn’t get a $100,000 offer and whatever he turned down, if anything, was much, much less, especially as compared to the $5,000-$7,500 per engagement speaking fees he now commands as result of the film’s popularity.   He has used Gasland to acquire fame and is busy turning that fame into money. Word around town is that Gasland 2 is already in production — a film that HBO paid him $750,000 in upfront money to shoot. Not bad for a small-town kid from New York City — with a summer home in Wayne County, Pa.!

UPDATE: An astute reader of this blog observed the title of this post was a play on the famous words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (“Something is rotten in the State of Denmark”), which he found supremely ironic given that the speaker in the play was a fellow named “Marcellus.”

UPDATE II: We subsequently discovered the Park Foundation has also paid Josh Fox ($75,000 each in 2010 and 2011) for his “grass roots social engagement campaign around Gasland.”  So much for altruism.

  • Unlikely Hospitalist
    Posted at 3:03 pm, June 07, 2011 Reply

    Great article Tom. Truth seems to be very fluid with these folks and when it is provided in stark reality it is irrelevant. He has been hoisted on his own petard.

  • SideShowBob
    Posted at 7:30 pm, June 07, 2011 Reply

    As some who will be reading this article know, I’ve stated, in other circles, I believe Fox is a puppet in a larger scheme. Whether he is the same knowingly or unwittingly is uncertain, but as this EID post illustrates, he is well compensated for his endeavor. So, what do I mean..?? I mean….as “Deep Throat” said to Bob Woodward in the Washington, DC parking garage….”Follow the money.” The anti-gas folks can be basically divided into two factions. Those who stand to reap billions of dollars if shale gas drilling, and gas drilling in general is thwarted. Indeed, if all “fossil fuel” production in the USA is stymied. And, then there are those who embrace the Green Movement as a way of life, regardless of any compensation. They’re either financially secure of believe so fervently in the Green, they’ll eschew the other green stuff.

    HUH..??? Come again..??

    Well, what’s the premise of this “Gasland” charade? An unknown film maker, devoid of talent, who doesn’t live where he claims, lies about receiving a phony gas lease for 200% or 300% of the going rate for property he doesn’t own. The property in question happens to be within a desirable area for a nascent, major shale gas play. How or why would this scenario be the catalyst for a filmmaking odyssey across half the USA and who would bankroll such an inane, implausible venture?

    Fast forward…the film, “Gasland” garners a coveted slot at the Sundance Film Festival. An honor usually reserved for someone with talent, rather than a vacuous dweeb such as Josh Fox. Moreover, the film wins an award.

    Q. Who funds the Sundance Film Festival?
    A. Open Society Institute, a George Soros venture. The CEO of OSI and the Sundance
    Institute web site acknowledge at least a $5 million contribution.

    So, a blatantly false, virulently anti-gas film receives a major endorsement from Soros, a left wing billionaire with documented ties to Petrobras (37 million shares as recently as 2009), the Brazilian state run oil giant. Soros has openly declared the US dollar must be substantially devalued and he is known to have toppled the currencies of five nations. Controlling or stopping domestic energy production would be a major step toward destabilizing the US dollar. The Obama administration, the most anti- domestic energy White House in history and recipient of millions of dollars from Soros, during a state visit to Brazil, announces a $2 billion loan from the US EX IM Bank to Petrobras, potentially a major, hostile competitor of any domestic shale gas play. The loan will facilitate Petrobras’ offshore drilling operations, ostensibly with US equipment purchases, so they can sell petroleum products back to the US while Obama enforces moratoriums on US energy production and seeks billions in subsidies to renewable, green energy while vowing to end any subsidies/tax incentives for petroleum production.

    The film credits for “Gasland” reveal the name Irene Yibirin. Yibirin is a Venezuelan national and an enthusiastic and unabashed supporter of the oppressive Hugo Chavez regime. She is a director of Amazonia Films, a branch of the government run office of “Popular Culture.” The Chavez government is a major South American petroleum producer and runs Citgo, Joe Kennedy’s favorite oil company. The Chavez government, via an official state press release, lauds “Gasland” and touts Yiribin’s participation in the venture. Is there any doubt Chavez would be hostile to US energy independence from a shale gas play?

    The “Gasland” credits also reveal the creative consultant of the film is noted actress and environmental activist, Debra Winger. Winger openly admitted her source of information/expertise on gas drilling, her “go to guy” was….. actor Robert Redford..!! And what is environmental fanatic Redford also known for….???…..owning and producing the Sundance Film Festival…!!! Anyone notice a circle of mighty peculiar bedfellows?

    So, you follow the money. Who stands to gain in this nefarious plot? Fox is a pawn, a puppet. He’s too “out of his league” to have concocted this scenario. Redford and Winger, they’re life long environmentalist activists, true believers, and they don’t need the money. But, what about Soros, Chavez and Obama’s support for green technology? Do you think there’s an obscene profit motive and potential for derailing shale gas drilling? What about the subsidies for renewable, green energy advocated by Obama and his minions. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the current government subsidies for gas and oil are 25 cents per megawatt hour. Currently, solar energy is subsidized at $24.34 per megawatt hour and wind at $23.37 per megawatt hour with substantial increases in the offing if Obama has his way.

    You folks do the math and come to your own conclusions. Meanwhile, let’s see if we can’t find the source of that $750,000.00 HBO has anteed up for “Gasland 2.” I smell a Soros snake in the weeds.

    • Nick Grealy
      Posted at 3:58 pm, June 16, 2011 Reply

      Loved the story Tom, especially the bit about his appearance fee.

      But SideShow Bob: shale isn’t about conspiracies, very little in life is. Shale is certainly not about a right/left, green/climate change denier issue either. That is one key reason I say that one can’t simply transpose the US experience to Europe, in engineering, energy and certainly not in politics.

      Proof of this. George Soros has publicly invested in BNK, Realm Energy and San Leon Energy, all shale plays in the best part of North West Poland prospective for shale. So, bang goes that theory.

      • Tom
        Posted at 12:30 am, June 17, 2011 Reply


        Glad to know you are reading our stuff. I love your website, as you are always ahead of the curve and one of the best place’s to learn what’s happening with shale gas worldwide.

  • Unlikely Hospitalist
    Posted at 12:16 am, June 08, 2011 Reply

    Side Show Bob, I am half inclined to agree with you. I have written a few posts on the subject, some of which EID Marcellus has ben kind enough to post on their facebook page. In fact strange bedfellows came to my mind as well with added thoughts about France and Gazprom/russia Chavez is a nice connection I didn’t come up with. I did add a new post connecting socialist/trotsky circles with hydrofracking propaganda. It may be a stretch, but sentiments and tactics seem to be pretty similar.

    Follow the money….

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  • Daphne Fairhope
    Posted at 4:18 pm, November 09, 2016 Reply

    please remove the “Just the facts” tab from you menu. It just makes you look silly when you claim it is just the facts…and then there are no facts at all.

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