Appalachian Basin

The Real Dimock on Fire for FrackNation

The documentary FrackNation was screened yesterday in Montrose, Pa., as part of a local tour of screenings taking place this week.  Director Phelim McAleer, who was present to conduct a question and answer session following the viewing, was met with a standing room only audience — only four of whom were there in opposition to the film.

One commenter this morning on FrackNation’s Facebook page said that she had never seen the Montrose Theater so packed with people. We had gotten there before the doors opened and were able to find a seat, but realized fairly quickly, before the showing began at 6:30, that we’d be giving them up to join the crowd standing in the back, allowing local residents the opportunity to sit and enjoy the film.

The large crowd spoke to the reality of what’s happened to Dimock: a packed theater of locals eager to see the film, learn something, and demonstrate their support of natural gas development and what it’s done for their county.  This was contrasted by the presence of a mere four simple protestors.  It’s hard to think of a more poignant demonstration of the real Dimock — one that contradicts the years-long media characterization of this community as supposedly opposing natural gas development.

Notwithstanding this reality, there was a momentary exhibition of the surreal world in which some of our friends on the other side live.  We couldn’t possibly make it up.


Not even through the opening credits and the police are called…

Readers will recall from a post we did over the weekend that activists Vera Scroggins and Craig Stevens planned to meet prior to the screening and “strategize” for the film. Given Scroggins’ previous hostile interactions towards McAleer (below), we were pretty curious as to what she would pull this time.

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It’s unclear what the actual strategy entailed, but the two, joined by Tom Frost and Ray Kemble (the owner of the junkyard visited by Yoko Ono) spent the movie outside harassing those walking by the theater and bantering with McAleer and others.  These few activists represented the tiny minority of Susquehanna County opposed to natural gas development, while the number of their neighbors inside watching the film spoke volumes as to the overwhelmingly positive sentiment towards the industry. If that fact ever penetrated the general public’s consciousness about Dimock, the activists’ claims would be exposed as fraudulent, which explains why they were literally harassing people who clearly had a different opinion.


McAleer and Tom Frost hamming it up!

But before the duo went outside for the actual film screening to await the question period, there was an altercation between Scroggins and a local fire fighter. It began, literally, with the opening credits for the movie, but was quickly diffused, without having to interrupt the film.

Apparently, before the theater opened, Scroggins had set up her camera in front of a row of seats. Her daughter is the manager of the theater, so she had access prior to the general public being allowed to enter.  But the theater was filled to capacity, and any empty seat was taken when the last of those outside made their way in for the film to begin.

We, in fact, gave up our seats to others, and had just moved to the back of the theater when Scroggins came in and saw her camera, but no open seat.  Rather than move to the back of the theater as we did, she proceeded to stand at her camera blocking a fire exit (and the view of several local residents).  It’s ironic (if not hypocritical) for someone who has a stated goal of “public safety” to block a fire exist, but we’ve been doing this long enough to know that things like consistency are often inconveniences to dedicated opponents of development.

Of course, Scroggins never planned to sit through the film, as you can hear her say to her daughter in this video. She just wanted a place to video the opening remarks and questions — so why cause a scene at all? Why not just move the camera to the back of the theater?

Worse, when a local fireman tells Scroggins she cannot block the fire exit in a filled-to-capacity theater, she throws a fit about needing to move. Watch for yourself.

The fireman, intent upon ensuring safety rules were followed, was justifiably angry over Scroggins’ disrespect for others in the audience and their safety, as were the other audience members who proceeded to yell “throw her out.” Most, of course, were thoroughly familiar with Vera’s tactics, having seen her in action time and again.  Ms. Scroggings then literally called the police, saying the fireman touched her, but the disruption was over before the film even really got underway and nothing further came of it. Scroggins and her small band of allies stayed outside for the remainder of the film until the excellent Q&A session, which went off without a hitch.

McAleer & FrackNation Get a Standing Ovation


Phelim McAleer, FrackNation director

As McAleer rose and went to the front of the room to begin answering questions from audience members, those in attendance also rose and gave him a standing ovation. It was quite the moment to see so many from Susquehanna County, where the media tends to portray residents as being opposed to natural gas, express their gratitude for McAleer’s truthtelling regarding their community. You can watch the whole Q&A session below but a few points made by McAleer deserve special attention.

McAleer said one of the strongest pieces of evidence that some of the media reports regarding Dimock weren’t valid, came from comments made by Craig Sautner when he made his over the top claim that there were three different types of uranium in his water, two of them weapons grade.

The filmmaker made light of these claims to prove his point, saying if he didn’t succeed at film making he was going to come back to Dimock, bottle the water, and sell it to the Iranian Secret Service.  “Instead of messing with centrifuges, why don’t they come to Dimock and bottle the weapons grade uranium in the water?” he asked.

His point was readily understood by audience members, most of whom have lived in the county their entire lives and understood this claim was foolish.  That some supposed journalists didn’t find it outrageous or at the very least questionable (15:00, first video) said a great deal about the quality of the reporting on Dimock, much of which was hopelessly biased.  The audience not only quickly grasped his argument but was extremely appreciative that someone had finally said what was obvious to all of them.

McAleer also told the audience how he has been called anti-American and a traitor (which also happened outside the theater, by the way).  He noted that those among the natural gas opposition who were concerned about human rights should be trying to minimize our use of foreign energy sources and support local development.

“If you want the most ethical fuel, buy it from Pennsylvania.” (30:14)

He went on to discuss how a small group of people are dictating everything from what people drive, to what kinds of light bulbs they use and even what kinds of dish detergents are “green.”  McAleer, in comments that struck home with local residents, noted how so many of the individuals dictating our lives are people with trust funds who are advocating against everything their fortunes were built upon. McAleer’s definition of some environmentalists today summed up the situation pretty succinctly for natural gas supporters frustrated with the nature of so much of the opposition: “An environmentalist is a person who bought their vacation home a year ago.”

Of course, as part of the conversation McAleer was asked about the director of Gasland, Josh Fox.  Why does McAleer think Fox portrayed Dimock as he did?

McAleer said he thinks Fox truly believes the things he showed and said in Gasland, but the problem is Fox wasn’t a good journalist.  Fox didn’t verify his information, didn’t provide studies, and didn’t provide facts because he took everyone’s word for what they experienced. “If I have the facts to back what I am saying, then I can call myself a journalist,” McAleer said. “If I don’t, I’m just a stenographer.”

McAleer also talked about the reaction of the Sautners when the EPA told them their water was fine.  He said it was shocking they were not jumping for joy, but were more interested in holding onto the theme that made them famous. When asked why he thought the Sautners left Dimock to buy a home in New York with an existing natural gas lease, which has puzzled many of us, McAleer quickly responded, “Because they’re liars” (50:50).

You can watch the entire question and answer session below.

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All in all it was an exceptional night and everyone took something special away from the film. We heard many thanking McAleer as they left the building and asking him to come back for a sequel.  Several also requested he plan more screenings for those who couldn’t attend last night.  As for Vera, Craig, Ray and Tom — well, the last we saw them they were still clamoring for attention on the sidewalks of Montrose as a crowd filled with enthusiasm for FrackNation marched out and went back to a real world made better by natural gas development.


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