Fylde pioneers gas revolution

Cuadrilla Gas site near Singleton.
Cuadrilla Gas site near Singleton.
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The Fylde is pioneering the UK’s shale gas revolution, but an Oscar-nominated film director urges us to learn from America’s example. Jacqui Morley reports

Gasland is our land, says Oscar-nominated film director Josh Fox in Los Angeles.

He’s eight hours behind us in terms of time, but racing ahead in his campaign to condemn the methods used to extract shale gas, currently underway on the Fylde coast, as potentially dangerous to man, animal and land.

“Gasland,” he tells me, in an exclusive interview, just hours after learning his aptly-named documentary had been shortlisted for an Oscar, “is your land. Or could be....”

Fox has been accused by the giants of America’s fuel industry, flushed out by the Oscar nomination, of “scaremongering”, “flawed” research and even “dishonesty”. He’s appalled by the reaction. “It’s a very obvious smear campaign by an industry in denial,” he asserts.

“They have been in denial mode since the beginning.”

The industry, which closed ranks when Josh embarked on his quest to learn more about shale gas, after developers offered $100k, to lease his own land, is now vocal in its criticism of a film which shows flames spouting forth from drinking water taps, and the hides hanging from farm animals grazing on land allegedly contaminated by the by-products of an extraction process known as fracking.

In being shortlisted for an Oscar in the documentary feature section, Gasland is almost certain to win a much wider audience than it ever could have hoped for.

Locally, UK shale gas drilling is being pioneered by Cuadrilla Resources, on sites off Grange Road, near Singleton, Preese Hall, Weeton, and Anna’s Road, Westby, which sit on a vast bed of rock called the Bowland Shale, running from Blackpool to Clitheroe. Cuadrilla expect to begin fracking shortly.

The process involves the hydraulic fracturing of the ground using high-pressure liquid containing chemicals, to release the gas.

Yesterday, Labour’s shadow energy minister Huw Irranca-Davies called on the Government to impose a temporary halt on drilling for shale gas, until safety concerns had been addressed.

Mark Miller, chief executive of Cuadrilla, has called for a meeting with the shadow minister. “We want to be a model for how all drilling should be done,” he says.

Blackpool and Fylde Green party leader Philip Mitchell says Labour’s call is “flimsy and inadequate”.

Fox’s Gasland documentary has come to epitomise the anti-fracking campaign, a populist approach, which has won global support via social networking sites.

It represents one man’s defiant stance, his determination to learn more, to go on the road, Louis Theroux-style, to talk, plainly, to the people of at least five of the states within the good old US of A, their land now pockmarked with shale gas drills and rigs, their quality of life and health, allegedly scarred by such.

Fox feels beset by jackals, but shrugs off criticism as “hypocrisy”.

His Oscar nomination speaks for itself and for the commitment of his producer Debra Winger – the only big name involved, if you don’t count the short but telling appearances by Dick Cheney and the late Richard Nixon.

“Her support has been generous and a constant source of inspiration,” he admits. “She wholly believes in this project. I can’t say how grateful I am to her.”

His controversial account of America’s new klondyke, the shale gas boom, and its alleged impact upon the country, and community, opens at Blackpool’s Odeon tonight.

It’s on limited release, but cinema chiefs have been canny enough not to feature just a one-off showing, but give it a nightly run through until Thursday, primetime 8.15pm, certificate PG.

“We’re delighted to be one of the first to show it, and hoping it plays to the biggest possible local audience,” says Odeon general manager Colin Alexander.

“I hope they do, I pray they do,” says Fox. “People need to make informed choices. I consider myself a pretty well-informed person, but this was a voyage of discovery for me. And with each turn it got darker.”

As a self-styled movie buff himself, the avant-garde film and stage director knows his second documentary is up against the big hitters at the local flicks... other mainstream Oscar frontrunners, but hopes his documentary on the biggest gas drilling boom in history pulls the crowds.

“The Oscar nomination has left me feeling like I’m walking on the surface of Mars,” he admits.

“But it couldn’t be more timely for you in the Fylde. I’d urge people to see it. I’m telling it like it is.

“And I’d like to think I entertain people along the way. I think anyone who doesn’t do Guys and Dolls is labelled avant-garde these days. I prefer innovative.

“ It’s not a documentary as some might know it. It’s part detective mystery. And it’s relevant to you.

“It’s not the next big thing but the now big thing. Learn by our example.

“The gas industry came across all sweetness and light with the shale gas revolution.

“Now we’ve got 35,000 of these things. It’s not just our backyard, it’s yours.

“I’m on with the sequel...”