WASHINGTON – The director of the Oscar-nominated, environmentalist documentary “Gasland” was arrested Wednesday for filming a hearing on fracking, a natural gas extraction technique, led by Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris, of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee.
Filmmaker Josh Fox was questioned about credentials for taping the event in the Rayburn House Office Building. He had none, and after he declined to leave the hearing with his camera, two Capitol Police officers handcuffed him and led him out of the room. Fox was later charged with unlawful entry and released to face an October court date.
The move drew protests from Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who asked for the committee rules to be suspended to allow Fox to record the hearing.
The committee recessed for a half-hour, then returned to vote along party lines to reject the motion. Miller then unsuccessfully moved to delay the hearing.
House rules require permission of the chairman or credentials from one of the galleries that govern the media to videotape a hearing. Fox asked about credentialing before the hearing, but did not get those credentials.
Harris said after the hearing that he “might have been predisposed” to suspend the rules were it not for the fact video of the hearing can be viewed on the committee website.
In an interview with The New York Times, Fox said his First Amendment rights were violated by the committee’s action.
“No one on the Hill is exempt from the Constitution,” Mr. Fox told the Times. “Period.”
Afterward, Miller’s office took Fox’s side, saying when Miller was chairman of the subcommittee in the past, he never requested that documentary filmmakers leave the hearing room.
Miller’s Press Secretary LuAnn Canipe said her boss considers Harris’ action “extreme.”
Freelance journalist Kerry Meyer was also turned away for trying to film the meeting. He was fooled into thinking that he had been hired by ABC according to Zach Kurz, the committee’s communication director. Meyer left the meeting without resistance.
ABC News confirmed to the committee that it did not send a journalist to film the hearing.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial extraction technique for natural gas that is under discussion for use in Maryland. It has been used in other parts of the country, and its environmental consequences were the subject of Fox’s “Gasland” film, which has drawn fire from the natural gas industry.
When the hearing finally began, Harris opened with an attack on President Obama by saying “in a remarkable display of arrogance and disregard for the plain facts, the president last week proclaimed his support for expanded shale gas production, while at the same time allowing every part of his administration … to attack these practices through scientific innuendo and regulatory straightjacketing.”
Obama, in his State of the Union speech, supported fracking saying, “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cheaper and cleaner, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”
The hearing was called specifically to look at an Environmental Protection Agency report investigating complaints by residents of Pavillion, Wyo., that their water quality decreased after fracking for natural gas began in the town.
The EPA determined that Pavillion’s wells contained levels of the carcinogen benzene 25 to 50 times the acceptable level, and that the contaminants are “most likely” the result of fracking.
Harris questioned EPA Administrator Jim Martin aggressively.
“You’ve already testified you’ve read the report,” he told Martin sarcastically, when Martin struggled to recall the exact language that it contained.
“The whole point of this hearing is to say, ‘Look, you’re jumping the gun,'” Harris said.
Martin said results of the study do not apply to the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs through northwestern Maryland, because it is has different geology.
Harris called on Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to lift his moratorium on fracking because the natural gas “is in the most economically depressed regions of the state.”
Harris said is concerned the governor will use the study to oppose fracking in Maryland even though the EPA said it is not supposed to be interpreted that way.