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Buyer Beware: Documentary from the Tickells Promotes Natural Gas

Lauren Steiner: Whatever you do, don’t tell the audience that the trillion-dollar business opportunity of the future is based on the continued production of natural gas through fracking.

Last weekend, “Pump,” the new film by Josh and Rebecca Tickell, directors of “Fuel” and “The Big Fix,” premiered in New York and Los Angeles the same weekend as the largest climate rally in history. As 400,000 people marched to tell world leaders we have to get off fossil fuels or face human extinction, this film promoted the use of alternative transportation fuels including ethanol, methanol from natural gas and compressed natural gas (CNG), the latter two obtained through a noxious and greenhouse gas producing process known as fracking.

Pump Documentary

While purporting to advocate for freedom of choice and low prices to benefit the American consumer, the Fuel Freedom Foundation-funded film really serves as a piece of propaganda for the foundation’s true reason for getting us off foreign oil. From what I can deduce, that is to enhance the security of Israel and/or to financially enrich the foundation’s co-founders.

In July of 2012, a film was posted on YouTube. Titled “Methanol Fuel, the Business Opportunity of the Future,” it was a presentation by Eyal Aronoff, co founder of the Fuel Freedom Foundation, to the 2012 Methanol Policy Forum.

Couch it as a film about breaking the monopoly of Big Oil, freedom of choice and low price at the pump. But whatever you do, don’t tell the audience that the trillion dollar business opportunity of the future is based on the continued production of natural gas through fracking.

In it, Aronoff recommends we convert our natural gas supply into methanol fuel. “So ladies and gentlemen, the profit margins are gigantic. If this was a company, its profit margins would be twice as big as Walmart… Within 10-15 years this will become a trillion dollar industry!” He acknowledges there are competing interests before he ends with the challenge at hand: “How we find ways to work together with the government agencies with industry with the auto companies and with the consumers to create awareness and to create this transition to happen.”

One way to sell it to the public is to find two willing filmmakers to make a powerful documentary. Couch it as a film about breaking the monopoly of Big Oil, freedom of choice and low prices at the pump. But whatever you do, don’t tell the audience that the trillion-dollar business opportunity of the future is based on the continued production of natural gas through fracking.

While the natural gas industry wants you to believe that natural gas is clean burning and does not contribute to climate change, the methane produced during the process of fracking is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a 20 year time frame, which is exactly the time frame it is being promoted as a transition or bridge fuel to renewables.

I was eager to see this film, because I had seen both of the Tickells’ previous films and believed them to be passionate environmentalists. “The Big Fix” (2011) documents BP’s decision to use Corexit to disperse the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, how many people got sick from it, and how the company and the government tried to cover it up. Rebecca Tickell herself had health consequences from her exposure, as did the child they ultimately conceived.

“Fuel” (2008) began in Josh’s home state of Louisiana, a state dominated by Big Oil to the detriment of the environment and the health of the residents, including Josh’s mother who had nine miscarriages. In the film, Josh states, “I grew up hating oil companies, and that hatred is what fueled me.” Josh, who got his degree in sustainable living, discovers he could power his van with used vegetable oil. He takes this Veggie Van across the US proselytizing for biofuels.

In “Fuel,” Tickell doesn’t advocate anything that is not sustainable or will harm the environment. In 2008, during the course of making the film, when two Science Magazine articles exposed the fact that growing corn- and soy-based biofuels actually increases greenhouse gas emissions, Josh re-edited his film. “Was my entire life’s purpose, everything I had worked so hard for hurting the environment?” he asks in the film.

He discussed how much energy it takes to produce corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel. Both are monocrops, which use an incredible amount of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which run off into rivers and streams and actually caused a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. They are produced by large agribusinesses with government subsidies. He shows how we dump our excess cheap corn on the world markets causing family farmers worldwide to go out of business.

Eight years later in “Pump,” when the Tickells recommend corn-based ethanol as a way to get us off oil, none of these facts or consequences are mentioned. In fact, he dispatches the controversy of food versus fuel as propaganda advanced by Big Oil. Prior to the screening, Rebecca Tickell told me it was a campaign of the grocery lobby.

So why did the Tickells change their tune about ethanol? And why are they recommending two alternative fuels that most commonly come from fracked natural gas? I followed the money to find out.

The Sting

Last I’d heard of the Tickells, they had moved to Ojai and were making a movie about what fracking might do to the water in their town. In February, the filmmakers were caught up in the latest sting operation by the notorious James O’Keefe, whose sting on ACORN was responsible for bringing that group down. This time O’Keefe set his sights against liberal documentarians.

The Tickells sat down with a plant pretending to work for someone with Middle East oil interests who wanted to make a film against fracking. The intent was to turn US audiences against fracking because it is moving the US away from dependence on Middle East oil. While secret recordings showed the Tickells to be interested in taking the money, before things could go any further, the scam was exposed by Josh Fox, director of the anti-fracking Gasland films, who was also approached by O’Keefe.

I asked Josh by email whether the idea for “Pump “ came from them or the foundation. He replied: “It was our idea to make PUMP as a kind of finale to our previous films Fuel and The Big Fix. We wanted to make a film that focused solely on how to break the oil monopoly and empower everyday people to walk out of the theater to do just that. We were honored to have the opportunity to work with the Fuel Freedom Foundation and it was a unique experience for us to find our common viewpoints and make a non-partisan film that would appeal to everyone.” When I asked Rebecca Tickell how much input the foundation had in developing the script and selecting the experts interviewed, she replied, “There was a tremendous amount of collaboration.”

Pump Documentary

Rebecca told me they went to the Fuel Freedom Foundation for funding and began working with them in 2012. It should be noted that at the foundation’s November 2012 launch, the co-founders outlined their four-point agenda for 2013. The first point was to: “Generate public support through media and communications, including a full-length documentary film illustrating the potential of alternative fuels.”

So one has to wonder who had the final cut, as they say in the business. As Tickell says at the end of “Fuel:” Dig beneath the headlines. Fact check, and do your own research. Don’t confuse the news with corporate and government PR.” So I took his advice when trying to figure out why the message changed. I looked into the funders. I wasn’t going to confuse the truth with foundation funded PR.

The Funders

“Pump” was primarily funded by the California-based Fuel Freedom Foundation, founded by Joseph Hollander and Eyal Aronoff. Their mission statement says:

"Fuel Freedom Foundation is working to reduce the cost of driving your existing car or truck by opening the market to cheaper fuel choices at the pump. Our goal is to reduce the cost of transportation fuels in the US by $300 billion annually within ten years. In personal terms it means $2 a gallon at the pump, adding $2,500 per year to the pockets of the average American family. In national terms it means accelerated economic growth, greater energy security, reduced air pollution, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improved health. Fuel Freedom provides a big break for Americans without increasing government spending.”

Their website features articles like “Myth: Coal is the worst fossil fuel for the economy and the environment.” And “Myth: Biofuels are the cause of deforestation in emerging economies such as Indonesia and Brazil.”

Sounds good. All gain, no pain. But when you delve further, you see that they are really advancing any fuel they think will get us off Middle East oil, including dirty coal and natural gas. Their website features articles like “Myth: Coal is the worst fossil fuel for the economy and the environment.” And “Myth: Biofuels are the cause of deforestation in emerging economies such as Indonesia and Brazil.”

I have no way of knowing whether Aronoff or Hollander have invested in methanol companies, because the filmmakers and the publicist would not answer this question, which I posed to them in two emails. But we do know that John Hofmeister, a board member of the Fuel Freedom Foundation, who is featured as one of the main experts in "Pump" and always identified as the former President of Shell Oil, still has current oil and gas interests.

It is a fair question, since billionaires like the Koch Brothers have set up think tanks and astroturf groups and fund the climate denial junk science and legislation that advances their business interests. However, it is fairly evident from reading their bios that these two former software entrepreneurs also have ideological reasons for wanting us off Middle East oil.

The Israel Connection

Joseph “Yossie” Hollander and Eyal Aronoff both have connections to organizations that support Israel. Hollander is on the board of the Weitzman Foundation of Science and is the founder and chairman of Our Energy Policy Foundation, “which is dedicated to creating an open dialogue and agreement on the U.S. energy policy.”

Further examination of that second foundation shows a list of contributors who run the gamut of all the dirty energy sources including oil, coal, nuclear and natural gas as well as representatives from such organizations as ALEC and the American Jewish Committee, one of the most hawkish of the major Jewish organizations in America.

Eyal Aronoff, an Israeli-American, “traces his commitment to breaking America’s oil addiction to his Israeli roots. As a young boy, he lost his father in the 1967 Six Day War. Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, Aronoff’s stepbrother and his new wife were both killed in the World Trade Center attack. In the wake of 9/11, Aronoff began to turn his attention to answering the question of how to free the U.S. economy from its dependence on imported oil, which he believes would, in turn, help ensure America’s geopolitical security.” This bio conveniently leaves out that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces, a fact I found in an old Quest software bio of him.

In a Power Point presentation that Aronoff made in 2008 called “Oil: A Story About Addiction”, this slide speaks to how getting off Middle East oil helps Israel. “Oil and the Jihad Ideology” states:

  • Two-thirds of oil reserves are in the hands of Islamic countries.
  • Petrodollar based countries have no need for employment taxation to finance their activities, have no need to invest in education and well being of the population, use the economic success of oil to propagate radical ideology throughout the globe
  • To avert civil unrest the governments found far away enemies to blame for the daily hardship…Israel and the US. There are no better examples than Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Also, listed in “Pump’s” credits as funders are Beverly Hills Israeli billionaire Haim Saban and his wife. Saban has repeatedly said, “I’m a one issue guy, and that issue is Israel.” In 2006, energy independence was one of the topics discussed at a “closed session” at Saban’s think tank, the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

There are other foundations and think tanks founded and funded by wealthy Jewish Americans that link energy independence with national security, including the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, founded by oil and gas billionaire Robert Belfer.

The Council for a Secure America’s website makes the connection between US energy independence to Israel. “Since 2006, the United States has decreased imports as a percentage of U.S. oil consumption from 60 percent to less than 45 percent, thus reducing the leverage that oil producing countries in the Middle East have on U.S. foreign policy and strengthening our ally Israel.” And it is elaborated on in this article.

Pump: The “Problem”

The film “Pump” does not examine either of these ideas: the “trillion-dollar business of the decade” or security for Israel. So how did the Tickells go about priming the pump, no pun intended, for the acceptance of these ideas? Through a great story.

George Marshall, founder of the Climate Information Network, says that people are motivated to act by stories not data. And every good story needs a villain. In “Pump,” the entire first half of the film tells us stories of how Big Oil is responsible for the destruction of mass transit, Prohibition, all wars, the killing of methanol as a viable fuel, the killing of the renewable energy standards, the financial collapse of 2008 and the bankruptcy of Detroit. It also states that the booming economy of Brazil is due to their getting off petroleum and onto sugarcane-based ethanol. As an activist fighting fracking, no one hates Big Oil more than me. But these accusations are reductionist at best and mendacious at worst.

In making Big Oil the bad guy, the film advances an oft-repeated theory that in order to ensure Americans’ reliance on oil, Standard Oil, Mack Truck, Phillips Petroleum and Firestone Tires conspired to destroy the excellent public trolley system in LA and across the country and replace it with oil consuming motor buses. According to Guy Spahn, "Clearly, GM waged a war on electric traction. It was indeed an all out assault, but by no means the single reason for the failure of rapid transit.”

The filmmakers correctly attribute the OPEC oil embargo to the 1973 Arab Israeli war and the animosity of the Arab oil producing countries for Israel. Amy Meyers Jaffe, Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California, discusses the devastating effects the oil embargo had on our economy in the 70s. Images of people stuck on long gas lines during the period of gas rationing are shown. In one masterful use of imagery, Tickell shows a photo of a man standing at the gas line with a gun. The message is that if we lose access to fuel, anarchy will ensue. The question is posed: “How can we solve the problem where OPEC controls the destiny of the average American?” Our entire destiny? Really?

(It should be noted that Myers Jaffe’s research focuses on “oil and natural gas geopolitics, strategic energy policy, corporate investment strategies in the energy sector, and energy economics.” Last year at a Union of Concerned Scientists forum on fracking at UCLA, I heard her make a case for the benefits of fracking while minimizing its risks. Her book Natural Gas and Geopolitics: From 1970 to 2040 advocates for the global development of natural gas as a solution to our energy and geopolitical problems.)

Pump Documentary

In addressing how we attempted to solve the problem of reliance on OPEC oil, the film lists the other countries where we get oil and the military bases we installed to protect it. One of the film’s experts says “If we can get away from sending our soldiers to die for oil, you can’t put a price on that.” The filmmakers want you to believe the simplistic solution to stopping wars is getting off of foreign oil. There is no mention of the other causes of war: other geopolitical interests, the military industrial complex or terrorism.

There is one scene which shows the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota where they frack for tight oil. The first of only two comments on the negative effects of fracking comes in this one line that says people are “concerned about the effects on water and air. But as the debate continues, fracking is growing at a record pace.”

There is no real “debate” about the effects of fracking on water and air. Study after study has shown that fracking pollutes both the groundwater and the air, causes earthquakes, increases climate change, causes the industrialization of suburban and rural landscapes and uses too much water in states like California and Texas that are plagued by chronic droughts. Describing these “concerns” as a “debate” is like saying there is a debate over whether climate change exists or whether it is caused by human behavior.

The film states that we have gone from being the ninth largest producer of oil in the world to the second. Since this film was completed, we have become the first, surpassing Saudi Arabia. This comes directly as a result of Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy where we are drilling in many US states, in public lands, off-shore and in the Arctic. As every climate scientist will tell you, we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground in order to prevent a two-degree Celsius increase in temperature to avoid the most serious effects of global warming.

The film says we went from drilling 5000 wells a year in 2000 to 25,000 now, but wells produce the most oil when new. The question is then asked, “Where is the benefit to American drivers of increased fracking?” The former Shell oil executive says, “If we rely on our own production of crude, we will die trying.” This is actually the argument we fractivists have been making, which is that there is not enough oil in the ground to meet our energy needs. But the way we will “die trying” is from the poisoning of our water and air and climate change not from running out of oil. While the film makes this negative comment specifically about oil fracking, the same comments can be applied to natural gas fracking.

The film fast-forwards to 2008. “When oil hit $120 a barrel, there were food riots. When it hit $147, everything hit the roof. Sixty days later the stock market fell 770 points in a single day.” Economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin calls the financial collapse “an aftershock.” To lead the audience to believe that the financial collapse of 2008 was a result of increased oil prices as opposed to the result of the financial deregulation at the end of the Clinton administration and the monetary policies of Alan Greenspan, which led to a housing bubble and bust, is really appalling.

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They continue by saying the price of oil going up led to the recession, which led to unemployment, which led to people wanting smaller cars, which led to the GM bankruptcy, completely ignoring the competition from foreign cars and the terrible mismanagement of the auto companies. Then they demonstrate the power of imagery by showing the beautiful homes that used to exist in Detroit contrasted with pictures of the dilapidated housing today. “The industry that built Detroit,” says one of their experts, “is the same one that destroyed it.”

While their expert concedes, “Detroit went bust for a number of reasons,” there is no discussion about how the decline of the rust belt states track the decline in the labor movement and our free trade policies as auto factories moved south to non-union states and there was increased competition from foreign cars. Nor is their any mention that Detroit’s bankruptcy was due in large part to a corrupt local government and predatory Wall Street banks.

That would have been inconvenient to their simplistic narrative, which sums up the evils of oil in one sweeping sentence: “War, environmental crises, climate change, political instability, weakened nation, profits robbed, all due to oil addiction. Until there is a will, there will be no way. The people who control the resource control us. They have us just where they want us,” says the narrator conspiratorially. I was surprised they didn’t have a shot of Monopoly Man twirling his moustaches with evil music in the background.

Pump: The “Solution”

In the second half of the film, the Tickells offer a solution, which happens to be a free market, libertarian one. “The way to break up a monopoly is with competition. We need choices including a car that doesn’t use oil at all.” The film talks about electric cars, but says batteries are too expensive now; most electricity comes from coal, natural gas and wind; and it will take three decades to switch to electric cars. They ask “What about the 1.3 trillion internal combustion engines that are on the road now?”

Now comes the next falsehood in the film. “Brazil is booming because of choice at the pump.” The film states that Brazil’s decision to replace oil with ethanol from sugarcane in the ‘70s led “their economy to grow by trillions. Millions of people who were starving are now fed. Their debt is completely paid off. And they are completely and totally independent of oil.” Then they say, “As far as food versus fuel, nothing is being displaced to make ethanol.” Tell that to the tens of thousands of indigenous peoples whose land was stolen to grow sugar cane. They went from being able to produce their own food and sustain their own way of life to being wage slaves on what was once their own land.

The film states this “took 40 million Brazilians into the middle class.” The growth of the Brazilian economy comes from many factors. What is probably more causative to the rise of the middle class in Brazil were the Plano Real reforms introduced in 1994. Also, the film makes no mention that in Brazil, inequality is worsening. And the farming of both sugarcane and soybeans has led to the wholesale destruction of the Brazilian rainforest and the exacerbation of climate change.

The film says alcohol was the first fuel that Henry Ford used in the automobile. But then John D. Rockefeller saw that as a threat and ensured that Prohibition was passed, prohibiting the sale of all alcohol. Pretty big whopper! There is no mention that the American temperance movement, dating back to the 1830s and 40s, was responsible for Prohibition and that the anti-Saloon League was the most powerful single issue lobby group of the day. Rockefeller was just one of many disparate groups including the Democrats and the Republicans, the Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP that worked to pass Prohibition.

Addressing the common argument that ethanol drives up food prices, the narrator says, conspiratorially, “That’s exactly what some people want you to believe. The same industry that fought it 100 years ago is fighting it today.” At this point in the film, the oil industry has been so demonized that the audience will believe anything.

While alcohol can come from many sources, ethanol from corn is what is used in this country making up 10% of all fuel. “The only thing standing in its way is Big Oil,” says the film. Addressing the common argument that ethanol drives up food prices, the narrator says, conspiratorially, “That’s exactly what some people want you to believe. The same industry that fought it 100 years ago is fighting it today.” At this point in the film, the oil industry has been so demonized that the audience will believe anything.

To dispel the belief that growing land to produce corn based ethanol takes land away from growing food, they show that ethanol is a natural by-product of distilling cattle feed from corn. So it is being made anyway. They don’t show that that is only one source of the ethanol. In another Aronoff video on YouTube, he says 40% of our corn grown is grown for ethanol. There is no examination in “Pump” of whether we should be feeding cattle corn, which is unnatural to their diet, whether we should even be using land to raise cattle instead of raising grain, a more energy efficient use of land, or whether over the entire lifecycle of ethanol, it uses more energy than it creates, all ideas they gave credence to in their film “Fuel.” But in this film, they have funders to please.

The next fuel they tout is methanol, which they show to be cleaner burning and less explosive. They state that when California was instituting air quality rules in the ‘70s, Ford and Volkswagen experimented with methanol cars. But then in 1981, thanks to the lobbying of - guess who, the EPA implemented amendments to the Clean Air Act, which led to a reformulation of gas to make it cleaner, so they didn’t have to use methanol. In comes our ubiquitous narrator driving home the main theme of the movie: “Oil companies won and methanol lost.”

In fact, the EPA forced these amendments on car companies because of the newly invented three-way catalyst. This was an improvement to the catalytic converter, because it reduced more pollutants. So methanol was no longer needed to meet the California clean air standards.

Then we come to the point in the film where they say that methanol can be made from natural gas. At this point, the filmmakers cannot ignore the vast public outcry that has been directed against the process of fracking for natural gas. So they set it up this way. There is such a glut of natural gas that gas companies are flaring it into the air. So if it is being produced anyway, we might as well use it for fuel. “Clearly industry can improve its practices. But love it or hate it, natural gas is here to stay.”

The reason the gas industry is flaring is that there are not enough pipelines to get it to market. And the high cost of pipelines and low price of natural gas makes it uneconomical to build them. But Obama and his Energy Secretary, whose research at MIT was funded by the natural gas industry, are trying their hardest to build more pipeline s, refineries to liquefy natural gas (LNG) and export terminals to ship both LNG and coal overseas. If you’ve read anything about all the leaks and explosions over the past few years since the shale oil and gas boom began, you know that pipeline expansion does not bode well for human health or the environment.

Furthermore, if LNG export terminals are approved, this country will see an explosion of fracking even worse than what we’ve seen already. And with it more groundwater and air pollution, more earthquakes, billions more gallons of water wasted and increased climate change. And ironically, if they do succeed with their plan to export LNG and lift the 40 year oil export ban, both of which Obama and his industry captured Energy Secretary are trying to do, the cost of both fuels will go up, because the price is set on the world market. We will send most of it to China where they will pay more. So we will frack up the country and not even end up with low prices, energy independence or that trillion-dollar methanol industry Eyal Aronoff is touting.

The Filmmakers Respond

While Rebecca Tickell insists that the film does not promote fracking, to say that the “industry can improve its practices” is to imply that fracking can be done safely and cleanly. Further, to proclaim “natural gas is here to stay” implies resignation to this state of affairs, hardly motivating if you really want your audience to hate and fight fracking. No filmmakers can seriously call themselves environmentalists if they produce a film that advocates for anything less than the banning of this horrific practice.

Rebecca wrote: “The movie does not "advocate fracking," but instead it actually shows with onscreen graphics and clear math - that we can create all of the natural gas and methanol we would need to replace America's liquid energy needs - sustainably - with sewage, trash, animal waste, landfill gas and CO2 pulled from the atmosphere. Also natural gas (CH4) or "methane" created from sewage and landfills is by far the cheapest form of CH4 that can be produced, and CO2 from the atmosphere for free.”

However, according to Jack Eidt, Wilder Utopia Publisher and Board Director of the LA Biodiesel Coop:

“The concept of scaling up production of methanol to rival fossil fuels would require a massive transition. The most economical feedstock for methanol is the fossil fuel natural gas, and the most common source is from fracking. While it is true that sewage, animal waste, and landfill gas exist as decent feedstocks, we are a long way from making that transition on a large scale. Anaerobic digesters are illegal in many places, and their significant future potential would require political and economic factors to be overcome.

Landfill gas is already being collected and put into use local to those landfills. The burning of trash will never be a sustainable and clean way of producing energy, and though pyrolysis (gasification, plasma arc) of certain biomass may have some limited applications, it is dirty and dangerous when used for waste like tires, medical wastes, plastics, etc.

Also, turning waste streams into fuel will have the unenviable consequence of requiring our waste streams to compound at a time when the zero waste movement is making gains. To wait to scale up waste streams to compete with fossil fuels would take way longer than improving the battery technology for EVs as well as redesigning cars with fiber composites and scaling up wind and solar, which are already happening.”

While the Tickells might not have intended to make a film advocating fracking, the funders and the experts of the film have been touting it in articles and in public appearances.

While the Tickells might not have intended to make a film advocating fracking, the funders and the experts of the film have been touting it in articles and in public appearances. When I asked what she thought of that, Rebecca said, “anything not in the movie we cannot vouch for.”

She said that when they showed the shots of fracking in the Bakken Shale, they intentionally used eerie music and a clip where John Hofmeister said, “It’s a dirty fuel.” Well, he said that because they frack for oil in the Bakken Shale, not natural gas. And oil is the villain in this film.

Furthermore, while she told me “nowhere do we promote natural gas in the film,” she must have forgotten the scene in the film that includes a man extolling the virtues of natural gas. “It’s cleaner. It’s abundant right here in America. It’s AMERICAN!” That scene is actually in the trailer, which they are using extensively to promote the film, which is slated to be released in 20 cities nationwide.

Last week, Sean Hannity touted the film on Fox News. When he asked John Hofmeister whether fracking poisons our water, “What does the EPA say, John?” - surely a set-up question - Hofmeister replied, “EPA head Gina McCarthy has said there is not a single documented case of polluted water from hydrofracking,” which is a total lie. Three EPA investigations into contaminated groundwater were halted by the Obama administration after proof was uncovered.

Hofmeister then goes on to say fracking is not without risks, but that with regulation, it can be done right. In fact, due to the Halliburton loophole, fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and several other federal regulations. Also, regulators are totally captured by industry in every state. The Center for Biological Diversity just reported that the industry is ignoring the disclosure laws mandated by SB 4, last year’s weak fracking regulatory bill in California, and the state agency is doing nothing about it.

When I shared Hofmeister’s comments with Rebecca, she said that she and Josh “didn’t share all the same viewpoints as the people in the film.” So then I asked her if she could see how the film could be used to promote the use of natural gas, she said she “could definitely see that…but this movie is not going to make people drill more.”

She said it was good that people like Hannity were promoting the film, because “you don’t have people from that side talking about how you have to get off oil…We have to start a conversation with someone other than the Green choir.” Well, actually the right has been talking about energy independence for years.

What she seemed to miss was that Sean Hannity was talking only about getting off foreign oil not oil in general. The title of the segment was: “New documentary seeks to end US dependence on foreign oil.” And the graphic behind Hannity said “Drill Baby Drill.”

In another video interview, Gal Luft, another Fuel Freedom Foundation board member and expert featured in “Pump,” says that oil companies are becoming natural gas companies. “John Hofmeister, former president of Shell, told me that Shell last year became a de facto natural gas company. So if you -- half of your portfolio is natural gas, you -- it is in your interest to shift some of the effort to creating demand for natural gas, you make more money on your natural gas even if it means less money on your oil, whereas a country like Saudi Arabia cannot afford to accept a deal like this.”

When I asked Rebecca how she felt about the fact that the very oil monopoly she vilified in all three of her films was moving into natural gas, something her film promoted, she said it was “very scary.”

When I asked Rebecca how she felt about the fact that the very oil monopoly she vilified in all three of her films was moving into natural gas, something her film promoted, she said it was “very scary.”

Chapter Three of Luft’s book “Petropoly: The Collapse of America’s Energy Pardigm” is called “Hope and Change: America’s Natural Gas.” A promo for the book on Amazon reads “On the bright side, a revolution in extraction technologies has opened the door to unconventional natural gas.”

As Josh Tickell said to the Daily Beast writer, “There was a moment at the end of the meeting when we looked at each other and knew in our gut we should get up and leave, but we made the wrong choice. I didn’t look into my gut, and I regret that,” Josh Tickell says. I wonder if someday he might feel the same way about whom he had to get into bed with to make this film.

What is most alarming about “Pump,” which I hope will not last long in theaters, is what Tickell said at the screening I attended. He wants to “put it into the iPad, laptop, Note and Twitter feed of every student…What would it be like,” he asked, “if the best parts of this movie were taught in every school?” My answer: it would be just as horrific as if the Koch Brothers climate change denial junk science was taught in every school. It could set back the movement to get us off fossil fuels and onto renewables. And I have no doubt the Fuel Freedom Foundation is planning to fund this endeavor as well.

The Film’s and My Conclusion

To advance their agenda, the FFF needs cars converted to run on biofuels and legislation to advance the Open Fuel standard. The rest of the film shows that many cars on the road are already flex fuel vehicles but many owners don’t know it. They show how one can install a kit or hack the car’s computer to convert any car to flex fuel. The film talks about how we need to increase the infrastructure of flex fuel gas stations and pass the Open Fuel Standard.

“Pump” closes by restating its theme: freedom of choice. “Americans have been hearing about energy independence since 1974. But nothing has been done. It’s time to give Americans choice. We cannot rely on government. We cannot rely on corporations. Americans have to rely on themselves.” Bashing government and corporations! This is an argument that both Tea Partiers and Occupiers can love. They go on to say “It is as American as American can be. Everybody has a chance for a better future. And a better future begins at the pump

There is nothing inherently objectionable about freedom of choice. But when it is used as a buzzword to cover up agendas like those of the Fuel Freedom Foundation and the libertarian Koch Brothers’ Freedom Partners, let the buyer beware. It is unrealistic to expect that people exercising free choice will solve the problem of climate change. Individuals and corporations pursuing their free market interests have gotten us into the mess we are in today.

It will require massive government action to solve the climate crisis. The Tickells understood this when they made “Fuel.” In that film, one of Tickell’s experts says, “It’s going to take everyone. It’s going to take every corporate entity. It’s going to take every government power to create the world that we have to create in order to survive.”


The danger of this is that “Pump” is really persuasive as a piece of propaganda. A lot of liberal friends who are against fracking did not make the connection after seeing this film. If people are just sucked into the story of the big bad oil companies thwarting Americans’ freedom of choice, they are going to walk away from this movie not thinking about the hard choices they and all of us have to make to get off fossil fuels. Instead they will think about how they can reconfigure their cars to get cheaper gas and feel smug about it because they are sticking it to Big Oil.

At the end of my investigation, I have come to believe that the Tickells are well-intentioned people who were hamstrung by their funders. As Rebecca said to the Daily Beast writer about the fake anti-fracking film, “As documentary filmmakers, the biggest challenge we have is raising money for films. When that call came along, we were really grateful to have funding for this film that we thought was very important.”

If the Tickells really wanted to make a movie about how to get off oil and power the world, including transportation fuel, with alternative sources, they could have made a movie about Mark Jacobson, the Stanford professor who has developed a plan to power our economy on 100% renewable sources, mostly solar, wind and water, by 2030. Rebecca told me she never heard of him or his website Maybe that can be the subject of their next film. Any billionaires out there who support renewables? Tom Steyer, are you game?

Lauren Steiner

Lauren Steiner

Lauren Steiner

Republished from Alternet with the author's permission.