WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The director of a U.S. documentary that portrays shale gas production as dangerous was arrested and escorted out of a Republican-dominated Congressional hearing on Wednesday, touching off a dispute over public access to the event.
Police handcuffed Josh Fox, director of the Oscar-nominated Gasland, and led him out of a House science committee room after he refused to stop filming.
Republicans in charge of the committee said Fox lacked credentials to tape the hearing, which was being broadcast live on the Internet.
The hearing focused on an Environmental Protection Agency draft report that found an aquifer in Wyoming was likely polluted by fluids from hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique scrutinized in Fox’s controversial documentary.
U.S. Representative Brad Miller, the top Democrat on a science subcommittee, objected to the decision to eject Fox. He said Republicans had also blocked an ABC News crew from filming the hearing because they had not requested to film in advance.
“All those rules are to control access,” said Miller, who made a motion that “all God’s children” be allowed to film the hearing.
Miller’s move delayed the hearing for nearly 50 minutes until the required number of lawmakers were present to vote on the motion.
The documentary has garnered particular attention for a scene featuring flaming tapwater. Shale gas supporters have said the film is filled with inaccuracies and distorts the safety record of U.S. shale gas production.
Congressman Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat who has been pushing for more oversight of shale gas production, called Fox’s arrest “beyond unacceptable”.
“This is blatant censorship and a shameful stain on this Congress,” Hinchey said in a statement.
Shale gas output has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. While innovations have sharply boosted production of U.S. natural gas, critics say the rapidly expanding development threatens drinking water and public health.
Since the release of Gasland, Fox has become a high-profile opponent of fracking, joining efforts to prevent drilling in the Delaware River Basin and working to get water to families in Dimock, Pennsylvania, who say their water has been tainted by drilling.
When the House hearing resumed, Republicans, who strongly support the natural gas drilling, accused the EPA of basing its findings in Wyoming on politics and not science.
“In its single-minded pursuit of the hydraulic fracturing smoking gun, EPA appears to have lost focus on identifying the real causes and real solutions to drinking water quality problems in Pavillion, Wyoming,” said Andy Harris, the top Republican on the subcommittee.
The EPA defended its work in Pavillion. EPA region 8 administrator Jim Martin stressed that its study was conducted under rigorous standards and the findings were limited to the unique geology in Pavillion and not meant to be applied to other places where drilling is occurring.
“EPA has acted carefully, thoughtfully, deliberately, and transparently in our ground water investigation and in sharing the data and findings contained in our draft report,” Martin said.
Editing by David Gregorio and Dale Hudson