“I think he ignores us at his own moral peril,” the “Gasland” director and fracking opponent told POLITICO in an interview last week.
“History will be the judge,” Fox added. “When you talk about chemicals in the ground, those chemicals have Barack Obama’s initials on them. Obama is the guy who presided over more fracking than [George W.] Bush. Is fracking going to be Obama’s legacy?”
Fox called Obama’s record on fracking “extremely disappointing,” saying the president has not taken activists’ concerns about the technique seriously. He said Obama has also largely turned a blind eye to his pleas to meet with people who have suffered harm because of hydraulic fracturing.
“To ignore the largest grass-roots movement on the environment in several decades when you’re a president that was elevated by the grass-roots movement, when you are a president who was elected by those same people, that to me is an abdication of responsibility. It’s negligence,” the Oscar-nominated director said. “I have to go to the president and call him out even though I’m a supporter of him on many, many, many other issues. It’s difficult.”
He and other liberal activists have long chafed at the president’s embrace of natural gas, which Obama routinely lumps in with wind and solar as cleaner forms of energy. Fox is also not happy with Washington’s overall response to the natural gas boom, which has led some policymakers to champion gas as a less climate-threatening alternative to coal.
Obama has tried to strike a balance on gas, calling for oversight of fracking while touting the economic benefits that come from the gas boom. But efforts to regulate fracking on the federal level have been slow, including one proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to impose restrictions on the practice’s use on federal and tribal lands.
Fox was heading on Friday to Pittsburgh to join thousands of young environmental activists at the biannual Power Shift conference, where other scheduled speakers included Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
Organizers held the event in Pittsburgh in part because the city was the first in the nation to ban natural gas drilling. Pennsylvania lies on the Marcellus Shale formation, making it a ground-zero for fracking.
Organizers also planned to train attendees on how to run campaigns on college campuses and in their home states focused on organizing the youth vote, “nonviolent direct action” and divesting from fossil fuels.
Conference attendees want the Environmental Protection Agency to reopen investigations into groundwater contamination in Dimock, Pa., Pavillion, Wyo., and Parker County, Texas. Fox said activists had so far gathered more than 270,000 signatures on a petition asking EPA to reopen the investigations.
EPA halted its investigation into contaminated water in Pavillion in June, turning the probe over to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, which will receive funding from the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation via Encana Corp., the company whose fracking is accused of tainting the groundwater supply.
EPA said it was turning its focus toward its national study into the relationship between fracking and drinking water.
The agency also discontinued water testing in Dimock, where citizens were concerned that a Cabot Oil and Gas well had contaminated a nearby aquifer. The agency conducted several tests with mixed results, though the most recent tests conducted in the spring of 2012 did not show contamination levels of concern, EPA said. The agency stopped deliveries of fresh water to the affected homes last year.
The back-and-forth pattern also cropped up in Parker County, where EPA issued an emergency order in 2010 requiring the oil and gas producer Range Resources to stop drilling after residents complained their water had been fouled. EPA later dropped the order without prejudice in March 2012. The Associated Press later alleged that EPA pulled back on investigating Range after the company threatened to not cooperate in the agency’s national fracking study. The EPA Inspector General’s office began an investigation into the case in the summer of 2012.
“What we’re really doing is saying: ‘President Obama, look, this is crazy. We have to have a government that is based on science,’” Fox said.
Obama is no stranger to Power Shift. He met with conference organizers at the White House in 2011, where activists say he told them, “My job is to govern; your job is to push me.”
More broadly, Fox said there will be consequences in the years ahead if the Democratic Party doesn’t listen to progressive opposition to fracking.
“If we’re building a society based on human rights and democracy, you simply cannot ignore this outcry,” he said. He added, “The leaders of the 21st century are going to be people who take on this issue.”