ProPublica on Fracking, the Marcellus Shale and Natural Gas


Paul Steiger at the Samara / Massey Journalism Seminar; Photo credit Salim Bamakhrama

Much of the Canadian media elite gathered at the Samara / Massey Journalism Seminar to hear Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and now editor-in-chief of ProPublica, a non-profit investigative newsroom in New York. Propublica was founded to fill the void left as newspapers cut investigative journalism as an expensive luxury in the face of the online onslaught. It has a team of "32 working journalists" covering important stories and offers them to papers under a creative commons licence. They call themselves "the largest, best-led and best-funded investigative journalism operation in the United States."

A good example is a story that we at TreeHugger have been following (often using ProPublica as a source): Natural gas production from shale, and its effect on our water supplies. They are about the only journalists giving the story the attention it deserves, and are doing a fabulous job.


images via ProPublica

Journalists Abrahm Lustgarten and Sabrina Shankman have been at it for over a year, explaining the problem with articles like Natural Gas Drilling: What We Don't Know

Gas drilling is often portrayed as the ultimate win-win in an era of hard choices: a new, 100-year supply of cleaner-burning fuel, a risk-free solution to the nation's dependence on foreign energy. In the next 10 years, the United States will use the fracturing technology to drill hundreds of thousands of new wells astride cities, rivers and watersheds. Cash-strapped state governments are pining for the revenue and the much-needed jobs that drilling is expected to bring to poor, rural areas....

More than a year of investigation by ProPublica, however, shows that the issues are far less settled than the industry contends, and that hidden environmental costs could cut deeply into the anticipated benefits.


They explain how there is little regulation:

Larry Parrish knew something was wrong as soon as he wheeled his state-owned pickup off the West Virginia highway and onto the rocky field where the natural gas well was supposed to be. Oak trees 18 inches in diameter looked dead as boards, and brush as brown as kindling stretched across a piece of farmland the size of a football field.

The dead zone in this otherwise lush mountain country meant one thing to Parrish: Gas drillers had been illegally dumping briny water mixed with chemicals, and the waste had killed everything from the rusty well head all the way downhill into a creek.

More in State Oil and Gas Regulators Are Spread Too Thin to Do Their Jobs

They expose how the industry has been lying for a decade about the danger from fracking fluids:

For more than a decade the energy industry has steadfastly argued before courts, Congress and the public that the federal law protecting drinking water should not be applied to hydraulic fracturing [2], the industrial process that is essential to extracting the nation's vast natural gas reserves. In 2005 Congress, persuaded, passed a law prohibiting such regulation.

Now an important part of that argument -- that most of the millions of gallons of toxic chemicals that drillers inject underground are removed for safe disposal, and are not permanently discarded inside the earth -- does not apply to drilling in many of the nation's booming new gas fields.

Three company spokesmen and a regulatory official said in separate interviews with ProPublica that as much as 85 percent of the fluids used during hydraulic fracturing is being left underground after wells are drilled in the Marcellus Shale, the massive gas deposit that stretches from New York to Tennessee.

They have written over sixty articles on the subject of the environmental threat from natural gas drilling. It is the best collection of stuff I have seen on the subject. (Gathered all together here) It is obvious looking at them that we still need this kind of journalism.


TreeHugger post on Natural Gas Fracking

On the other hand, it was very clear that the "working journalists" in the room don't think much of the online media that have destroyed their business. Steiger acknowledged that it is just going to get worse, and that they are now focused on the challenge of taking greater advantage of new media. Yet when I was introduced to Mr. Steiger and asked if there was any way we at TreeHugger could work with him, he responded "the content is Creative Commons, but as for working with you, judging by your name, I don't think so."

I think they will have a ways to go in new media if they have such a dismissive attitude towards it.

Our own coverage on the story:
US Congress May Undo Cheney's "Fracing" Exemption
Hydraulic Fracturing For Natural Gas Development Gets Added Regulatory Scrutiny
Fracking Is Finally Getting Some Attention and Regulation
Jargon Watch: Fracking

Tags: Natural Gas

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