CA media ignore Obama administration’s fracking views

energy.dept.reportMay 14, 2013

By Chris Reed

The debate over hydraulic fracturing — using high-powered water cannons to reach natural gas and oil reserves deep underground — is heating up in California, driven by the vast economic potential of the Monterey shale formation under vast swaths of the state.

Last month, a committee of the California Legislature passed three bills targeting “fracking.” A Nexis account shows hundreds of mentions of hydraulic fracturing in state newspapers over the past 12 months.

Given the extent of media interest and the high stakes for the state’s economy, one would think the Obama administration’s position on the safety of fracking would be central to coverage of California’s possible expanded use of the energy-exploration process. The president, after all, is broadly seen as the greenest president in history, using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and his executive powers to advance far-reaching regulations.

Just another heavy industry with ‘challenging but manageable’ pollution

doe_logoIt would thus seem to be highly relevant that:

— A task force commissioned by the Obama administration’s Energy Department concluded in a 23-page report issued in November 2011 that fracking was just another heavy industry, one with significant but manageable pollution concerns.

— The president’s first energy secretary, UC Berkeley’s Steven Chu, said: “We believe it’s possible to extract shale gas in a way that protects the water, that protects people’s health. We can do this safely.”

— Chu’s replacement, MIT physicist Ernest Moniz, said the risk that fracking posed to water supplies was “challenging but manageable.”

epa_logo— The president’s first Environmental Protection Agency director, Lisa Jackson, disputed claims that fracking, which occurs 5,000 feet below the surface, had polluted water tables which are usually less than 1,000 feet below the surface. She testified before a House committee that she was “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

It is true that the White House has prevented fossil-fuel exploration on federal lands, which perhaps can be interpreted as opposition to fracking. But at a very basic level, the Obama administration has disagreed with the central claims of the anti-fracking campaign, which build on the idea that the process is new, unproven and hugely destructive to the environment.

Plenty of coverage — but none of it mentions Obama administration’s view

Here is a short list of recent California newspaper coverage that mentions greens’ warnings about hydraulic fracturing but never acknowledges that the Obama administration is on record as essentially dismissing greens’ claims and supporting fracking’s use:

— A May 9 column in the Ventura County Star by Timm Herdt headlined, “Drilling for a middle ground on fracking.”

— A May 2 story in the San Francisco Chronicle headlined, “Fracking in drought regions a bad recipe.”

— A May 1 column in the Sacramento Bee by Dan Morain headlined, “Calculating the profits, pitfalls of an oil tax.”

— An April 29 story in the Ventura County Star headlined, “Assembly committee passes three bills to impose fracking moratorium.”

—An April 20 story in the Ventura County Star headlined, “New leases reveal an oil land rush in Ventura County.”

— An April 13 story in the Los Angeles Times headlined, “Report urges tough rules on fracking.”

— An April 11 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle headlined, “Ground rules: On fracking.”

— An April 10 story in the Los Angeles Times headlined, “California Senate panel approves bill to regulate ‘fracking’.”

— An April 9 story in the San Francisco Chronicle headlined, “Foes of fracking win case — delay in drilling likely.”

This list could be far longer. I have been following the fracking issue intensely in California for a year and have never seen a newspaper story that even mentioned the Obama administration’s views in passing.

The juicy angle on greens and fracking that’s never shared with public

fracking.equipIt’s impossible to know if ideology or groupthink or a combination of both is driving this bizarre omission of basic facts from fracking coverage. But one way or the other, it’s indefensible as journalism — especially because of the juicy story that awaits telling by the mainstream media:

Hydraulic fracturing has been a common tool in oil and gas exploration since the 1970s, and has been around since the late 1940s. It was only after it became a much more efficient and refined process in the last decade and began generating vast amounts of natural gas and oil that environmentalists began to object to it.

But this increased efficiency has also made fracking cleaner and less wasteful than ever. Less water is used, more is recycled — and there’s a race on to improve recycling technology.

Isn’t that worthy of coverage? That greens didn’t object to the much dirtier version of fracking for decades but only griped when it got efficient — and much cleaner?

Of course it is.

But if this juicy, important, obvious angle ever appears in the Times, Mercury-News, Bee or Chronicle, it will likely come as a complete surprise to subscribers. California’s environmental reporters simply refuse to cover the big picture on fracking.

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