Following the EPA fracking report
America's mass media let us down
The EPA's report on fracking came out at the end of last week and most of the news reports suggested that the EPA had concluded that fracking was not a threat to our drinking water. Here, for example, is the original AP article. On Friday, the Intelligencer chose not to run the original AP article and instead featured a front page article written by staff reporter Casey Junkins. With the largest font on the front page, the headline proclaimed "EPA: Fracking No Water Threat." Junkin's article featured most of the same points as the AP article except that it did not include comments from groups that argued that the EPA was not saying that the water was necessarily safe. For example (from the AP article):
But Lauren Pagel, policy director of the environmental group Earthworks, said, “Today EPA confirmed what communities living with fracking have known for years: fracking pollutes drinking water.”
“Now the Obama administration, Congress and state governments must act on that information to protect our drinking water and stop perpetuating the oil and gas industry’s myth that fracking is safe,” she said.
Instead, the Junkins article included some additional quotes from industry sources.
On Friday a deputy EPA administrator appeared to question what the media was reporting about the study. According to the Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward Jr.:
Despite statements from industry officials and political leaders, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials say that their new study of the nation’s natural gas boom should not be described as proof that the nation’s water supplies are safe from hydraulic fracturing.
“That is not the message of this report,” said EPA science advisor and deputy administrator Thomas A. Burke. “The message of this report is that we have identified vulnerabilities in the water system that are really important to know about and address to keep risks as low as possible.”
On Sunday, the AP put out another article on the report (that looks to be based on the Ward article) which seemed to back away from some of the conclusions drawn in the original article:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Despite statements from industry officials and political leaders, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials say their new study of the nation's natural gas boom should not be described as proof the nation's water supplies are safe from hydraulic fracturing.
The Charleston Gazette reports the EPA's science adviser and deputy administrator Thomas A. Burke says the message of the report is that vulnerabilities in the water have been identified and they are important to know about and address to keep risks as low as possible.
Burke made his comments in an interview on Friday, one day after the agency released its draft report.
Compared to the thousands of news sources that covered the original EPA story only 353 ran the AP clarification as of 9 PM Monday. (By the way, the Intelligencer did not publish the AP update although it was posted online).
Friday's front-page headline that fracking is not a threat to our drinking water is what most Americans will remember about this story. That's too bad -- the study's real conclusions appear to be much more nuanced. What can I say? This problem is not just confined to our local "newspapers." Simply put, America's mass media did a poor job of covering this story.