Next from ProPublica: Hydrofracturing Will Awaken Godzilla

By November 13, 2009General

The good people at Energy In Depth, an alliance of natural gas and oil producers, have assumed the essential if unenviable task of responding to the campaign against hydrofracturing led by ProPublica. The activist journalistic outfit’s latest piece raises a scare about natural gas from shale deposits in New York being radioactive. RADIOACTIVE! The story is “Is New York’s Marcellus Shale Too Hot to Handle?

No. The answer is no. Unless you consider normal background levels from naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) to be by definition too high.

As Energy In Depth reports, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in September released an 804-page draft document (.pdf) on the regulatory management of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (the injection of fluids under high pressure to free the natural gas from low-permeable shale formations). The DEC field surveys produced “results, which indicate levels of radioactivity that are essentially background values, do not indicate an exposure concern for workers or the general public associated with Marcellus cuttings.” (Page 5-30)

And from page 6-130:

Oil and gas NORM occurs in both liquid (produced waters), solid (pipe scale, cuttings, tank and pit sludges), and gaseous states (produced gas). Although the largest volume of NORM is in produced waters, it does not present a risk to workers because the external radiation levels are very low. However, the build-up of NORM in pipes and equipment (scale) has the potential to expose workers handling (cleaning or maintenance) the pipe to increased radiation levels. Also filter media from the treatment of production waters may concentrate NORM and require controls to limit radiation exposure to workers handling this material.

So, risks are not zero. But for the potential, slight risks for a small number of workers, the state agency and industry are well prepared. Energy in Depth concludes:

Make no mistake: NORM is an issue that producers of energy have always taken very seriously – and one that states, communities and the federal government have studied, regulated and monitored extensively for decades. Why would any of that change in New York?

We’re not sure how it is that ProPublica’s editors decided that hydrofracturing should emerge as one of its defining journalistic campaigns. Whatever the thought process, nearly every story from its reporter Abrahm Lustgarten damns hydrofracturing and is written to alarm the public.

The anti-energy, anti-business approach seems destined to continue. Funded by the left-leaning Sandler Foundation, ProPublica claims to pursue investigative reporting in the public interest. And yet its editors declare, “We uncover unsavory practices in order to stimulate reform.” So every subject ProPublica pursues is by definition “unsavory” and demanding of reform.

While hydrofracturing technology has been around for decades and is regulated by the states, its use has rapidly expanded to seize the opportunities represented in shale gas. Given that growth — a promising development for energy security — the environmental implications are a legitimate topic for serious journalism.

Unfortunately, what readers get from ProPublica is agenda journalism, reporting that serves something other than the public interest.

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