’60 Minutes’, Hydrofracturing, and Cowboys Beat Giants

“60 Minutes” ran a segment Sunday on the growth of natural gas production in the United States thanks to hydrofracturing; the technology uses pressurized fluids to crack shale formations deep underground to release the gas. Given the CBS program’s tendency to sensationalize, we were a little surprised to see industry representatives make such positive comments about the piece, “Energy: The Pros and Cons of Shale Gas Drilling: Emerging Energy Source Burns Cleaner Than Coal, Could Reduce U.S. Dependence On Foreign Oil.”

As The Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre reported in “TV report focuses on gas drilling”:

Chris Tucker, of EnergyInDepth.org, an organization that promotes the benefits of natural gas drilling, said the segment was “fairly balanced,” although the show didn’t get everything right.

“I think they did a great job of telling the story of real people, everyday people, all across the country whose lives have changed for the better thanks to the development of this clean, American resource,” Tucker said.

“They didn’t quite get it right when they attempted to venture into the regulatory history of hydraulic fracturing. The reality is that fracturing technology is among the most thoroughly regulated procedures that takes place at the wellsite, which is a big reason why it’s been able to compile such a solid record of safety and performance over the past 60 years of commercial use.”

The most heated debates over hydrofracking are occurring in Pennsylvania and New York, regions where the Marcellus Shale formation is being developed (less so in New York). Critics often claim methane contaminates water wells and even causes explosions. A “60 Minutes” scene showed a man lighting a flame while filling a water jug from his well. But, as Travis Windle of the Marcellus Shale Coalition points out in the Times-Leader story, “Pennsylvania has a long and well-documented history of naturally occurring methane entering private water wells. ‘It will take private water well standards and fact-based reporting on pre-existing methane in water wells from shallow sources of contamination to demonstrate how safe shale gas development is,’ he said.”

Natural gas production and hydrofracture technology are also big issues in the Fort Worth area, home of the Barnett Shale formation. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also reported on the “60 Minutes” segment:

Many North Texans might have missed the report on KTVT, Channel 11 because it coincided with the final minutes of the Dallas Cowboys game on KDFW, Channel 4, in which they upset the New York Giants.
Finally, what an odd coincidence: The CBS drama series, “CSI,” did a preposterous episode on hydrofracturing and murder last week. Then, “60 Minutes” runs a segment on hydrofracturing.
Suppose it’s just a matter of Zeitgeist meets Sweeps Month, but still …

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