TV Writers Display Their Ignorance About Oil and Gas Production

The new NBC procedural, Law and Order: Los Angeles has so far avoided the politically correct scolding that made the original series so tiresome its last decade or so. The episode Wednesday featured an “equal-opportunity killing,” as The Los Angeles Times’ reviewer summarized it.

Still, something rang false in the show, “Hondo Field.” The episode guide summarizes:

It’s 4:00 a.m. and two teens are skinny-dipping at an El Segundo Beach, where they discover a drowned corpse. Dawn has broken by the time TJ and Winters arrive to check out the body of Freddy Ramirez. He’s got oil on his clothes, oil in his mouth, and an account at GoldShore Oil Credit Union. TJ looks up to spy an offshore drilling rig five miles out to sea. After her investigation, the coroner knows Freddy was drunk when he died, which was before he hit the water. Since the oil company records claim roughneck Freddy punched into the Hondo Field rig where he worked at 2:36 a.m., the detectives visit GoldShore’s VP, who claims jurisdiction for all oil rig accidents belongs to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

A drilling rig, five miles off the coast of Southern California? Don’t think so.

Aside from that fundamental mistake, good episode. We stuck with it, as opposed to the enervated CBS series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which on Thursday fictionalized the already fictional “Gasland” movie to come up with this plot in an episode entitled, “Fracked“: “Two men are murdered right before exposing a natural gas company for poisoning residents in a farming town, and the CSIs must discover who is responsible for their deaths.”

Yes, yes, it’s fiction, a procedural drama, and writers are allowed a little artistic license. Perhaps at the end of the episode, the alienists explained the error of their ways. Somehow we doubt it.


To invent an accident that has never happened — exploding water wells — and to use it to tarnish an entire industry is bad writing and damaging to a necessary industry. If the producers, directors and writers are so aghast at hydrofracturing, let’s see them try to produce their show without ever using natural gas or gas-generated electricity.

Here’s a paper, “Freeing Up Energy,” from the American Petroleum Industry that explains the process of hydrofracturing, and its use, historic and modern, in natural gas and oil production. Relevant excerpt:

Studies demonstrate the effectiveness of current regulations.

Studies by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), an association of state regulators, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of current state regulations in protecting water resources.

When the GWPC studied the environmental risk of hydraulic fracturing, they found one complaint in the more than 10,000 coalbed methane wells reviewed – an Alabama well where problems were not related to fracturing according to the EPA.

The EPA initiated its own study of coalbed methane hydraulic fracturing environmental risks and released its completed study in June 2004. Again, no significant environmental risks as a result of proper hydraulic fracturing were identified.

In short, no instance of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing was identified in either of these thorough studies.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): Both the L&O:LA and CSI episodes open with scenes of young, pretty beautiful people skinny-dipping before a corpse comes floating to the surface, sending the splashing women into paroxysms of shrieking. Both episodes! It’s like November is sweeps month or something.

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Carter Wood says:

    Reductio ad absurdum + charges of wrongdoing with no proof = unpersuasive.

  • Corporate Shill Detector says:

    Everything’s OK, as long as it doesn’t happen in your backyard, right? Besides, government officials who are bought and paid for say it’s safe. Thank you for copying and pasting that DEP quote! I’m sure all of us in Pennsylvania will sleep much better knowing that the government has everything under control.

  • Carter Wood says:

    Why don’t you get your facts straight? The Dimrock explosion had nothing to do with hydrofracking. Scott Perry, Director of DEP’s bureau of oil and gas management, made that clear in a community forum at Misericordia University, northeastern Pennsylvania. Perry:

    Just a note about fracking: First of all, it’s standard operating procedure in Pennsylvania. And it’s important to point out that we’ve never seen an impact to fresh groundwater directly from fracking.

    If there was fracturing of the producing formations that was having a direct communication with groundwater, the first thing you would notice is the salt content in the drinking water. It’s never happened. After a million times across the country, no one’s ever documented drinking water wells that have actually been shown to be impacted by fracking.

    A lot of folks relate the situation in Dimock to a fracking problem. I just want to make sure everyone’s clear on this – that it isn’t. What happened in Dimock was that a company was drilling in the Marcellus, and they encountered a shallow gas producing formation … which is common in this area of Pennsylvania. … It wasn’t a fracking problem.

    How many wells has fracturing damaged? I assume you’re referring to ‘how many drinking water wells.’? And in our experience, it’s been zero.

    Now, if you want to ban all natural gas exploration because of one accident, just say so.

  • I'm not going to give you my name, thanks says:

    Actually, the exploding water well HAS happened. Norma Fiorentino’s well in Dimock PA, in December 2008. Get your facts straight.

  • Carl Arnold says:

    Who’s displaying ignorance?

    It’s old news now that Norma Fiorentino’s well blew up New Year’s Day, 2009, in Dimock PA.

    Are you saying that all the “just plain folks” in Gasland are lying about their personal experiences with fracking?

    Get a grip. It’s too easy to do the homework that a growing number of us are doing. The easiest is to go to ProPublica’s site for some of the most disciplined reporting on this subject.

    Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

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