Editor’s Note: Mark Lichty is the Executive Producer of the film, Groundswell Rising.
On June 5, the Pocono Record carried a story with the headline, “Fracking Can be Done Safely, EPA says.” That headline is at best misleading. It gives the impression that it is being done safely, which in many cases is not true. The study did conclude that wells were being contaminated by fracking, which until this point the EPA had been denying. The article was reasonably well-balanced, but too many of us remember headlines. Had the headline read, Fracking Can Be Done Safely, But Frequently is Not,” or “After Years of Denial by the Industry, the EPA Confirms Contamination of Water From Fracking.”
I had expressed my concern regarding headlines in a My Turn piece I had written on Aug 13, 2013. The situation has not improved. After the release of the too long-awaited EPA water study, Orwellian newspeak persists. The headlines in other papers read, “The EPA Finds No Widespread Contamination of Water from Fracking”(Houston Chronicle), and Fracking Does not have Big Effect on Water Supplies,” (NYT). After years of EPA waffling on the matter, the study clearly did establish what effected homeowners have known for years, fracking can indeed contaminate water supplies. The widespread contamination was confirmed by a recent University of Texas study, “A Comprehensive Analysis of Water Quality in the Barnett Shale Region.”
Suggesting that the contamination was not “widespread” is a slap in the face to the hundreds of families whose water supplies have been contaminated and health has been effected (google: The List of the Harmed). Ask one of the families who have had their water contaminated, and had to move if the contamination is “widespread.” Ask a mother whose child was sickened by air or water contamination if the problem is “widespread.” There are now nearly 400 studies establishing the health and environmental effects of fracking. Language in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Robinson township decision states that “fracking is dangerous to the health and environment.” For a newspaper to carry the headlines emphasizing the words “not widespread” does not serve either our collective health, our environment, nor accuracy in reporting.
What is widespread is the contamination of our media and our Democracy by gas money. In the process of doing thousands of hours of research for our film Groundswell Rising, I have found that gas money penetrates every crevice of our political system, much like the toxic slurry of injected chemicals penetrates every fracked nook and cranny of a gas well. That headline would never have seen the light of day if it had not been tainted by the smell of dirty industry money. There is no doubt that money contaminates how our legislative and Executive branch views fracking…those who support fracking got four times more money in their campaigns than those who had a more cautious attitude about it (check Common Cause’s report, “Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets“). Our Republican/gas controlled legislature removed $2,000,000 from legislation which would have ensured public funding to determine health risks re fracking. Would an uncontaminated legislature remove such well intended funds?
I myself went through a metamorphosis. I was pro-fracking when I spent thousands of dollars converting my manufacturing plant to gas 8 year ago. At that time I was in good company with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations supporting fracking. I was hypnotized by the bright blue, nearly smokeless flame. I bought into the propaganda that gas had less of a carbon footprint, and I could see it would be cheaper. I was right about the latter, wrong about the former.
Another important point is that the headline only spoke of water contamination. When we started our film, the threat of water contamination was the main thing on my mind. As we progressed in the film, we kept uncovering more of fracking’s threats to our lives, like ambient air contamination, contribution to the climate crises, earthquakes, traffic, rendering apart of the fabric of communities, etc. Water contamination, while a significant threat, for me was dwarfed by some of these other issues. On this point, a more informative headline might have been, “EPA Confirms threat of Water Contamination From Fracking, but Water Remains Only One of the Many Threats Requiring Further Study.”
I fear too that Governor Wolf may only be reading the headlines as well. One cannot research the profound health and safety effects of fracking and not be deeply concerned about fracking’s safety. These studies establish that it is often not being done safely. New York concluded this. Maryland has declared a moratorium due to its concerns. When legislative moral compasses are not contaminated by money, they make the safe decision, the moral decision. Where money blinds them, their moral compasses are diverted. The level of governmental deafness in the face of such overwhelming evidence is deeply saddening. Do folks in New York and Maryland have a more refined moral compass than Pennsylvanians? With hundreds of studies establishing health and environmental issues, why would one’s moral compass not call for at least a moratorium until it can be determined if fracking can be done safely?
HEADLINES MATTER. In fact, they may matter more that the article itself. A press that is free and uncontaminated by industry influence matters. The media loses its credibility when it does not trumpet its independence in headlines and the stories it presents. I write now a second time to plead for accurate headlines. HEADLINES MATTER.