Journalism has been on its death bed for quite some time now. A recent article in State Impact, an NPR affiliate, suggests not only that it’s dead, but the corpse has begun to stink.
The article, by Katie Colanari, is titled “Gas driller Cabot wins Governor’s Community Impact Award” and does report the essential fact: that Cabot Oil & Gas was nominated by the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission and received a Community ImPAct Award from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett for “doing well by doing good.” The award recognized, among other things, the millions of dollars invested by Cabot in the Endless Mountains Health System and Lackawanna College. It was one of 50 Governor’s awards made across the state, five from each of 10 regions.
So far so good, but then Colanari twists these good deeds into a sarcastic attack on Cabot, demonstrating State Impact is nothing more than an advocacy organization masquerading as an “independent” public news outlet. State Impact is independent in the way Vladimir Putin is a peacemaker–they proclaim it but their actions tell a different story.
State Impact Does Its Worst to Keep Dimock Story Alive
This story is more of the same. How so? Start with the fact there were 50 awards made, 10 of them for Community Impact, yet State Impact decided to focus on this one award for the purpose of denigrating it. Also, notice how there are but three paragraphs discussing the supposed subject matter, followed by five paragraphs ripping Cabot with sarcasm and baseless accusations. They start with recitation of events from five years ago and then lead the reader to the conclusion there is ongoing pollution with these words:
The village close to the New York State border has since become synonymous with problems associated with natural gas drilling. The DEP still bars Cabot from drilling in a nine-square-mile section of Dimock.
There is not one word of the EPA investigation which found the water was safe two years ago. The refusal of Pennsylvania to lift the ban on drilling in the nine-square mile area is never explained either, probably because it’s inexplicable, the conditions for lifting of it having been met long ago and great harm occurring to residents of this box as a consequence of the delay. Indeed, the state delay is as close to an irresponsible regulatory taking of their property as one can get.
None of this is discussed. Instead, there is just a quick jab at Cabot with zero context; a perfect example of the pseudo-journalism which typifies most of what State Impact writes.
Worse, it’s topped by a gratuitous self-serving Tweet by Colanari at 1:58 PM yesterday hyping that single part of the story, which is neither news nor has anything to do with the story she Tweeted out a minute earlier.
Obviously, Colanari knows her audience and wanted to throw them a piece of red meat to interest them in reading the story, despite the fact it had no connection to the story and nothing more was to be said about it.
Then Colanari proceeds to offer this garbage, which includes not a single substantive fact:
Last year, Susquehanna County residents who have grown weary from fights over water contamination organized around issues of air quality related to natural gas development. Rebecca Roter is the group’s chairperson.
“Unfortunately the award for community impact is measured by philanthropic contributions and not balanced by assessing the total cumulative air impacts to the community’s breathing air and subsequent health risks,” said Roter.
Roter said the group, Breathe Easy Susquehanna County, would be willing to recognize companies that voluntarily provide continuous, real-time air quality monitoring and share that data with the public.
Here, Colanari manages to insert two baseless assertions–that water is contaminated and there are serious air quality issues. Nothing is mentioned, of course, about the role of natural gas conversions in majorly reducing air pollution in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but, even leaving that aside, a responsible journalist would have mentioned the EPA testing that led them to conclude the water was safe.
That assumes, though, the discussion even belongs in the story and it doesn’t. That’s old news at best and was clearly inserted here to tarnish the award given to Cabot, which was the main purpose of the story. It’s a wink and a nod to the fractivist readers of State Impact, as if to say “just look at how Corbett is rewarding these nasty drillers,” shifting attention from the fact Cabot was among several businesses nominated for the award by residents of the region, the same residents State Impact would like us to believe are aghast at gas drilling.
State Impact’s Straw Men
The suggestion of air quality issues is backed up by nothing other than Rebecca Roter’s speculation. This is the same Rebecca Roter who works closely with the “cry wolf” Clean Air Council, which is funded by the Heinz Endowments, Energy Foundation and William Penn Foundation, all four groups having distinctly anti-drilling agendas. Her opinion is hardly independent. She is a member of a small group of advocates who are working to keep the DEP from lifting the unjust ban on her neighbors within that small nine-square mile box– a ban that prevents them from getting the royalties they deserve and desperately need. Meanwhile, she pretends to be a compromiser and offers more self-serving comments for State Impact to work into the story, once again as if air quality has anything to do with the story.
Even if one assumed air quality did have something to do with the story, one would have hoped a real journalist might have checked the facts at some cursory level at least. It took me less than a minute to find data demonstrating Roter is the only one contaminating anything and it’s with pure hot air. I simply Googled “pa air quality by county” and found this detail regarding air quality in Northeastern Pennsylvania yesterday morning, May 31, at 10:00 AM. The data changes regularly but I saved the data here.
The data includes ozone levels and the average for 42 different sites across the Commonwealth where ozone was measured was 41.5 parts per billion (ppb) over one hour, with a range of 35 to 50 ppb. There is no site in Susquehanna County, but there are sites in Tioga County and Towanda (Bradford County) where there is similar gas drilling activity. Note Towanda was tied for the lowest level at 35 ppb even though Bradford County has more Marcellus Shale gas wells than any other county in Pennsylvania. Tioga County was at 39 ppb, which was lower than beautiful Hershey and Lancaster, for example.
Nitrogen oxides in Bradford County are higher than average but a visit to another part of the the DEP website indicates emissions were more than twice as high in 2006 before gas drilling than they are now and there are no significant emissions from any gas-related activities, with the single exception of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which currently emits a little more than half of what the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre does, Moreover, the pipeline has reduced its emissions by 97% since 2006.
This particular data is also available for Susquehanna County. It shows facility emissions of nitrogen oxide dropped from 31.57 tons in 2006 (pre-gas drilling) to 13.37 tons in 2012. The data does indicate minor increases in carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter under 2.5 microns in size (PM <2.5), sulfur oxides (SO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) but, even combined, they total less than four tons per year. Moreover, the following table summarizes and provides some perspective by comparing Susquehanna to two other counties with no gas drilling; another from Northeastern Pennsylvania where tourism is the economic foundation (Monroe) and one of similar population in Central Pennsylvania where agriculture and manufacturing are the mainstays (Mifflin).
Notice how those facility emissions that have increased within Susquehanna County (assuming gas drilling accounts for the increases, which is highly questionable) , are still but a fraction of what we find compared to Mifflin and Monroe Counties, which have no gas drilling.
There is no air quality issue in Susquehanna County.
Yet, State Impact used the occasion of an award to Cabot made at the suggestion of residents to give an anti-drilling activist a bullhorn to claim there was. Frankly, journalism doesn’t get much worse than this.
It’s not journalism, of course. Rather, its advocacy packaged as journalism. The real thing is dead and gone. It’s starting to smell.