Scranton Times Columnist Exploits Tragedy in Fracking Fight

Scranton Times - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.


A columnist at the Scranton Times is exploiting a tragedy to attack natural gas development from the comfort of a natural gas heated office.

There has been a lot of crowing from the anti-gas folks about Chevron handing out free pizza coupons in the wake of a tragic accident where a worker was killed on natural gas well site. The theme has been something along the lines of “how could this corporate behemoth be so cold as to minimize a loss of life with such a pitiful display of compassion.”

Yet, many of the news organizations engaging in this line of prattle, who are themselves corporations, are doing precisely that by using the tragedy as an opportunity to trash an industry with an enviable safety record. Worse, they trivialize a worker’s death to attack drilling and fracking that had nothing to do with it. It’s a shameful display of what can only be called modern day “yellow journalism.”

Scranton Times Columnist Exploits Tragedy, Ignores Facts

While it’s fairly obvious the Chevron initiative was less than impressive, it’s equally obvious it was simply a gesture by company representatives who were on the scene and trying to be a good neighbor in the moment. No one is under the illusion this all the company will have to do.  It was, in the big picture, merely a minor detail, but one seized upon some writers to pursue an anti-fracking agenda.

A good example is Chris Kelly’s recent column in the Scranton Timesa particularly sarcastic tirade from a guy who specializes in snide and loves to hate; 1) corporations, 2) hydraulic fracturing and 3) Gov. Tom Corbett. Along with his gleeful putdown of the pizza offer, he presents a handful of Chevron incidents to suggest the industry has an awful safety record and goes on to say this about the industry:

“You get fouled water, ruined forests and gamelands and empty promises of shared prosperity.”

This line tells us Chris Kelly doesn’t care as much about Ian McKee, the worker who lost his life, as he does exploiting the situation to exercise his antipathy towards the industry. He uses McKee’s death to make what are, essentially, four false allegations regarding it, beginning with his implication the industry has a poor safety record. It has, in fact, an excellent record. Here is the latest data on workplace fatalities from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 5.52.22 AM Notice where oil and gas extraction, combined with the support activities connected with it, ends up–towards the bottom despite being a hands-on type of activity. There are more fatalities in agriculture, professional/business services, retail trade, tourism and the education and health sector than oil and gas.

Moreover, if we look at the rates of non-fatal occupational injury, we learn such injuries in oil and gas extraction averaged 1.5 per 100 full-time workers in 2012, which is a whole lot less than the 3.5 injury rate for all industries combined.  The rate for other mining was 2.7. Most interesting, it was also 2.7 for both paper manufacturing and printing and related support activities. This means you were almost twice as likely to be injured making the all that paper the Scranton Times consumes or by working in its printing plant. And, the trucks that deliver all that paper? Well, that industry has a rate of 4.4 per 100 workers as opposed to a 2.0 rate for pipeline transportation. What a shame we can’t ship paper by pipeline.

Also, for the record, the accident occurred long after drilling and fracking had taken place. It happened as the well was being connected to the pipeline. Kelly and others associating that with fracking is a bit like blaming a Scranton Times truck delivery truck accident on his writing. Pipelines incidents are also very limited in number. This chart from the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (a branch of the US-DOT) says it all:

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 6.51.01 AM

The numbers are small and declining, despite major increases in natural gas production.

Scranton Times Hypocrisy

It’s also worth noting this; if you go to the back of the Scranton Times news operation in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania (pictured below) you’ll notice a natural gas meter. Ironic isn’t it? Chris Kelly is kept warm to write his polemics by the natural gas he attacks. ScrantonTimesThat isn’t all Kelly has wrong. He also asserts fouled water with the industry, but there isn’t a single case anywhere in the US where hydraulic fracturing has polluted a water supply. Yes, there are a few methane migration incidents, but that can happen when drilling a water well or a geothermal well and methane doesn’t “foul” water-it dissipates and there’s no EPA drinking water standard for it–for that reason. And, here’s what some top Obama Administration folks say (from a great Energy In Depth info-graphic just published): Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.39.40 AM If Chris Kelly doesn’t believe Tom Corbett, that’s fine, but it’s not just Corbett saying fracking it’s safe, it’s lot of VIPs on his side, too. Kelly also suggests forests and gamelands are being ruined by fracking and that’s not true either. Here’s the reality, from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR):

Revenues generated from a lease sale on state forest lands, rents and royalties generated from production go to the Oil and Gas Lease Fund. The fund was created in 1955 to be used for conservation, recreation and flood control programs at the direction of what is now the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Lease sale funds have been used to purchase state park lands; to acquire the mineral rights for state parks and forests; infrastructure and trail improvements; habitat protection and restoration; recreation and other equipment; and to support the operations of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Act 50 of 2009 provides $50 million for an annual appropriation from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to DCNR. Act 13 of 2012, also known as the natural gas impact fee, authorizes the transfer of $20 million in 2013, and $35 million thereafter, from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the Environmental Stewardship Fund. The Environmental Stewardship Fund also supports state parks and forests, and conservation and recreation programs.

Oil and gas development is funding state forest programs, not ruining them. The oil and gas industry has already apparently provided $220 million in such support. DCNR projects the total impact of leasing on state forest land will be to ultimately convert less than 25,000 acres of it to non-forest use, a mere 1.6% of the roughly 1.6 million acres of state forest land. If the Commonwealth used just the last five years of contributions from the oil and gas industry to purchase forest land to replace that converted, it could pay as much as $9,000 per acre, which is well above the market price almost everywhere, meaning oil and gas development will allow the expansion of state forests if that’s the goal. All of this, though, misses the main point; that state forests are intended to be managed as resources of the Commonwealth. They were never intended to be wilderness areas.

Scranton Could Use Some Marcellus Shale Prosperity

Finally, Kelly makes an allegation about “empty promises of shared prosperity.” If this was how Scrantonians thought (and I’m confident most don’t), it wouldn’t be hard to see why they’re in so much trouble and missing the opportunity right before their eyes. He ought to read some of what was just published by his counterparts at the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, specifically here and here. Here are excerpts from the opening paragraphs of the latter (emphasis added):

Williamsport has gained the distinction of placing among the top 10 Best Performing Small Cities in the United States, according to a study conducted by the Milken Institute, a non-profit think tank. Overall, the Williamsport Metropolitan Statistical Area showed improvement from an earlier report, ranking sixth overall and first in the state for smaller cities… In its summation of Williamsport, the report’s authors concluded: “Williamsport skyrocketed 13 spots to sixth overall, with strong five-year job growth and Top 10 rankings in one- and five-year wage growthWilliamsport has seen significant job growth in Marcellus Shale-related industries.Other Pennsylvania MSAs and their rankings were: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, 52; Altoona, 86; Johnstown, 99; Harrisburg-Carlisle, 130, and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, 173.

Let’s see now; Williamsport is rated 6th due to Marcellus Shale development and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre is ranked 173rd. Need we say anything more? What we have, in the end, is nothing more than a sadly misinformed columnist exploiting a tragic accident to act out his prejudices against natural gas from the comfort of his warm natural gas heated office in Scranton. And, we’re supposed take this stuff seriously? follow-us-on-twitter  like-us-on-facebook  follow-us-on-linkedin

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11 thoughts on “Scranton Times Columnist Exploits Tragedy in Fracking Fight

  1. Excellent article, Tom , and very well written & researched. The anti-fracking forces are gaining strength with the aid of unprofessional journalism, a lack of media analysis, hyperbole, misinformation, and an unwillingness to judge fracking on a level playing field with any other industrial activity. In North Carolina, there are coal ash ponds leeching heavy metals & other serious contaminants directly into drinking water, with major a huge river spill just weeks ago from a burst pipe. This is an excellent example of the need for sensible regulation, yet fractivists ignore this real, unimaginary issue to pursue their war on natural gas. While I am a liberal and don’t agree with all of your viewpoints politically, I totally applaud your outstanding reporting on the fracking issue, holding liberals accountable for their hypocrisy and unscientific demagoguery on this issue. I myself would have likely fallen for their media hype on this, except that I have a son who is a geologist who urged me to take a second look at the issue. He was very active in his university’s environmental movement and approaches all issues very objectively and scientifically. While he has shown me many of the fallacies in the fractivists claims, you have done a great job of providing good, timely, and accurate information.

  2. Actually, Tom, this story has much less to do with the pros and cons of fracking per se than with an embarrassing case of extreme corporate stupidity and a completely incompetent and clueless public relations department – which to be sure might legitimately raise questions about the corporation’s competence to manage its fracking operations safely and with the public’s interests in mind.

    • Workplace fatalities statistics from the Dept of labour… CONSTRUCTION.817;….OIL & GAS extraction & support 138,,,,ALMOST 60% Less, and as Tom rightly pointed out. “”HANDS ON “”..And far harder yacker, far more dangerous than the construction industry…CORPORATE GOVERNANCE and RISK MANANAGEMENT practices are ubiquitous,of adoptions pertaining to, “” HEALTH & SAFETY,”” IN .”””THE OIL & GAS INDUSTRIES.”…”..assessing risks and managing risks, are critical components of any workplace safety…THE SAFETY RECORD OF “”OIL & GAS,”” is without EQUAL, IT HAS A PROUD TRADITION TO FALL BACK ON…..

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  4. A few years ago I had the privilege of being Ian McKee’s Tool Pusher. He was a bright and hard working young man with a great future. This industry needs more men like Ian. Rest in peace my friend. It sickens me that this tragic loss is being forgotten because of a few free pizza’s. Those of us who worked with Ian will never forget.

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