Opinion: How the AP and Other Media Outlets “Wag the Dog” Against Drilling in the Marcellus Shale

Google News Search "Louis Matoushek" MDN notes with some amusement how news is manufactured—and is thankful blogs are around to help set the story straight. Case in point: A few days ago the Associated Press ran a single story about the “raging debate” over gas drilling in Northeast Pennsylvania. While the drilling debate is certainly ongoing, and there are plenty of people on both sides of the debate, the AP story would have us believe the forces of good (people against drilling) are rising up in overwhelming numbers to oppose the forces of evil (the nasty energy companies who want to rape and pillage the unspoiled landscape, along with the greedy landowners who enable them).

That single AP anti-drilling story was picked up by no less than 250 media outlets, including large city newspapers, television stations and everything down to small town newspapers—all in the course of two days. One would have to be blind to miss the coverage and not think, “Maybe there are a lot of people opposed to drilling after all!” And all from a single story run again and again and again.

The AP story starts this way:

A few hundred yards from Louis Matoushek’s Wayne County farmhouse is a well that could soon produce not only natural gas, but a drilling boom in the wild and scenic Delaware River watershed.

Energy companies have leased thousands of acres of land in Pennsylvania’s unspoiled northeastern tip, hoping to tap vast stores of gas in a sprawling rock formation—the Marcellus shale—that some experts believe could become the nation’s most productive gas field.*

But wait, it’s not enough that the villainous drilling companies want to spoil the unspoiled land in PA. While that argument will sway some readers, let’s throw in the thing that works every time, the one thing that will magically turn everyone against drilling: Water.

Standing in the way is a loose coalition of sporting groups, conservationists and anti-drilling neighbors. They contend that large-scale gas exploration so close to crucial waterways will threaten drinking water, ruin a renowned wild trout fishery, wreck property values, and transform a rural area popular with tourists into an industrial zone with constant noise and truck traffic.

Both sides are furiously lobbying the Delaware River Basin Commission, the powerful federal-interstate compact agency that monitors water supplies for 15 million people, including half the population of New York City. The commission has jurisdiction because the drilling process will require withdrawing huge amounts of water from the watershed’s streams and rivers and because of the potential for groundwater pollution.*

PA learns fast. They look over the border at New York where City politicians bleat about the New York City watershed as if drillers are about to poison the water supply of the entire City, and say, “Hey, if it works for them, maybe it will work for us.” And so, the shrill voices in PA have found their argument: Drilling pollutes water. Run the story (i.e. lie) enough times and after a while people will believe it.

Don’t fall for the lie. And landowners: Make your voices heard!

*Pittsburgh Tribute-Review/AP (Apr 19) – Gas-drilling foes fear for local water supplies