Appalachian Basin

*UPDATE II* Investigative Post Misses the Mark on Gas Drilling In Potter County, Pa.

UPDATE II (5/24/2018, 8:22 PM EST): Since EID’s last update two weeks ago, Investigative Post (IP) reporter Jim Heaney has added a disclaimer about yet another correction he made to his story and changed the WGRZ video to reflect that correction. At the end of the story, it now reads:

Correction: The original version of this story included an error that was the result of our misinterpretation of documents obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The story incorrectly reported that Pennsylvania authorities cited JKLM Energy for violations during all 20 inspections it has conducted since 2015. While the company was cited for violations during 20 inspections and fined $508,317, the state actually conducted more than 20 inspections. We have thus far been unable to determine the precise number of relevant inspections.” 

And while we applaud his efforts to let viewers know the original story was flat wrong, the correction is still a half-truth. Heaney claims to be unable to determine the precise number of inspections. The number, which is 636, is easily found in the public database that Heaney used.  All of the 636 inspections conducted by Pa. DEP are relevant – it’s the violations that are questionable, and yet the story still reads, “[p]ublic records show the state Department of Environmental Protection has cited JKLM Energy for 62 regulatory violations found during 20 inspections since 2015…” (emphasis added).

A simple investigation of the DEP’s data (i.e. reading the violations) shows there are a number of duplicates and even violations entered in error that appear in a search of the company. Subtracting those items from the search brings the total down to less than 40 violations out of 636 inspections.

We’re also still wondering why, throughout these updates, Heaney has yet to identify Public Herald’s Melissa Troutman as an Earthworks employee, despite her publicly acknowledging her position as the Research and Policy Analyst for Earthworks’ Energy program. Heaney’s exclusion of Troutman’s anti-fracking affiliation is misleading for readers and leads one to wonder if there is actually more to the data “error” – the default search parameter for the DEP compliance report category, “Inspections with violations only,” is “No” and would have to be intentionally changed to “Yes” to get the results that Heaney did in his original report.

UPDATE (5/11/18, 5:00 PM EST): Investigative Post (IP) reporter Jim Heaney has updated his story addressing the false statements EID noted within this original post – but readers wouldn’t know that simply by visiting the IP site. Heaney makes no mention anywhere in the post that he’s made modifications to the report.

The original IP report had a completely false line that read:

 “An Investigative Post review of  state records found inspectors have visited JKLM’s drilling sites 20 times in the past three years and cited the company for violations each and every time…”

The reality being that the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) inspected JKLM Energy’s well sites more than 600 times since 2015, with only about three percent of inspections resulting in a violation. In what seems to be an effort to correct that inaccurate claim, while still making an equally misleading claim that lacks necessary context, Heaney quietly changed that sentence to:

“Public records show the state Department of Environmental Protection has cited JKLM Energy for 62 regulatory violations found during 20 inspections since 2015…”

Notably, the link to Heaney’s review of the state records — or even an acknowledgement that he was the one to review them — is noticeably absent from the text now.

Interestingly, Heaney makes at least one other correction to the story on the heels of some backlash for misrepresenting Coudersport Borough Councilman Brian Ruane’s comments, adding this line to the report:

“Ruane added, however, that fracking needs to be done responsibly, especially in an area like Potter County, whose economy is reliant in part of tourism and recreation. He and others are concerned, including Melissa Troutman, a local resident and executive director of Public Herald, a nonprofit investigative reporting center that covers the fracking industry.”

In a show of hand to the Keep It In the Ground agenda driving the IP report, Heaney chose not to make another important update to that Ruane addition: Nowhere in the story does it mention that Troutman is now employed by the notoriously anti-fracking organization Earthworks, as EID detailed in the original blog post. Why continue to mislead readers – both regarding what information Heaney’s chosen to include and leave out – unless there is an underlying agenda at play?

 Original Post

In a show of hand to the Keep It In the Ground agenda driving the IP report, Heaney chose not to make another important update to that Ruane addition: Nowhere in the story does it mention that Troutman is now employed by the notoriously anti-fracking organization Earthworks, as EID detailed in the original blog post. Why continue to mislead readers – both regarding what information Heaney’s chosen to include and leave out – unless there is an underlying agenda at play?

Buffalo, N.Y.’s WGRZ recently aired a misleading and inaccurate Investigative Post (IP) report on oil and gas exploration and production company JKLM Energy’s operations and involvement in Potter County, Pa.

While the report offered some balance, the vast majority reads more like a “Keep It In the Ground” (KIITG) agenda-driven attack against JKLM Energy than a legitimate news story, complete with false statements and highly questionable sources.

Here are the top four things to keep in mind when reading the IP report:

#1. IP’s claims are misleading and at times completely false.

The biggest example of KIITG-driven “fake news” in the report is one that’s really the centerpiece for all of Heaney’s claims:

IP Claim: “An Investigative Post review of state records found inspectors have visited JKLM’s drilling sites 20 times in the past three years and cited the company for violations each and every time…”

This claim is patently false — and it’s not just a little stretch of the truth, either. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) compliance report database actually shows that the agency inspected JKLM’s well sites 636 times from 2015 to March 16, 2018.

Screenshot of DEP compliance report from EID search

The inaccuracy of Heaney’s reporting can be traced to the fact that he searched for “Inspections With Violations Only,” which resulted in, as the search criteria implies, the database only pulling those inspections that resulted in violations.

While it’s important that companies strive to reduce incidents on site – whether those be issues with paperwork or the results of human or equipment error – three percent of inspections resulting in violations is a far cry from the claim DEP “cited the company for violations each and every time” they inspected JKLM in the last three years.

It’s also worth noting that the DEP database is not as straightforward as simply looking at raw numbers, for the simple fact that it includes repetitive entries and does not remove entries entered in error. In fact, one of the violations listed for JKLM clearly states, “This inspection was created in error” by DEP, yet still remains as a searchable violation in the agency’s database.

Further, the violations cited against any company do not necessarily mean that new incidents occurred every time a violation is noted. That’s because every time DEP inspects a well site where a previous violation has been issued and is still being remediated, the database notation for that is inputted as a new violation. Realistically, in the case of JKLM, the violations DEP has issued have been for only eight wells or related infrastructure, and many of the violations are repetitively entered based on previously isolated incidents. Which brings us to the next important point…

#2. The IP report is based on a year-old report from an organization that has been caught fabricating stories about Pennsylvania’s shale industry on more than one occasion.

At the heart of these false claims is a year-old report from anti-fracking organization PennEnvironment that Heaney uses as the basis for his entire “investigative” report.

Not only does PennEnvironment have an obvious agenda to stop shale development – the organization has a website page called, “Don’t Frack Pennsylvania” – but they’ve been caught red-handed fabricating stories to achieve those goals.

Recall back in 2011 when in an attempt to capitalize on the devastation our region experienced from Hurricane Lee, PennEnvironment released an image of a flooded oil and gas rig with the caption, “Here’s more evidence Marcellus Shale drilling pads should NOT be allowed in floodplains.” But as the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported shortly after the image was shared:

“[T]he rig wasn’t in the Marcellus Shale.

“It wasn’t even in the United States.

“’Apologies folks,’ Penn Environment later admitted: the photo was of a flooded rig in Pakistan.”

Similarly, a few months later in 2012, the group tried to pass off an image of a South African pipe releasing treated water as an example of “toxic industrial pollution” from fracking occurring in Pennsylvania.

Not surprisingly, PennEnvironment, and parent organization Environment America, don’t have a much better track record for accuracy in their reports, including the one Heaney relies so heavily on in the IP report. Specifically, PennEnvironment’s report on violations is one they have been repackaging since 2012 with the same issues in each: the reports take data out of context and even go as far as to redefine violations to fit their agenda. From the 2015 version:

“In addition to specifying specific violations, the downloaded file also sorted them into categories: ‘administrative’ or ‘environmental health and safety.’ We discarded Pennsylvania’s categorization as inconsistent and inadequate, and instead ourselves divided the violations into two categories: ‘administrative’ or ‘environmental and health,’ based on the definitions listed in Appendix A.

For PennEnvironment, violations need to be a numbers game and they’ve shown time and again that they take great strides to make the data match their narrative. In quoting their report and members, all Heaney actually did was give PennEnvironment yet another platform to push the group’s clear agenda to ban fracking.

#3. IP misleads on Coudersport resident Melissa Troutman, who is not an unbiased local bystander.

One of IP’s primary sources for the story, Coudersport resident Melissa Troutman, is hardly an unbiased local bystander. Although she is a Potter County resident who happens to have wells being developed near her property, she also has a clear mission to stop shale development in Pennsylvania.

And while her anti-fracking position was pretty evident in her role in founding the outlet Public Herald, it became crystal clear when she recently accepted a position with Earthworks – a group that vehemently opposes fracking and has even proudly equated the process with rape. Notably, disclosure of Troutman’s new job is conveniently missing from the IP report, where she is listed only as a resident and founder of Public Herald.

In the spirit of transparency – both Public Herald and PennEnvironment, which appear to have been the primary sources for the IP report, receive funding from the Colcom Foundation, which has notoriously funded anti-fracking ventures.

Moreover, Troutman doesn’t appear to have been randomly selected by IP to act as a source. In fact, Public Herald and IP actually have some distinct connections that make it hard to believe this wasn’t an orchestrated attack on JKLM Energy.

Public Herald (2013) and IP (2015) were both recipients of the Institute for Nonprofit News’ (formerly the Investigative News Network) INNovation Fund that was established by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In 2013, Kevin Davis, then-CEO and Director of INN, issued a statement that he was “thrilled” to welcome three new members, including Public Herald, to the INN roster of newsrooms because they represented “the next generation in collaborative, mission-driven newsrooms.”

That encouraged collaboration between members appears to have come to fruition in Tuesday night’s piece – an incredible coincidence considering Davis now sits on the IP Board of Directors.

This is further evidenced by a recent comment Public Herald co-founder Josh Pribanic made on a public Facebook post that alluded to him knowing what content would and wouldn’t be included in the piece and that his outlet was publishing a similar write-up on its heels.

And the coincidences don’t stop there. In the IP report, Heaney directs people to the organization LittleSis, which is a part of the Public Accountability Initiative – another anti-fracking organization that, according to 990s, received over $360,000 for work specifically targeting fracking from the 11th Hour Project. Unsurprisingly, Public Herald also lists 11th Hour Project as a funder for its own “investigative reports” (read: attacks) on JKLM Energy.

One has to wonder if all of this really is just sheer coincidence or if it is a case of collusion and cooperation between anti-fracking organizations.

#4. JKLM Energy is a well-respected and active member of the Potter County community.

In JKLM’s response to the IP report, the company states,

“We’re proud of the work that we continue to accomplish together, and the local benefits that we’re creating, and recognize that it’s a privilege to operate in the communities where we work, invest and grow local jobs. At JKLM, there’s no higher priority than keeping our environment and communities safe.” (emphasis added)

Based on comments from folks like Potter County Commissioner Susan Kefover (D), JKLM’s commitment to the community and environment hasn’t been an empty promise. To IP’s credit, author Jim Heaney did quote Kefover in the report, acknowledging she “termed JKLM Energy an ‘excellent company.’” But that’s only a fraction of what the commissioner actually sent in her statement to the reporter:

“Pennsylvania has some of the highest environmental standards in the nation for air and water quality protection. I value our environment and quality of life here and aggressively work toward preserving it. I also value working with companies such as JKLM who honor, respect, and diligently uphold those same goals.” (emphasis added)

This sentiment was echoed by Coudersport Borough Councilman Wayne Hathaway, who explained to EID,

“I have honestly not seen any reason yet for all of the adverse publicity against JKLM brought on by these activists. The company has made huge investments in our community, including a major donation for the rebuilding of our local pool. Not only have they done that, but they did an incredible job on some of the local roads. They have a lot of truck traffic admittedly, but they’ve improved the roads to much better quality than when they started. I have not seen anything in their operations and activities that would make me speak negatively about JKLM Energy.”

Hathaway is pretty spot on that this entire IP report, where Heaney brings up long remediated incidents and uses outdated (and debunked reports) from anti-fracking organizations to base his claims on, seems to be solely “brought on by these activists,” rather than anything the company has or hasn’t done recently.


Make no mistake – no one is saying that all companies operating in Pennsylvania shouldn’t be striving to improve their records for any and all instances or violations. That’s a given. But to expect “zero risk” from any industry, whether it’s oil and gas or even the media, isn’t realistic. Even Heaney acknowledged this when he told WGRZ, “Yeah, it’s probably impossible not to have some [violations].”

Producing a report that has blatantly false information and a clear agenda against a company that has become an important part of Potter County has no other result than to fuel misinformation and misguided fear. And that’s not helpful to anyone whether they are living in Coudersport or Buffalo.

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