Appalachian Basin

Hook, Line and Sinker: Natural Gas Activists Fool Media

nicole-portraitThe usual instigators in Susquehanna County were at it again this past week, blaming the natural gas industry for something that has occurred numerous times and long before Marcellus Shale was ever a household name. But why on Earth is the local media still falling for it?

Last Saturday marked an exciting time in Pennsylvania when thousands of people threw on some waders, baited their hooks and headed out to the local fishing hole or creek to try their luck during this year’s angling season. Local activists, who have made careers out of attacking natural gas development, unfortunately took this day as an opportunity to smear the natural gas industry rather than a chance to enjoy nature with their neighbors.

Even more unfortunate is that some of our friends in the media fell for the antics of Vera Scroggins and Craig Stevens — hook, line and sinker, yet again.

It’s time for trout…and algae season?

Those heading out to enjoy a day with family fishing the freshly stocked trout streams found green clouds in some waters across Pennsylvania Saturday. Most avid fishermen and women in Susquehanna County had seen this discoloration in years’ past and thought little of it. You can see for yourself in the image below.


But, that didn’t stop Scroggins and Stevens from calling up a local news station and claiming the natural gas industry’s operations caused the change in the stream.  It even resulted in a report on WBRE, which provided a forum for the duo to make this claim to all of its viewers.  Worse still, the television report included no response from a natural gas company mentioned specifically in the report, or even from anyone who actually lives in the township who might have provided more perspective.

The report has since been removed from the news station’s website–more on that in a moment–but is provided below for your convenience (emphasis added).

Franklin Township, Susquehanna County — Snake Creek in Franklin Township is a popular spot during trout season. Hundreds of people are expected to fish this Susquehanna County waterway this weekend. People who live nearby say those anglers may not be happy with what they see. “I’m sure when they wanted to go fishing they’d like to see clear water and not water that has some kind of a green tint to it or brown,” said Vera Scroggins of Silver Lake Township. She has made it her mission to document any changes she sees to this rural environment ever since the gas drilling boom of the past few years. She noticed the color change to Snake, and nearby Silver and Laurel Lake Creeks on Monday. She’s not the only one. “Normally if it rains you’re going to have cloudy water. Our concern was that it was discolored and cloudy before there was ever any rain,” said Craig Stevens of Silver Lake Township. Laurel Lake Creek which runs at the edge of Mr. Stevens’ property had that same greenish brown tint earlier in the week. When asked if he went looking for signs of life in the water he replied, “Not at all. You couldn’t see just like right now you couldn’t see even an inch if you put your hand in it.”
The suspicion that what’s occurring in the creek waters is not naturally occurring comes with good reason. Nearby gas driller WPX Energy is located near Snake Creek. It’s been cited for casing and spill violations and is under investigation for possibly contaminating residential water wells. Besides that, Mr. Stevens says a separate gas drilling project resulted in blowouts in Laurel Lake Creek sending contaminants into the water. “This was drilling mud. It’s bentonite clay mixed with other constituents for boring the pipelines underneath creek beds and streams which we understood what they were doing. We had not idea that they could explode and blowout holes like they did in the creek.”
DEP and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission believe an algae bloom may be to blame for the current creek water discoloration… but neighbors are guarded. “We never know here now because there’s a lot of activity with construction and drilling,” said Mr. Stevens.
A Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman says the algae bloom theory is based on visual evidence. DEP took a creek water sample Friday afternoon after being contacted by Eyewitness News.  DEP expects test results in a couple of weeks.
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Vera Scroggins

This spurred local residents of Franklin Township to write in to the station informing them they weren’t happy these professional activists were being portrayed as residents of their township and their inaccurate opinions being represented as those of the public. One sent us the above picture from 2006 of the same conditions in Snake Creek, before any Marcellus Shale wells were ever put in the township or county, and coincidentally before Stevens even lived in Susquehanna County.

Further, the accusations made in the report by this duo — who have been trying to find something to blame on the natural gas industry since Dimock was cleared by the EPA last summer — were completely off base. Tests results from DEP confirmed the department and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s original observations were accurate.  It was, in fact, an algae bloom — not drilling mud or any other part of nearby natural gas operations.

To its credit, the station did eventually pull the story upon learning the claims held no merit. They posted this update, which also appeared on WBNG (emphasis added):

Franklin Township, Susquehanna County-The Department of Environmental Protection has released its findings into some Susquehanna County Creek concerns.

Eyewitness News first told you about the concerns last Friday in Silver Lake and Franklin Townships.

Some people living near Snake, Silver and Laurel Lake Creeks grew worried when they noticed an unusual greenish brown tint last week.

They questioned if it had something to do with nearby gas drilling.

A DEP spokeswoman confirms that water sampling shows the cause of the creek water discoloration is an algae bloom.

What of it?

Journalists have a responsibility to their viewers to investigate leads so they can inform those viewers of happenings, incidents and activities occurring in their community. The fact a station or any news outlet follows up on claims from activists is comforting actually–they’re doing their due diligence to investigate a potential impact on their viewers. What’s disheartening and happening far too often with outlets across the country, though, is their apparent belief that “doing one’s job as a journalist” means simply reporting claims, regardless of how absurd they may be, without doing any critical research.

StevensScroggins and Stevens (pictured to right) are well-known locally for their antics, distortions and misinformation–they trespass, harass the news stations and elected officials, and do whatever they can to get in front of a camera.  Both played starring roles in the ludicrous Yoko Ono tour of Dimock, both spend enormous amounts of time in New York State doing the bidding of anti-gas groups there, and Stevens has even created his own non-profit corporation called Energy In Denial that has run advertisements in Iowa — which he claims he knows nothing about, but that’s another story for another day.

One would think a reporter, given the history of these two activists, might have felt obligated to dig a little further into their claims. You know, pick up the phone, maybe even do a Google search or two. They could have actually asked the company being accused in their story for a statement, too. They could have talked to actual residents of Franklin Township as opposed to their wannabe representatives. They could have visited a library to learn that algae blooms are anything but rare, and typically have natural causes.

None of that happened in this instance, and Stevens and Scroggins managed, for a short time, to snooker the television station, other activists and perhaps some casual viewers of the evening news.  It got corrected, thank goodness, but some of the damage is already done and it shouldn’t have happened.  This story is just one example in a sea of articles where the cart’s been put before the horse, upsetting actual residents, smearing a company, and leaving both a community and an industry asking that famous question: “Where do we go to get our reputation back?”

Just because someone is accusing the natural gas industry of wrongdoing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a valid criticism, much less automatically newsworthy.

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