The Los Angeles Times has a Fracking Problem

Some California news outlets have had a penchant lately for peddling bad science and getting the facts wrong on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).  Even worse, when they are contacted with corrections to their erroneous claims, these largely go ignored.

Two recent examples in the Los Angeles Times highlight this problem. A July 31 editorial misstated facts so badly, and left so many false impressions about issues related to groundwater protection, that the leaders of California’s two largest petroleum industry trade associations wrote a detailed response to the Times. The Times not only failed to print their corrections, but the paper did not respond to their request. Instead, EID published the response and made it available on social media.

More recently, the Times chose to publish an article about a report released by an anti-hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) organization that distorted information about the routinely used process and falsely accused oil and gas companies of breaking the law. In the entire article, there was one quote – from EID – suggesting that the study was flawed.

The report, by an activist group called the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), claimed that companies in a number of states – though, notably, not California – used diesel in their fracking operations in violation of EPA rules.

There are several problems with this claim. First, the companies were not violating EPA rules, and second, regulators in the states mentioned in the study have confirmed that the process is safe and has not led to contamination.

EIP accused companies of using diesel for years, but in fact most were using kerosene, which was not even considered diesel by EPA until earlier this year. While these two fuels are similar, accusing companies of breaking the law has to be based on the law itself, not an activist group’s convenient interpretation. Even worse, virtually all of the examples in EIP’s report were dated prior to EPA’s new guidance on what constitutes “diesel” fuel.

As EID noted in the single piece of data published in the article that was critical of the study, the number of examples of “diesel fracks” cited by EIP amount to a fraction of a percent of all wells nationwide, and in reality the number is only a tiny fraction of that figure, since EIP inflated the numbers to present the most frightening picture possible. However, no matter what the number, EIP wants to scare the public into believing this is a problem. It isn’t.

In fact, EIP admitted it found no examples of fracking contaminating water. None. This is consistent with what federal and state regulators say about fracking in general. State officials in Texas, North Dakota, and Arkansas – states mentioned in the report — have either refuted EIP’s claims or affirmed that there is no evidence that fracking with diesel has ever contaminated groundwater.

If EIP is going to claim fracking is risky, it should be required to present evidence of harm before those claims are reprinted by the Times, shouldn’t it?

Over the past several years, California has been involved in a vigorous debate about the responsible development of our oil and gas resources, and the public, through its elected representatives, has spoken. On two separate occasions, our overwhelmingly Democratic and environmentally conscious legislature soundly defeated bills that would impose a ban or moratorium on fracking, because the science is clear: fracking is a fundamentally safe process with manageable risks.

Instead of a senseless ban, the legislature and Governor Jerry Brown added to our already “toughest in the U.S.” environmental laws and imposed the nation’s strictest regulations on fracking (SB 4). This means that regulated fracking will continue in California with the safeguards and transparency that the public has asked for, and the technology will continue to help provide jobs, grow the economy and move us toward energy independence.

Interestingly, the Times wrote back in April of this year that hydraulic fracturing is “unregulated” in California. Contrary to the Times’ allegation, specific rules relating to hydraulic fracturing were effective on January 1, 2014 – three months before the Times’ claim – and, of course, hydraulic fracturing has always been a regulated and monitored activity under a variety of California’s oil and gas laws. The Times refused to correct the story, which as of this writing still presents readers with a demonstrably false claim about hydraulic fracturing in California.

We should be glad that our children can grow up in a state that takes environmental stewardship very seriously, but California doesn’t need another activist group from a non-oil producing region trying to scare our citizens with distorted data and misinformation. Even if groups like EIP insist on peddling misleading information, the Times certainly shouldn’t go out of its way to help them.

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