Besides doing our part to get the facts out about natural gas and correct the record on those occasions when folks opposed to responsible development re-write the narrative or distort the reality, EID tries to hold those who cover the issue to account as well.
Of course, we know that covering the news fairly isn’t always easy. I was a journalist for 15 years before going to work for the oil and gas industry, so I know firsthand the challenges associated with accurately and quickly reporting on issues that are both complex and sometimes controversial. But that said, even I was struck by the inconsistent quality of the news media’s coverage this week of a new study by researchers from Duke Univ.
To recap, a team of Duke researchers took a series of water samples from drinking water aquifers across Northeast Pennsylvania. They found no trace of fracturing fluids in those samples. They did find traces of saline, and theorized that it may have originally come from deep underground pockets of salty water, called brine. The saline was not found anywhere near oil and gas wells, and therefore, the researchers concluded it was naturally occurring and not caused by hydraulic fracturing. But, the researchers further theorized that if the saline was naturally occurring, and if it originally came from deep underground, then it’s possible that some of the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing and some of the natural gas released from deep shale formations could someday migrate upward, through thousands of feet and billions of tons of rock, to shallow drinking water aquifers. Everyone clear on that?
Notably, the Duke researchers didn’t say how long it might have taken for the saline to move more than a mile upwards through the rock. That omission drew heavy criticism from a Penn State geologist during the peer review process, because it would take thousands to millions of years, yet the Duke paper implies without evidence that it could have happened more quickly. This criticism, and others, were made widely available to reporters covering the Duke paper, because time is an important “news value.” In other words, something that may possibly happen thousands or millions of years from now just isn’t that newsworthy compared to what’s going on today.