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Fareed Zakaria, Not a Muckraking Journalist -- More Like a 'Buckraking' Shill

Zakaria has a shocking track record of accepting large fees for speaking engagements from industry interests he covers.

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“The rise of shale gas is shaping up to be the biggest shift in energy in generations,” Zakaria  concludes. “And its consequences—economic and political—are profoundly beneficial to the United States.”

Zakaria has continued endorsing shale gas on his CNN show and blog,  calling the energy source a positive “game-changer” for the United States and global politics.

When he turns to consider the principal drawback of shale gas—the environmental dangers of fracking—his responses are cursory and one-sided. It is, after all, the chief hurdle for his argument that shale gas is, all things considered, worth pursuing.

 In his Post op-ed, Zakaria writes,

The environmental concerns are well taken. But the best studies out now—such as one by a committee that included the head of the Environmental Defense Fund—suggest that fracking can be done in a safe and responsible manner.

The “study” to which he alludes is not an environmental-impact study by scientists, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the EDF. It is, rather, a final  report [PDF] of the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. The purpose of the report is to recommend “measures that can be taken to reduce the environmental impact and to help assure the safety of shale gas production.” However, the report also sounds alarms about the substantial burdens for safe drilling and how the government and industry aren’t taking the necessary steps to fulfill them.

The subcommittee repeats this warning in several places, pointing out that it recommends action on fracking because

absent action, there will be little credible progress toward reducing the environmental impact of shale gas production, placing at risk the future of the enormous potential benefits of this domestic energy resource.

The conclusion of the report says,

The Subcommittee believes that if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country—perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades—there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences causing a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity. . . .

The Subcommittee has the impression that its initial report stimulated interest in taking action to reduce the environmental impact of shale gas production by the administration, state governments, industry, and public interest groups. However, the progress to date is less than the Subcommittee hoped and it is not clear how to catalyze action at a time when everyone’s attention is focused on economic issues, the press of daily business, and an upcoming election.

Zakaria’s column does not register these concerns.

His CNN broadcast is even more superficial. When he turns to the environmental objections to fracking, he says: “One problem—there’s a significant lobby against shale gas and the way it’s produced.” To label the environmental problem a “lobby” suggests that the worry isn’t about whether fracking threatens significant environmental harm, but rather about the ability of the opposing side—his side—to win public opinion.

Zakaria then refers to a  report from the International Energy Agency, “Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas,” which shows that, if participating nations follow a set of best practices, the risks from fracking become “manageable.” He concludes by repeating that same key word, “manageable”:

Let’s figure out how to make fracking cleaner and safer. We can regulate the process with good, simple rules. The benefits are immense and the problems manageable.

Shale-gas skeptics are not simply expressing concerns about whether the environmental dangers are manageable under a set of best practices, but about whether the dangers will, in fact, be managed responsibly, given the ways industry often maximizes profits at the expense of best practices and government regulators fail to do their jobs or become captured by the industries they oversee.

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