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'Natural' Gas Industry Shills Use the Media to Mislead the Public -- Here's How to Spot Them

Learn to decode the messages of the gas industry, its shills, the politicians in its pocket, and lazy journalists.

In papers everywhere we hear arguments such as the one that appeared recently in the Rochester (NY) Business Journal, in an article by economist Raymond J. Keating, under the heading "N.Y. is missing out on economic opportunity."

Keating wrote, "Environmentalists are claiming that hydraulic fracturing threatens groundwater supplies and are using anecdotal evidence to support their claims. Yet years of evidence have demonstrated that the fracking process is safe."

This is not just misleading; it's artful misuse of the language. Or, as my mother would have put it in her habitually blunt way, it's a lie.

And Keating knows it, as do all the other industry-friendly experts perpetrating this carefully constructed framing of the issue and the lazy or stupid journalists who regurgitate it.

It's easy to rebut such patently false claims. They would be laughable if the gas and oil drilling industries hadn't been so successful in lobbying Congress and the Executive Branch and in advertising to an unsuspecting public. The industry is spending tens of millions of dollars annually on these campaigns, and mainstream media for the most part just incuriously publishes or airs what's in industry press releases or what comes from the mouths of industry spokespeople.

To pick apart just the two sentences quoted above: First, Keating, like all the industry insiders and the politicians in their pockets, uses "environmentalists" as a pejorative. (But for heaven's sake, if you're not an environmentalist, you're an idiot; we all share the environment and can't live without a healthy one!) That aside, Keating and his ilk are lumping a whole lot of people who'd never identify themselves as "environmentalists" under the heading. Many distinguished scientists in many fields -- engineering, geology, physics, biology, hydrology, chemistry, medicine, health -- from numerous universities and non-industry-tied scientific organizations are calling for a moratorium on drilling while its effects on health and nature are studied further.

They, as well as regular folks who are living with the effects of horizontal fracturing on their own drinking water supplies and others who care enough to have educated themselves on the subject, have documented evidence that fracking and the entire drilling and extraction processes involved in it can poison groundwater. It can poison, and has poisoned, lakes, rivers and streams whence communities draw drinking water and food supplies.

Second, Keating and his industry-tied allies use the industry line that fracking has been around for years and is safe. I'm not always as blunt as my mom, so I'll say kindly that this is disingenuous.

Slickwater high-volume horizontal fracturing for gas is a relatively new technique. Vertical fracking has been around for decades, but that is not the process being pushed for New York State's Marcellus and Utica Shales, nor the process being used in Pennsylvania and other states at present.

Horizontal fracking is a very different process from vertical fracking, and involves much more invasive engineering (and chemical stews) through unstable shale rock, where the natural fracturing makes it easy for contaminants to migrate in seconds from deep below normal groundwater supplies.

Last I knew, safe drinking water was made up of hydrogen, oxygen, and some sodium and other trace minerals. Among the hundreds of poisonous chemicals used in the horizontal fracking process are Acfrac CR-4000D (a viscoscifier and known carcinogen), ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, Poly-Plus (a friction reducer used in fracturing, and a known carcinogen), Zytel (fracturing resin, also a known carcinogen), HAI-85M Acid Inhibitor (corrosion inhibitor, another known carcinogen), O-600-W (corrosion inhibitor, carcinogen), toluene, and numerous other endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and carcinogens.

The process also releases naturally occurring heavy metals and radioactive materials that should best be left deep underground undisturbed. All this nasty stuff can easily end up in drinking water supplies, either during the fracturing (of already unstable, fractured shale rock) or later, when the toxic wastewater comes back up and has to be sequestered somewhere or sent to some kind of treatment facility (that doesn't yet exist) capable of purifying it to the drinking standards you want your loved ones to be imbibing.