pageok
pageok
pageok
ProPublica's Shaky Facts:

My media column for today's Rocky Mountain News continues an investigation of ProPublica, a non-profit which supplies articles for free to mainstream media. The particular story I write about involves natural gas drilling in Colorado and Wyoming, and a technique known as hydraulic fracturing. My column finds very serious factual errors in the ProPublica article. For example, I write:

The Colorado experience of zero cases of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing is consistent with the 2002 study from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (a consortium of state regulatory agencies). The Commission surveyed regulatory agencies in 28 states (including Colorado and the other four states where ProPublica claimed that there were more than 1,000 "documented" cases of contamination). The response covered the entire history of hydraulic fracturing in those states. Every single one of those 28 states reported that there had never been groundwater harm due to fracturing.
The ProPublica article did not report the evidence from that government study, but brusquely dismissed it as "an anecdotal survey done a decade ago." Actually, the 2002 study has no anecdotes, and with a dataset of almost a million wells, it cannot plausibly be considered "anecdotal."
The one article which I examined in depth is not necessarily representative of the overall quality of ProPublica's work. Nevertheless, the quality control failure on that article would make me very cautious about using ProPublica's work, if I were a MSM editor. Before using the article, I would probably assign one of my own staffers to fact-check the ProPublica article.

Daryl Herbert (www):
The MSM has a very poor record of fact checking things that it wants to believe.
1.10.2009 11:12am
bikeguy (mail):
Sounds the those who use ProPublica as a source get what they pay for.
1.10.2009 11:16am
gran habano:
The media is poorly educated and technically illiterate, so you can't expect them to understand hydrogeology, or cover it properly.
1.10.2009 12:01pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
speaking of a need to fact check, you wrote...

the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (a consortium of state regulatory agencies)

in fact, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission says (according to their own website)"Our membership is comprised of the Governors of oil and gas producing states, as well as appointed representatives."

in other words, this is a pro-petrofuel lobbying organization from states that produce petro-fuels -- its NOT comprised of state regulatory agencies, but of representatives of governors of various states.
1.10.2009 12:18pm
second history:
Prof. Kopel "continues" his investigation of ProPublica, yet fails to link to the beginning of his investigation. Is he embarassed? I note he couches this latest installment by saying "The one article which I examined in depth is not necessarily representative of the overall quality of ProPublica's work . . " yet he fails to address the issues raised with his prior post. As ProPublica is one of the few (if only) journalistic organizations conducting systematic investigative journalism, and Prof. Kopel's obvious bias against them, I suggest his next media column should investigate the larger issue of the future of investigative journalism.

If Prof. Kopel identifies a systemic problem with ProPublica that is one thing. But to select one story to continue his attack is pretty weak. Prof. Kopel should enjoy the luxury of his newspaper column as the Rocky Mountain News is not long for this world.
1.10.2009 2:29pm
Jmaie (mail):
in other words, this is a pro-petrofuel lobbying organization from states that produce petro-fuels-- its NOT comprised of state regulatory agencies, but of representatives of governors of various states.

These representatives include the heads of California's Department of Conservation, Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, etc.

Without digging through meeting agenda's I can't say how these folks interact, but it's not fair to insinuate that the group is an industry shill.
1.10.2009 2:55pm
Jmaie (mail):
I should have said, many of the representatives are (based on their titles) likely to favor mineral exploitation and view issue from that perspective. However the group also includes the heads of California's Department of Conservation, Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, etc.

Not exactly an industry shill group.
1.10.2009 3:01pm
ProPublica (mail) (www):
ProPublica has reviewed this article and we remain confident in our stories on this important subject. Please note a complete response will be posted at www.ProPublica.org this Monday. We hope you'll visit the site to read it before finalizing any judgments.
1.10.2009 4:45pm
PersonFromPorlock:
If it's entertaining and free, why fact-check it and risk finding out it's unusable? The purpose of journalism is to produce entertaining (or why bother?) filler to go between the ads as cheaply as possible; this story appears to fit journalistic requirements exactly.
1.10.2009 5:36pm
Some Sense:
I find it fascinating that no one in this thread has discussed whether or not the story is correct or not, or how accurate the facts comprising the story are. I am beginning to wonder if truth is really important any more. All I have seen are comments attacking a group as pro-oil.
1.10.2009 6:27pm
gran habano:
Some Sense,

Lawyers are about as technically illiterate as the media, so no surprise this subject wouldn't draw much comment at this site.

The story is pretty cut and dried. The ProPublica group ignored and disparaged a study from the IOGCC group, a study which completely undermined the PP story.

So clearly, one of these 2 groups is either communicating poorly, or is completely full of sh!t, and it looks like the PP guy is anxious to prove it's not him!

I'd recommend that for his Monday explanation, Mr. PP get into the technical aspects of this. You claim 1,000 incidents of contamination, and the IOGCC says ZERO.

Define your criteria for an incident of contamination. Given the wide disparity between the figures, it's obvious the criteria are not like.

My own suspicion is that the IOGCC's criteria is that of the state regulatory agencies represented in their group, and PP's came out of somebody's biological orifice, and is anecdotal.

But, we'll await your explanation, Mr. PP.
1.10.2009 7:41pm
gran habano:
Some Sense,

Lawyers are about as technically illiterate as the media, so no surprise this subject wouldn't draw much comment at this site.

The story is pretty cut and dried. The ProPublica group ignored and disparaged a study from the IOGCC group, a study which completely undermined the PP story.

So clearly, one of these 2 groups is either communicating poorly, or is completely full of sh!t, and it looks like the PP guy is anxious to prove it's not him!

I'd recommend that for his Monday explanation, Mr. PP get into the technical aspects of this. You claim 1,000 incidents of contamination, and the IOGCC says ZERO.

Define your criteria for an incident of contamination. Given the wide disparity between the figures, it's obvious the criteria are not like.

My own suspicion is that the IOGCC's criteria is that of the state regulatory agencies represented in their group, and PP's came out of somebody's biological orifice, and is anecdotal.

But, we'll await your explanation, Mr. PP.
1.10.2009 7:41pm
John Moore (www):
O'Sullivan's First Law will cause ProPublica to be biased, in the same way it has done with WikiPedia.
1.10.2009 10:00pm
duracomm (mail):
This may be another example of astroturfing that is very similar to the underhanded manner in which the PEW foundation pushed for campaign finance reform (incumbent protection).

The Campaign Finance Conspiracy
Charged with promoting campaign-finance reform when he joined Pew in the mid-1990s, Treglia came up with a three-pronged strategy: 1) pursue an expansive agenda through incremental reforms, 2) pay for a handful of "experts" all over the country with foundation money and 3) create fake business, minority and religious groups to pound the table for reform.

There is a new push for more regulations of hydraulic fracturing.

U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey D-NY), and John Salazar (D-CO) recently introduced legislation that would subject the practice of hydraulic fracturing to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).*

Pro publica's "journalism" may be nothing more then astroturfing to build support for this legislation.

It would be interesting to know where they got the facts for the article from and if they got input or comment from those who don't think hydraulic fracturing is causing problems.
1.11.2009 12:38am
Tritium (mail):
As Americans, we know that nothing of worth is free. And when something is labeled 'free' you've probably already paid for it in taxes, as it seems that Congress has been abusing its authority (*utter shock*) using the Smithsonian Institute to their own benefits.

If you ever see Campaign Contributions listed as "Other" or "Undisclosed" it's because congress has exempted the Smithsonian Institute from reporting requirements, making our 'representative government' seem less representing the people, and more the people who pay themselves.

Liberty, Justice, and Honesty... What a concept. An American Dream worth waking up to, rather than staying asleep for.
1.11.2009 4:27am
Kevin P. (mail):
I checked out ProPublica's web site. The vast majority of their "independent" "investigations" walk the lefty line. It's not surprising that they are managing to peddle their stories in the MSM - the "investigations" appeal to the liberal narrative, which as we all know, is more important than the facts.
1.11.2009 3:40pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
If it is true that PP is funded by George Soros, as has been reported, then the burden of proof would be on the editor. Has enough work been done to overcome the presumption of falsehood?
If you have to do that much work, you may as well do the whole story yourself.
1.11.2009 10:53pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
Well, I just went back and compared the original article to what Kopel is writing. Kopel is being glaringly dishonest.

Basically, PP is claiming that there are "more than 1,000 other cases of contamination have been documented by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania." But PP makes clear that not all of these contamination cases are directly related to fracturing itself, when they say..."In other cases, the contamination occurred not from actual drilling below ground, but on the surface, where accidental spills and leaky tanks, trucks and waste pits allowed benzene and other chemicals to leach into streams, springs and water wells."

Kopel wants you to believe that PP is talking exclusively about contamination of water that happens when chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing enter the water supply by migrating from the mine into the watershed. But that isn't what PP is saying -- and PP never claims that there were any such incidents in Colorado.

read the whole article -- its clear that PP has an agenda, but its equally clear that they've got their facts straight, and that Kopel's criticism is based on isolating one sentence, and ignoring the rest of the paragraph of that sentence.

read the whole thing and decide for yourself
1.12.2009 12:49pm
Wahoowa:
Speaking of the News, any word on whether they'll survive the month or not? I'm a Post subscriber myself, but I always think a two-paper town is the preferable situation.
1.12.2009 2:20pm
ProPublica (mail) (www):
Setting the Record Straight on Hydraulic Fracturing
by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - January 12, 2009 6:16 pm EST

In his Jan. 10 column in the Rocky Mountain News (and reposted on the Volokh Conspiracy), Independence Institute analyst David Kopel significantly misstates the record on the environmental risks posed by the gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

Using carefully culled quotations and selected statistics, Kopel asserts "indisputably false facts" in ProPublica's reporting.

In fact, it is his column that is indisputably misleading.
Kopel quoted a press spokesperson for New Mexico as saying the state had never compiled "numbers about groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing" — the actual forcing of water into rock. He cites a similar remark from a Colorado official.

These are classic examples of framing a precisely tailored question to elicit a misleading response, much as the tobacco industry used to ask scientists whether smoking could be conclusively identified as a cause of lung cancer.

Here are the facts.

State and federal officials have identified what several said was an alarming pattern of water contamination in and around drilling sites across the country. Until ProPublica began asking questions last year, few environmental officials had examined what role hydraulic fracturing may have played in this contamination.

Colorado records cite some 1,500 cases from 2003 to 2008 in which drilling companies reported a hazardous spill, with 300 instances leading to what state officials determined was a measurable impact on water supplies. A tally of Colorado data was performed by the advocacy group Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

In New Mexico, Mark Fesmire, director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Division, said his state had documented some 800 cases in which water has been contaminated by oil and gas operations, half of them from waste pits that had leaked chemicals into the ground.

As ProPublica has reported, it's difficult for scientists to say which aspect of drilling — the hydraulic fracturing, the waste water that accidentally flows into the ground, the leaky pits of drilling fluids or the spills from truckloads of chemicals transported to and from the site — causes such pollution.

Here's why: The industry has adamantly refused to make public the ingredients of the chemicals it forces into the ground and later stores in the waste pits near drilling sites. Scientists say that information is crucial to tracing the source of pollution. Without those data, environmental officials say they cannot conclude with certainty when or how certain chemicals entered the water.

Ask officials in New Mexico and Colorado: Are there any cases in which we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that hydraulic fracturing caused water contamination? Answer: No, we've never studied that question.

Ask those same officials: Are there hundreds of cases of water contamination in drilling areas, the vast majority of which use hydraulic fracturing? Answer: Yes.

The drilling industry, echoed by Kopel, cites three documents when asserting the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing. They are a 2004 EPA study [5] (PDF), a 2002 survey of state agencies [6] (PDF) by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and a similar survey in 1998 by the Ground Water Protection Council [7] (PDF).

In its Nov. 13 article [8], ProPublica detailed flaws in the EPA study and reported that the two surveys were "anecdotal," meaning that they included none of the basic data required to qualify as a scientific study. The "results" were drawn from questionnaires sent to state officials. ProPublica did misstate the date on one of these surveys, referring to it as more than a decade old when it had been published in 2002.

(Read the complete response with links to the original documents.

(Read the original ProPublica report here.
1.12.2009 6:44pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Looking at this response, it looks like ProPublica is continuing, despite lack of evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing is responsible for groundwater contamination. I counted the phrase "hydraulic fracturing" 20 times in the initial report. ProPublica fails to find any actual evidence that hydraulic fracturing is responsible for groundwater contamination, but runs its report full of hints and innuendo anyway.

Here's a hint: Perhaps there is no groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing. Perhaps, just perhaps people who drill for oil and natural gas for a living know what they're doing. Perhaps government bureaucrats and journalists don't have all the answers. Just a thought.
1.12.2009 8:42pm
ereceDyenegig (mail) (www):
I think you are thinking like sukrat, but I think you should cover the other side of the topic in the post too...
1.13.2009 12:10am

Post as: [Register] [Log In]

Account:
Password:
Remember info?

If you have a comment about spelling, typos, or format errors, please e-mail the poster directly rather than posting a comment.

Comment Policy: We reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and in extreme cases to ban commenters, at our discretion. Comments must be relevant and civil (and, especially, free of name-calling). We think of comment threads like dinner parties at our homes. If you make the party unpleasant for us or for others, we'd rather you went elsewhere. We're happy to see a wide range of viewpoints, but we want all of them to be expressed as politely as possible.

We realize that such a comment policy can never be evenly enforced, because we can't possibly monitor every comment equally well. Hundreds of comments are posted every day here, and we don't read them all. Those we read, we read with different degrees of attention, and in different moods. We try to be fair, but we make no promises.

And remember, it's a big Internet. If you think we were mistaken in removing your post (or, in extreme cases, in removing you) -- or if you prefer a more free-for-all approach -- there are surely plenty of ways you can still get your views out.