USA Today: Fracking Makes You Rich! (And Also Maybe Sick, Too)

usat-frackingThe front page of USA Today (1/16/14) has a classic headline over a story about fracking in Texas. The stacking of the headlines tells the story:

Texans gushing over new riches
But boom poses risks to health and safety

So all this drilling and fracking is exclamation-point-worthy good news, and people are getting rich–and, as a lesser concern, there might be a downside. 

The piece, as you might expect, kicks off with the good news: 

THREE RIVERS, TEXAS — Not long ago, Richard Dockery was a real estate and insurance broker in this town of 1,800 residents, putting together small land deals and a nest egg for retirement.

Today, Dockery, 47, lives in a new, 2,400-square-foot home that he bought with cash. He expects to have his 23-year-old daughter’s medical school bills covered before she steps into her first classroom.

He goes on to tell the paper, “There are literally thousands of people out here who are millionaires, and some who are going to be billionaires.”

USA Today‘s Rick Jervis adds:  

It’s not just oil companies and counties profiting. Ranch owners who previously had only scrub bush and white-tailed deer on their property are leasing their land for millions of dollars a month. Teachers lucky enough to have oil beneath their yards have left their jobs to travel the world or open boutiques

It’s not until the 12th paragraph that we hear about some of the problems associated with all these instant millionaires:

But for every story of overnight riches, there are tales of the boom’s potentially negative impact: overpowering chemical smells near wells; residents waking up in the middle of the night with headaches or nosebleeds; threats to drinking aquifers; roads banged up by oil trucks and spikes in traffic fatalities; soaring rents; earthquakes.

 Nosebleeds, headaches, earthquakes, water problems, earthquakes and more people dying in accidents–those sound like more than just “potentially negative” consequences.

And eventually USA Today clues readers in on more of that: Wasting water in the midst of “a historic drought,” for instance, and gas flaring that releases methane and ozone. (Did you know that methane is a greenhouse gas, with much more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide? If not, this article won’t tell you.)

But the paper reassures that some of these concerns are under control, at least according to an industry spokesperson: 

Oil companies involved in the Eagle Ford Shale are conscious of the health and environmental risks and are working to limit them, says Bill Stevens, a spokesman with the Texas Energy Alliance, an industry group of mostly independent producers.

State lawmakers have tightened rules surrounding drilling, including more disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking and extensive new rules on well-making, Stevens says.

So if it’s really get-rich-quick versus public health, USA Today  closes out the piece with this observation: “The bigger question is what to do when the oil stops flowing.” By that they mean what happens when there’s no more money to be made from extracting fossil fuels from the area.  That is the “bigger” issue–more important than the long-term environmental consequences of finding a way to extract vast amounts previously inaccessible carbon from underground so it can be burned and dumped into the atmosphere.

That’s especially unfortunate because USA Today has been producing a strong series on the impacts of climate change called “Weathering the Change.” This story doesn’t so much as mention the issue. 


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.