By Joshua Doubek, WIkimedia Commons
By Bill Kovarik
Some day soon, an oil & gas industry representative will probably tell a journalist, or a politician, or a concerned parent: “Fracking water is as safe as dish soap. Check out the 2014 University of Colorado study.”
And of course that will be horribly wrong, but very few people will know why.
Things can go pretty far off track when science meets the press, and when we hear or read shallow generalizations based on studies inaccurately interpreted, we wonder how it could have happened.
The 2014 Colorado fracking story is an example of one of many chains of errors in our science reporting system. It started with an announcement about a new technique for identifying surfactants (soapy substances) in fracking wastewater. The chain of errors ended with the oil and gas industry’s claim that fracking was a “responsible” practice and the facts on fracking “aren’t so scary at all.”
By Bill Kovarik
As a very young news reporter in Washington DC in 1979, I was invited to one of those think tank “luncheons” where everyone chatted amiably about world oil reserves and the imminent collapse of the Persian Gulf.
Not surprisingly, all the speakers agreed that a shut-down of the Persian Gulf would be catastrophic and must be prevented at all costs. That is, all the speakers except one smiling Venezuelan named Alirio Parra, who was then oil minister. The bottom line was: Don’t worry. Venezuela has more oil in the eastern Orinoco than all the Middle East. And, he strongly implied, your petroleum geologists should be more honest with you.
I remember the shouts of outrage from the assembled policy wonks, one of whom yelled that there was “a journalist here” in the same tone that a Victorian preacher might caution: “ladies present.”
Earth Hour pauses at the US border — The Daily Climate, March 30, 2012 — Consider an hour without power, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, local time. Organizers say as many as 1.8 billion will join in the symbolic environmental event worldwide. But if you live in the US, your neighbors may think you just blew a fuse.