“Fair And Balanced”: Fox News Leans Towards Fracking

fracking balance

Fox News segments on a method of natural gas extraction called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” gave over five times as much airtime to guests touting the benefits of fracking as it did to one guest warning of its risks.

On August 12, Fox News aired three virtually identical segments from correspondent David Lee Miller on fracking that were conspicuously one-sided. The segments compared the economy of Pennsylvania, which has seen a recent boom in fracking, to that of the southern tier of New York, where fracking is currently under a moratorium. The segments' pro-fracking slant is clear from the outset, with Miller stating that the “key reason for the economic disparity” between the two regions is “hydraulic fracking.” The segments each featured three guests to tout the benefits of fracking for a total of 21 seconds per segment, against just one guest having four seconds to explain its risks:

The segments' bias is apparent in more than just the numbers; the information presented in support of fracking was in many cases misleading.

In two of the three segments, Miller featured Gabriel Campana, Republican mayor of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who stated, “They say for every well that's created, there's over 100 jobs.” But a study from the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative found that between 2005 and 2012, “less than four new shale-related jobs have been created for each new well,” and noted that even industry-funded studies only estimate that each fracking well creates “as high as 31” jobs -- well below Campana's claim of over 100 jobs per well.

On Fox's Special Report with Bret Baier, Miller's fracking segment replaced Campana with Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (the segment was otherwise almost exactly the same) to claim that “the quality of life has tremendously increased for particularly the people in this region.” The people in that region might disagree. Fracking processes have harmed over 200 privately owned bodies of water in the Pennsylvania since 2008, and the process still threatens drinking water in the region. Eugene DePasquale, auditor general of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection likened regulation of the fracking industry in his state to “trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose.”

NPR called the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania "'Ground Zero' in the fight over fracking" after dozens of families noticed high levels of natural gas contamination in their drinking water. In 2009, fifteen Dimock families filed a federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas due to drinking water contamination, including a methane build up in one resident's well that caused an explosion. Fracking sites present other safety concerns; in February a well operated by Chevron exploded killing one worker and injuring another.

Other pro-fracking guests highlighted by Fox were a New York dairy farmer who thinks fracking is vital for his farm's “economic security,” and a New York county executive who stated fracking would give the state “a substantial increase in the number of jobs, a substantial increase in the investment.” The sole critic was ecologist Sandra Steingraber, who was given four seconds of airtime to state that “fracking brings temporary riches to a few and permanent ruin to many.”

A “fair and balanced” segment might have noted that more New Yorkers oppose hydraulic fracturing in the state than support it, or that lax fracking industry oversight has not only led to polluted water but has left “a toll of badly injured or killed workers” and poses very real risks to the southern tier of New York.