TIMELINE: The Conservative Media's History Of Ignoring Pollution Prior To EPA Mine Spill

The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Fox Business are aggressively criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for accidentally spilling toxic wastewater into Colorado's Animas River while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine. But over the years, these same conservative media outlets have almost completely ignored pollution that was caused by the fossil fuel industry, devoting more attention to the EPA spill than to seven recent cases of industry-caused pollution combined.

Timeline: Seven Cases Of Industry-Caused Pollution That The Journal And Fox Largely Or Completely Ignored

Jan. 17, 2015: Bridger Pipeline Spills 50,000 Gallons Of Oil Into Montana's Yellowstone River

Jan. 6, 2015: Summit Midstream Partners Spills 3 Million Gallons Of Toxic Fracking Wastewater In North Dakota

Oct. 6, 2014: Non-Profit Reveals Fracking Companies Illegally Injected 3 Billion Gallons Of Toxic Wastewater Into California Aquifers

Feb. 2, 2014: Duke Energy Spills Massive Amounts Of Coal Ash Into North Carolina's Dan River

Jan. 9, 2014: Freedom Industries Spills Coal Industry Chemical Into West Virginia's Elk River, Threatening Drinking Water For Up To 300,000 Residents

Mar. 29, 2013: ExxonMobil Spills 210,000 Gallons Of Tar Sands Oil In Mayflower, Arkansas

Jul. 25, 2010: Enbridge Pipeline Spills Over 800,000 Gallons Of Tar Sands Oil Into Michigan's Kalamazoo River

Wall Street Journal And Fox Attacked EPA For Animas River Spill

EPA Accidentally Spilled Wastewater While Trying To Treat Abandoned Gold Mine. On August 5, EPA workers accidentally released an estimated three million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River while attempting to treat the abandoned Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado. The wastewater contained arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals, and the Associated Press reported that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said she takes full responsibility for the incident. [Associated Press, 8/11/15]

Wall Street Journal Editorial Lambasted “Green Police” Over Colorado Spill.  In an August 11 editorial, The Wall Street Journal criticized the “fiasco” in Colorado that it blamed on “the green police,” and expressed concerns about the “ecological ramifications” of the mine spill. [The Wall Street Journal, 8/11/15]

Fox News And Fox Business Mentioned The EPA Spill In A Combined 18 Segments. From August 5 to August 18, Fox News and Fox Business Network devoted eight and six segments to the spill, respectively, during weekday primetime programming. Fox News and Fox Business Network each also mentioned the spill twice in news rundowns that aired during primetime shows.

Criticism Comes Despite Outlets' Long History Of Opposing Efforts To Reduce Pollution

The Journal And Fox Have Long Opposed Governmental Efforts To Rein In Pollution. The Wall Street Journal editorial board and Fox News pundits attacked the EPA for polluting the Animas River even though both outlets have a long history of opposing efforts to reduce pollution. Among the environmental protections that The Journal and Fox News have recently opposed are the Clean Power Plan, which establishes the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, and the Clean Water Rule, which would protect waterways that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans. [Media Matters, 8/12/15]

The Journal And Fox Devoted More Attention To The EPA Spill Than To 7 Previous Cases Of Industry-Caused Pollution, Combined

Fox Channels Mentioned EPA Spill In 18 Segments, Mentioned 7 Different Cases Of Pollution Caused By The Fossil Fuel Industry In A Grand Total Of 15 Segments. A Media Matters analysis compared primetime coverage of the EPA spill by Fox News and Fox Business with those outlets' coverage of seven industry-caused incidents over the past several years, and found that Fox covered the EPA mine spill more than all of these industry-caused incidents combined.

Wall Street Journal Ed. Board Only Mentioned 1 Of The 7 Industry-Caused Spills -- And Did So While Arguing For Keystone XL. Media Matters found that The Wall Street Journal editorial board only mentioned one of these industry-induced spills -- ExxonMobil's tar sands spill in Mayflower, AR -- and only in the context of criticizing environmentalists for using the Mayflower spill to “scare up political opposition” to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/1/13]

Jan. 17, 2015: Bridger Pipeline Spills 50,000 Gallons Of Oil Into Montana's Yellowstone River

Total Fox News And Fox Business Primetime Mentions: 0

Total Wall Street Journal Editorial Mentions: 0

Photo via Flickr user USFWS Mountain-Prairie with a Creative Commons license.

Bridger Pipeline Co. Spilled 50,000 Gallons Of Crude Oil Into The Yellowstone River. On January 17, an oil pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline Co. spilled 1,200 barrels of crude oil -- or about 50,000 gallons -- into Montana's Yellowstone River, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. Reuters reported:

A small but heavily subscribed pipeline that transports 42,000 barrels a day of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region is expected to remain closed on Tuesday after a weekend breach that spilled 1,200 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.

[...]

Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency in the state's eastern Dawson and Richland counties on Monday while towns and cities downstream, including Williston, North Dakota, are monitoring their water systems in case of contamination.

However the water supply of Glendive, the town of 5,000 about 10 miles (16 km) downstream of the spill, has already been tested and found to have elevated levels of hydrocarbons. Water intakes in the river for the city have been closed, according to the EPA. The company, EPA and other agencies are trying to get other drinking water supplies for Glendive, the EPA's [Richard] Mylott said. [Reuters, 1/20/15]

Spill Released Cancer-Causing Chemical Into Region's Water. Days after the spill, officials detected benzene -- a cancer-causing chemical -- in the water supply of Glendive. From CBSNews.com:

Some residents of an eastern Montana farm community are criticizing officials for taking more than two days to notify them that their drinking water is contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical.

Elevated levels of benzene were found in water samples taken from a treatment plant that serves about 6,000 people in the agricultural community of Glendive near the North Dakota border. The contamination followed a 50,000 gallon oil spill that found its way from a break in a 12-inch pipeline into the Yellowstone River. [CBSNews.com, 1/20/15

Jan. 6, 2015: Summit Midstream Partners Spills 3 Million Gallons Of Toxic Fracking Wastewater In North Dakota

Total Fox News And Fox Business Primetime Mentions: 0

Total Wall Street Journal Editorial Mentions: 0

Photo from the Chemical Safety Board via Propublica.

3 Million Gallons Of Toxic Fracking Wastewater Leaked From Summit Midstream Partners' Pipeline. On January 6, 2015, three million gallons of toxic wastewater from hydraulic fracturing -- or “fracking” - began to leak from a Summit Midstream Partners pipeline in North Dakota. Al Jazeera America reported:

Cleanup was underway Thursday after nearly 3 million gallons of brine -- a toxic byproduct of oil and natural gas production -- leaked from a pipeline in western North Dakota in the state's largest spill of its kind since the current energy boom began.

The brine is an unwanted byproduct of oil and natural gas drilling. It is much saltier than seawater and may contain petroleum and residue from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.

Two creeks have been affected, and the full environmental impact might not be clear for months.

[...]

Daryl Peterson, a grain farmer from Mohall and a board member of the Northwest Landowners Association who has had spills on his property, said the latest incident underscores the need for tougher regulation and enforcement.

“Until we start holding companies fully accountable with penalties, I don't think we're going to change this whole situation we have in North Dakota,” he said. [Al Jazeera America, 1/22/15]

“Largest Saltwater Spill In The State's History” Contaminated Two Creeks, Reached Drinking Water Source. PBS reported that the Summit Midstream Partners spill was the largest of its kind in North Dakota history. From PBS' The Rundown:

A pipeline leak near Williston, North Dakota, that began January 6 has spilled 3 million gallons of brine -- a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing. The leak has reached the Missouri River, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

It's the largest saltwater spill in the state's history. Brine is considered toxic; it is saltier than seawater and often contains other fracking fluids and petroleum.

The leak contaminated two creeks near Williston: Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy River. The Little Muddy River empties into the Missouri River, one of the town's sources of drinking water.

State health official Dave Glatt told the Associated Press that given the size and volume of the Missouri River, the contaminants were quickly diluted. But Karl Rockeman, the director of water quality at the Department of Health said “high readings” of contamination were found where the Little Muddy meets the Missouri, the Williston Herald reported. [PBS, The Rundown, 1/26/15]

InsideClimate News Explained Hazards Of Saltwater Brine From Fracking. InsideClimate News explained the hazards of fracking “saltwater” in its coverage of an earlier North Dakota fracking wastewater spill in the summer of 2014. InsideClimate wrote that fracking wastewater “bears little resemblance to what's found in the ocean,” adding that it is five to eight times saltier than seawater and contains high concentrations of heavy metals and can also include radioactive material:

The oil industry called the accident a “saltwater” spill. But the liquid that entered the lake bears little resemblance to what's found in the ocean.

The industry's wastewater is five to eight times saltier than seawater, said Bill Kappel, a hydrogeologist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey. It's salty enough to sting the human tongue, and contains heavy metals in concentrations that might not meet drinking water standards. The briny mix can also include radioactive material. Heavy metals and radioactive materials are toxic at certain concentrations.

“You don't want to be drinking this stuff,” Kappel said.

The North Dakota spill has killed vegetation and contaminated the soil, and cleanup crews are working on remediation and monitoring. In an email, a representative of Crestwood Midstream Partners--the parent company of Arrow Pipelines, the company responsible for the spill--said there is “no evidence of an impact to the local water supply.”  [InsideClimate News, 7/16/14]

Oct. 6, 2014: Non-Profit Reveals Fracking Companies Illegally Injected 3 Billion Gallons Of Toxic Wastewater Into California Aquifers

Total Fox News And Fox Business Primetime Mentions: 0

Total Wall Street Journal Editorial Mentions: 0

Photo of two wastewater deep injection wells from Flickr user Faces of Fracking with a Creative Commons license.

Fracking Companies Illegally Injected 3 Billion Gallons Of Fracking Wastewater Into CA Aquifers. The Center for Biological Diversity obtained documents in October 2014 showing that the state of California had found fracking companies illegally injected about three billion gallons of toxic fracking wastewater into California drinking water sources and agricultural aquifers:

Industry illegally injected about 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater into central California drinking-water and farm-irrigation aquifers, the state found after the US Environmental Protection Agency ordered a review of possible contamination.

According to documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, the California State Water Resources Board found that at least nine of the 11 hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, wastewater injection sites that were shut down in July upon suspicion of contamination were in fact riddled with toxic fluids used to unleash energy reserves deep underground. The aquifers, protected by state law and the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, supply quality water in a state currently suffering unprecedented drought.

The documents also show that the Central Valley Water Board found high levels of toxic chemicals - including arsenic, thallium, and nitrates - in water-supply wells near the wastewater-disposal sites. [RT.com, 10/9/14]

Environmental Working Group Report: Injected Waste Contained High Levels Of Carcinogenic Benzene. A report from the Environmental Working Group that studied the chemical composition of California's fracking wastewater found that it contained benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, “at levels ranging from twice to more than 7,000 times the state drinking water standard” :

In 2014, the first year of California's groundbreaking fracking disclosure program, more than a dozen hazardous chemicals and metals as well as radiation were detected in the wastewater, some at average levels that are hundreds or thousands of times higher than the state's drinking water standards or public health goals (Table 1).

These findings underscore the gravity of recent revelations that the state tolerated illegal injection of billions of gallons of drilling wastewater into thousands of disposal wells that pour into aquifers that potentially could be tapped for drinking water or irrigation.

[...]

According to state officials, there is no evidence to date that California aquifers currently used for drinking water have been contaminated by fracking chemicals. But there is clear cause for alarm.

Petroleum chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive elements, plus high levels of dissolved solids, are among the pollutants found in fracking wastewater samples tested under the new disclosure program. (Appendix 1) They include benzene, chromium-6, lead and arsenic - all listed under California's Proposition 65 as causes of cancer or reproductive harm. Nearly every one of the 293 samples tested contained benzene at levels ranging from twice to more than 7,000 times the state drinking water standard. The wastewater also carried, on average, thousands of times more radioactive radium than the state's public health goals consider safe, as well as elevated levels of potentially harmful ions such as nitrate and chloride. [Environmental Working Group, 3/10/15]

Feb. 2, 2014: Duke Energy Spills Massive Amounts Of Coal Ash Into North Carolina's Dan River

Total Fox News And Fox Business Primetime Mentions: 0

Total Wall Street Journal Editorial Mentions: 0

 Photo via Flickr user Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. with a Creative Commons license.

Duke Energy Responsible For 27 Million Gallons Of Contaminated Water Spilling Into Dan River. In February 2014, a pipe burst underneath a Duke Energy coal ash waste containment pond, sending a massive amount of coal ash into North Carolina's Dan River. Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants that contains toxic chemicals, including arsenic. CNN reported that it “took nearly a week to stem the spill, which sent millions of gallons of sludge from a retired power plant into a river that supplies drinking water to communities in North Carolina and neighboring Virginia.” CNN further reported that “Duke Energy said up to 82,000 tons of ash had been released and up to 27 million gallons of basin water had flooded into the river,” and that this amount of coal ash “would fill up to 32 Olympic-size swimming pools.” [CNN.com, 2/9/14]

Coal Ash Spill Led To Unsafe Levels Of Arsenic In Dan River. The Associated Press reported that North Carolina officials said the Dan River was unsafe to touch after the spill, and that the toxic coal ash was “burying aquatic animals and their food” :

North Carolina officials said Tuesday that groundwater containing unsafe levels of arsenic apparently leaching from a Duke Energy coal ash dump is still pouring into the Dan River, which is already contaminated from a massive Feb. 2 spill.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered Duke to stop the flow of contaminated water coming out a pipe that runs under a huge coal ash dump at its Eden power plant. A nearby pipe at the same dump collapsed without warning two weeks ago, coating the bottom of the Dan River with toxic ash as far as 70 miles downstream.

State regulators expressed concern five days ago that the second pipe could fail, triggering a new spill. The water coming out of that pipe contains poisonous arsenic at 14 times the level considered safe for human contact, according to test results released by the state on Tuesday.

[...]

In the wake of the initial spill, public health officials issued advisories telling people to avoid contact with the river water and not eat the fish.

[...]

Officials said the coal ash is burying aquatic animals and their food. The ash, created when coal is burned to generate electricity, could also clog gill tissues in fish and mussels. [Associated Press, 2/19/14, via Huffington Post]

Jan. 9, 2014: Freedom Industries Spills Coal Industry Chemical Into West Virginia's Elk River, Threatening Drinking Water For Up To 300,000 Residents

Total Fox News And Fox Business Primetime Mentions: 9

Total Wall Street Journal Editorial Mentions: 0

Photo via Flickr user Foo Conner with a Creative Commons license.

Freedom Industries Spilled Thousands Of Gallons Of Chemical Used To Treat Coal Into Elk River. On January 9, 2014, a hazardous chemical used in the coal preparation process leaked from a holding tank operated by Freedom Industries into West Virginia's Elk River. The spill contaminated a major drinking water source in the region, leading to a tap water ban for up to 300,000 residents. Reuters reported:

Up to 300,000 West Virginia residents were told not to drink tap water on Friday after a chemical spill called its safety into question, and health officials said water in the affected area should only be used for flushing toilets and fighting fires.

[...]

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for nine counties, and President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration on Friday. The spill forced the closure of schools and businesses in the state capital.

[...]

The spill of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, or Crude MCHM, a chemical used in the coal industry, occurred on Thursday on the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia's capital and largest city, upriver from the plant run by West Virginia American Water.

Water carrying this chemical has an odor like licorice or anise, McIntyre said. While the chemical is not highly lethal, the level that could be considered safe has yet to be quantified, he said.

A water company spokeswoman said the chemical could be harmful if swallowed and could cause skin and eye irritation.

The spill originated at Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that produces specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries.

The governor said in an interview with CNN that there were several thousand gallons of the chemical at the plant, and it is estimated that at the maximum about 5,000 gallons leaked out. [Reuters, 3/12/14]

Purdue Study: Spill Harmed Public Health. A study from Purdue University released in January 2015 found significant public health impacts from the Freedom Industries spill:

West Virginians suffered adverse health effects inside their homes after following plumbing-system flushing directions in response to a chemical spill last January, and these recommendations failed to consider the dangers of chemical vapor exposure, according to a new study.

Chemical storage tanks operated by Freedom Industries Inc. leaked more than 10,000 gallons of an industrial solvent into West Virginia's Elk River on Jan. 9, 2014. 

[...]

The study describes medical data from the records of 224 patients examined by 10 physicians, a polling of residents in 16 homes and drinking water testing in 10 homes. The results were compared to the CDC's review of medical records for 356 patients admitted to 10 hospitals, as well as follow-up surveys by the CDC and West Virginia. The most common adverse health effects found by the university researchers included rashes and skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat and respiratory symptoms.

[...]

The new study reviewed public health data and found two distinct symptom peaks; the first associated with the Jan. 9 incident and the second shortly after the flushing activities were authorized for buildings. [Purdue.edu, 1/5/15]

Mar. 29, 2013: ExxonMobil Spills 210,000 Gallons Of Tar Sands Oil In Mayflower, Arkansas

Total Fox News And Fox Business Primetime Mentions: 5

Total Wall Street Journal Editorial Mentions: 1

Photo via Flickr user Tar Sands Blockade with a Creative Commons license.

ExxonMobil Pipeline Spilled Hundreds Of Thousands Of Gallons Of Tar Sands Oil Into Residential Area In Arkansas. On March 29, 2013, an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled 210,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the town of Mayflower, Arkansas. Tar sands oil is exceptionally difficult to clean up, and InsideClimate News reported that the spill “brought fresh attention to the debate over the proposed Keystone XL [tar sands] pipeline and the inherent risks of transporting Canadian tar sands across America's heartland.” [InsideClimate News, 12/24/13]

Officials Evacuated 22 Homes, Demolished Two Others. In the aftermath of the Mayflower spill, officials evacuated 22 homes and told people living nearby that  “they could leave their homes voluntarily” if “the smells or symptoms were too overwhelming,” according to InsideClimate News. Arkansas' then-attorney general Dustin McDaniel said at the time: “That neighborhood was like a scene from 'The Walking Dead' ... There were still Easter decorations on homes but there was not a soul in sight other than people in Hazmat suits.” Exxon later demolished two homes that were never cleared for reentry so they could remove oil underneath the foundations, according to KATV.  [InsideClimate News, 9/4/13; KATV, 4/3/13; 10/7/13]

Mayflower Spill Caused Headaches, Nausea, And Respiratory Problems, And Long-Term Impacts Are Unknown. In June 2013, InsideClimate reported that several people were suffering from health problems months after the spill, and that the long-term health impacts were unknown:

After [the Mayflower incident and two other oil spills], people complained of  headaches, nausea and respiratory problems--short-term symptoms that health experts say are common after any chemical spill and usually disappear as the air clears.

What health experts don't know, however, is whether the fumes could also trigger long-term health problems that become evident only years or decades later.

[...]

In Arkansas, health officials decided that Mayflower residents could return to their subdivision when benzene levels in and around their homes dropped to below 50 ppb. (Most of the 22 evacuated homes have been cleared for re-entry, although none of the families have returned.) But people nearby complained of headaches, nausea and other health problems even after officials announced online that contaminants in the air were “below levels likely to cause health effects for the general population.” [InsideClimate News, 6/18/13]

Jul. 25, 2010: Enbridge Pipeline Spills Over 800,000 Gallons Of Tar Sands Oil Into Michigan's Kalamazoo River

Total Fox News And Fox Business Primetime Mentions: 1

Total Wall Street Journal Editorial Mentions: 0

Photo via Flickr user Jason W Lacey with a Creative Commons license.

Enbridge Energy Pipeline Spilled Over 800,000 Gallons Of Tar Sands Oil Into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. On July 25, an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy leaked an estimated 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into a creak that feeds into the Kalamazoo River. [Detroit Free Press, 7/27/10]

InsideClimate News: Type Of Oil Spilled Was “Dirtiest, Stickiest Oil On The Market.” In 2012, InsideClimate News reported that the type of oil spilled was far dirtier and harder to clean up than the EPA expected:

What the EPA didn't know then, however, was that 6B was carrying bitumen, the dirtiest, stickiest oil on the market.

Bitumen is so thick--about the consistency of peanut butter--that it doesn't flow from a well like the crude oil found in most of the nation's pipelines. Instead the tarry resin is either steamed or strip-mined from sandy soil. Then it is thinned with large quantities of liquid chemicals so it can be pumped through pipelines. These diluents usually include benzene, a known human carcinogen. At this point it becomes diluted bitumen, or dilbit.

[...]

Instead of remaining on top of the water, as most conventional crude oil does, the bitumen gradually sank to the river's bottom, where normal cleanup techniques and equipment were of little use. Meanwhile, the benzene and other chemicals that had been added to liquefy the bitumen evaporated into the air. [InsideClimate News, 6/26/12]

Survey Found Enbridge Spill Made More Than Half Of Local Residents Sick, Cleanup Has Continued For Years. Three years after the spill, the Detroit Free Press reported on the persisting health and environmental impacts, including that cleanup was expected to cost nearly $1 billion:

In a Michigan Department of Community Health study of health impacts in the months just after the burst pipeline, health care providers identified 145 patients who reported illnesses or symptoms associated with the oil spill, including one patient whose eight health impacts were classified as disabling or life-threatening. A state health department survey of 550 people in affected Kalamazoo River communities found 58% of respondents reported adverse health effects that they attributed to the spill. Chief complaints included headaches, breathing problems and nausea.

[...]

The diluting agent in the oil vaporized in the leak, putting benzene and other harmful chemicals into the air. Much of the remaining tar sands oil combined with river sediments and sank to the bottom, complicating the cleanup.

In March, the EPA ordered Enbridge to conduct a new round of dredging in three areas of the Kalamazoo River bottom, as submerged oil continues to migrate west into Morrow Lake, a dam-created body on the river nearly 40 miles from where the spill began. The new cleanup activity, which has not yet commenced, is expected to push Enbridge's cleanup costs from the spill to nearly $1 billion.

“This is the longest I have ever known a response to continue on a spill,” said Beth Wallace, Great Lakes regional coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. [Detroit Free Press, 6/24/13]

Methodology

Media Matters conducted Snapstream, IQ Media, Nexis, and Factiva searches of weekday primetime (4pm to 11pm) coverage on Fox News and Fox Business, as well as editorials in The Wall Street Journal. We identified eight instances of pollution and our search terms included each incident's location (state or town or site where the pollution occurred or affected body of water), the party responsible for the pollution (e.g. EPA, Exxon Mobil, etc.), and the pollution substance (e.g. tar sands/oil sands, wastewater, oil, etc.). Our analysis examined a two-week span of coverage beginning with the date the incident occurred.