Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Recent Shale Gas Non News

I've noticed these news items recently.  But media professionals in the northeastern U.S. have disagreed with me, making editorial decisions to keep this information from their respective audiences.

I have a pet theory about this: 
Modern media — always desperate for attention — have evolved themselves into an over-specialized dead end.  They've got so many rules.  The biggest rule is this:  Any prospective story — in order to be recognized as news, and to win the flash and sizzle of the front page, and pickup across the land — must supply three items:  an appealing victim, a blameworthy culprit, and some sort of easily understood dramatic conflict or injustice presumably running between the two of them.

Openly violating the tenets of journalism, it turns out these stories don't have to be true, or real, or proveable; they must only seem
believeable.  And, yes, believeableness is as much a function of what an audience wants to believe, as it is the skill of the teller, or the enormity of the facts.  So left-leaning outlets have their favorite sorts of perceived injustices:  Big American Oil Greedily Manipulates Prices, Screwing Innocent Family Vacationers.  And right-leaning outlets have their favorites:  Welfare Queens and Their Blood-Sucking Trial Lawyers Work the System, Screwing Innocent Hard-Working Taxpayers.

These rules are
a lot like the formulas which have commercially evolved so as to dictate the dramatic pattern of plays, or novels, or sit-coms, or psychological thrillers:  Must have beginning, a middle, and an end (Shakespeare).  Must feature a main character you either like or you don't, and that person must want something (Keillor).  Tell me a story (Hewitt).

It's not news otherwise.  Not relevant.  Not important.  Not interesting.  That's become the rule.

It's true that lots of relevant, important, interesting stuff goes on in the world which doesn't quite fit this familiar media narrative.  But — if you can't cobble together those three dramatically clashing elements — well, then, I'm sorry, it's just not a news story.

Among ordinary readers, this does, in fact, lead to a shockingly biased understanding of Actual Reality.  But what are you gonna do?

Here's all I can do:  Keep a close focus on the issue of shale gas in the northeastern U.S.'s Marcellus and Utica zones.  And, by way of protest, outline some relevant, important, interesting things which are just not news:

• Known as of August 2 from specialized case-monitoring by Bloomberg News in NYC and reported here:  NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been given a fairly stiff reply from the U.S. government on his well-publicized frack lawsuit.  In fact, the U.S. is already seeking dismissal.  This is in connection with the freshman AG's round-about attempt to further slow the Delaware River Basin Commission's already painfully slow unfurling of shale gas drilling regulations in its NY-PA watershed area — where the federal-state compact organization has so far successfully claimed regulatory jurisdiction that overlaps the powers of the individual states.  You ask me, I think this story should run in any media outlet that ran the AG's original filing — which would put it in the hundreds, if not thousands.  But I'm betting the editors will slack on this.  This story will be rejected as merely routine legal jockeying.  And also because it contradicts the themes of the heroic story that has already been so widely told.  [
Google News the next morning:  Only the original Bloomberg postings!  Toldja!  ...Then, around 11 a.m., it looks like Gannett proposes to hide a brief on their blogs.  ...Then, by around 1 p.m., Jon Campbell has a full story up at the Binghamton P&SB.  Good deal!]

• Announced here August 1:  An obscure arm of the federal government, the Research Partnership to Secure Energy For America (RPSEA) — which is evidently funded by royalty income from oil and gas development on lands of the U.S.A. — has given away $12.4 million in grants for research projects having some kind of bearing on shale gas — or other modern-day challenges in the wide world of fossil fuels.  High on the list was this:  NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials) Mitigation and Clean Water Recovery from Marcellus Frac Water, a project to be led by GE Global Research (Niskayuna, NY), and involving participation from Endicott Interconnect Technologies (which picked up where IBM left off in Endicott, NY); Inflection Energy LLC (Denver, CO, based, but with known leasehold interests in the upstate area of Broome and Tioga counties); and Stearns & Wheeler (environmental consultant based in Cazenovia, NY).  Jim Willis' Marcellus Drilling News here dug it out as a $2 million project, of which $1.6 million will be from public funds.  It's true, maybe I'm biased, but I think this should run at least with the business briefs in upstate.  The moral of this story is that — instead of reps from NY's substantial community of experts mobilizing in order to help the activists shoot down shale gas, a theme which has been widely covered — here we have parts of this same professional community organizing in order to increase knowledge, to decrease impact (if any) — and to get paid.  I have tweeted this generally, and I have direct-messaged @PSBStephen.  We shall see.
  [Result as of August 3:  Still bupkis!]

• Of record as of July 27, as outlined by me here:  The NY portion of Michigan-based DTE Energy's $250 million, 37-mile Bluestone Gathering pipeline is officially on file with the NYS Public Service Commission.  I knew this news would be problematic for the Binghamton Press, because that paper had just the week before, July 21, put out a story headlined, "Michigan firm's gas pipeline plan hits snag."  If there's such a snag, then why is there this flood of technical paper now on file with the state authorities?  No one's yet done anything with this.  If the affected landowners were up in arms, then it would be a story.  But, so far, the landowners seem to fall into only three different categories:  1) Those who have already signed easement deals with the developer; 2) Those who are organizing in order to collectively bargain for more lucrative, more protective easement deals; and 3) Those who live nearby, and who have chosen to live and let live.  Still not a story?  Why is this not a story? 

• Happened mid-July, but not reported until July 22 and July 27 — and then only in very limited outlets, and in somewhat confusing ways, as shown here and here:  The Coalition of Watershed Towns — a collection of all the upstate town governments, spread across five counties, which together represent all the land which drains water toward New York City's drinking water collection reservoirs — voted unanimously against the Cuomo Administration's proposed permanent shale gas ban in those areas.  This action appears to have been taken at the behest of Delaware County Board of Supervisors Chair James E. Eisel Sr., and under the guidance of Coalition Attorney Jeffrey Baker.  Here, we see an unusual twist in the possible casting and plot for a potential story — what with the culprit being played in this case by pushy wealthy New York City water consumers (and their political henchmen), and the victim represented by economically down-trodden upstate landowners, and the injustice being the emotionally obscure, uncompensated loss of property rights, and economic development, caused by all this regulatory over-zealousnous against natgas drilling.  Though it had potential — still, very little coverage, and certainly no bounce.  Maybe next time.

Happened July 23, 2011:  Cabot Oil and Gas held its second annual Community Picnic, this time on the Harford Fairgrounds, Susquehanna County, PA.  I beforehand made fun of the promotional poster here.  There was free admission, free food, and free gifts.  And more than 4,000 people reportedly took them up on it.  That's about twice the number who showed up last year, and a pretty good turnout — considering that the population of Susquehanna County, PA, was only 43,356 during the last census.  Cabot has faced widespread bad press — nearly comparable to such Seventies-Eighties eco dramas as Love Canal, or Times Beach — over much of the last two years.  This was in connection with shallow methane migration issues which, at least temporarily, affected nearby domestic well water supplies, and which stemmed from gas well casing failures in this very same county, namely Dimock.  To have read all this non-stop coverage, you would think they didn't have a single friend left anywhere in this area.  But I dunno; judging from this picnic, it doesn't look that way to me.  I did see some error-laden, second-string newspaper coverage from Scranton, PA, and some Binghamton TV coverage, but neither clearly knew what to do with the story.  Again, if the facts can't be leveraged so as to reinforce the established narrative, they get clumsy about it.

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