Green Room

Guest post: The failure of an anti-fracking fantasy

posted at 5:49 pm on April 3, 2013 by

My good friends Phelim McAleer and his wife Ann McIlhenny are documentary filmmakers whose last project, Frack Nation, tackled the media myths, misconceptions, and misplaced activism surrounding the practice of hydraulic fracturing in the extraction of natural gas.  Phelim wrote a guest post regarding a recent development in a legal case  that had been sealed, one that anti-fracking activists cited as proof of the harm fracking does.  When a court ordered the case unsealed, though, the files told a much different story — one that the media suddenly lost interest in telling.

What happened to the media?

Phelim McAleer

It’s a case of “be careful for what you wish for” for anti-fracking activists and the journalists who support–sorry, I mean “chronicle”–their cause.

For these journalists and activists there has been no better story about the evils of fracking than the Hallowich family in Washington County Pennsylvania. Mrs Hallowich told news outlets from across the world how her family’s health was destroyed by fracking activity near their home. She claimed her family and in particular her children were suffering devastating healy impacts caused by fracking and said her children could some day have cancer as a result.

Their story was featured by CBS News, the BBC, and National Geographic and everyone else who loves great stories about how fracking is evil.

This narrative was only strengthened when it emerged that the Hallowiches had settled a legal battle with an oil and gas company and received a financial settlement. And if any further proof was needed the settlement was covered by a non-disclosure clause–which the journalists and anti-fracking activists took as evidence of wrongdoing and then the cover up of the wrongdoing

But let’s not forget that journalists, when they want to be, can be enterprising. So they worked out that the agreement covered minors–who of course have to be protected from corporations and, in the eyes of the law, sometimes even their parents. So they petitioned a court to release the details of the agreement because the court and not the parents were allowed to decide what was right for the children.

The court decided that there was no reason why the lawsuit covering the children should be kept secret and ordered all the documents should be released.

Cue: much excitement from journalists; they had managed to destroy the veil of secrecy around a fracking lawsuit. Letters were being written to the Pulitzer committee. “Thank you” speeches were being composed.

Then the hundreds of pages of documents were released.

Cue: pretty much complete silence. There were no detailed exposes; there were no sensational headlines or serialized articles. And there was a very big reason for the silence.

To the dismay of anti-fracking activists and, I suspect, their journalistic supporters, the document dump confirmed that the Hallowiches had lied to them. The documents confirmed that even as they were claiming to media that fracking was damaging their children’s health, the Hallowiches were sitting on scientific and medical evidence that their children were healthy and not affected by fracking.

And far from a family suddenly overwhelmed by a growing gas industry, it’s clear from the court documents that the Hallowiches bought into the gas boom. They bought land and built a house in the middle of an active gas field. And how do we know they knew about the gas boom? Well because they were–and still are–receiving royalty checks from a gas company.

In short the documents revealed that they received a substantial settlement even though they admitted, under oath, that neither they nor their children had suffered any medical ill-effects from fracking.

But apart from a few small local newspapers none of the “respectable,” no doubt heavily qualified journalism school graduates, have rushed to correct the record. They were happy, in graphic detail, to cover the allegations, but in what seems to be a complete inversion of journalism, they go silent when the science comes in.

This seems to be a pattern in modern journalism. A good allegation makes for a great story. One feature of all these examples of “journalism by allegation” is the apparent lack of curiosity by the journalists.

In my documentary, FrackNation, we interviewed the Sautner family in Dimock, PA. They had given dozens of interviews and in all of them claimed their water contained three types of uranium–“two of them weapons grade.” Not one journalist ever asked for the science behind these claims. It was a story that was too good to check.

The publicity surrounding Dimock, PA is one of the main reasons that fracking is now banned in New York–even though test after test by the PA state scientists and the EPA have revealed that there is no contamination in the water. But these results–overturning a key allegation of anti-fracking activists–have received very little media coverage.

It is the same with the Hallowiches. When the evidence proved their allegations wrong, the media just refused to publish the science and moved on to the next exciting allegation. And in the meantime families who know no better are frightened of fracking, worrying if their family’s health will suffer. Journalists owe it to these families to follow the story of the Hallowiches to the very end and publish the science that shows their water is clean and their family is healthy.

So far they have failed to do so, and they wonder why no one is reading newspapers anymore.

The opinion expressed is that of the author.

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Newspapers have been replaced by paper towels, which are superior bird cage liners…and don’t come pre-contaminated with [email protected]

landlines on April 3, 2013 at 6:05 PM

Democrats, continuing to be the anti-science party since, well, always.

Fracking is basically just witchcraft. Burn the witches!

Good Solid B-Plus on April 3, 2013 at 6:30 PM

You know, if they were an actual profession, this would be malpractice, and some organization would start revoking their credentials.

Hah! *snort* Sorry… I tried to keep a straight face typing that…..

GWB on April 3, 2013 at 7:07 PM

OT/ Happy Birthday you bugger!

KOOLAID2 on April 3, 2013 at 10:16 PM


Nothing. They’re like that every day.

Merovign on April 4, 2013 at 3:31 AM

Excellent work, Mr McAleer. You and your wife are doing great work, and you do it well. (I was equally impressed with your efforts on ddt.) You are some of the few people who are bringing the fight directly to the statists; we really need to get you two on more tv sets here!

Dr Snooze on April 4, 2013 at 7:31 AM

But… but, but… Matt Damon! And Terry Kinney’s character gets all those great quips!

The Schaef on April 4, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Looks like the story is not even resonating here. Seven comments in 15 hours is weak tea, even for the Green room.

Forward this post to everyone you know!!

iurockhead on April 4, 2013 at 11:08 AM

So, the Hallowiches receive royalty checks from a gas company, do they? Were I the disbursement official , those checks would be printed on used crapper paper … and “cc’d” to Ma-a-a-a-a-t Da-a-a-monnn.

M240H on April 4, 2013 at 12:10 PM

because the court and not the parents were allowed to decide what was right for the children.

Perhaps the most troubling statement in this post.

dalewalt on April 4, 2013 at 1:31 PM

I wanted to post this comment, but my work internet filter prevents using Facebook for anything, and that paper uses Facebook for thier comments:

Thought I would add a linkback from the story that brought me here:

Basically, the released documents show that EVERY SINGLE ALLEGATION brought by the Hallowichs was false, and they swore to such in court. In fact in EVERY case everywhere where people have alleged harm from Fracking, once actual impartial scientists are able to test the claims, they find them false. (Flaming water, unranium in the water, poisoned land, dying crops, sick animals, etc. etc. etc.) The anti-fracking hysteria is just that. Baseless, pointless hysteria and much ado about nothing.

If you hate Fracking and think it’s the next great catasrophe, you are either ignorant, stupid, or complicit in (and possibly making money from) the FUD being spread around about Fracking. No honest and intelligent person can look at the SCIENCE here and conclude that fracking is anything but a huge boon to America and the communities where it takes place.

Maybe I’ll post it later.

wearyman on April 4, 2013 at 2:13 PM