’60 Minutes’ takes aim at shale

BY ROBERT L. BAKER

Veteran TV news journalist Lesley Stahl looked at the development of shale gas on Sunday’s ’60 Minutes’ program.

A few Dimock Township residents got in the national spotlight on CBS’s “60 Minutes” news program Sunday night, and watched it feeling the public could still be better informed.

Television journalist Lesley Stahl examined the pros and cons of America’s shale gas boom in a 15-minute segment of the Emmy Award-winning program.

Stahl was in Dimock back in August, according to resident Victoria Switzer, and conducted about an hour’s worth of interviews.

“But she only used about a minute’s worth of what we told her,” Switzer said.

Stahl’s focus was on the North American shale boom and she gave Aubrey McClendon, the chief executive officer of Chesapeake Energy considerable air time to drive home that the amount of shale gas up to two miles below the surface of the earth amounted to about two Saudi Arabias.

Although Chesapeake has been drilling in western Susquehanna County and Bradford County and has leased considerable land in Wyoming County for eventual gas drilling, none of the company’s local drilling activity got air time, however.

Chesapeake Energy CEO Abrey McClendon flashes two fingers before the TV camera to indicate that the amount of natural gas occurring in North American shales is equivalent to two Saudi Arabias.

Instead, McLendon spoke of successes in other parts of the U.S., and acknowledged that the industry wasn’t without a downside.

“Anytime people are involved, accidents will happen,” McLendon admitted and pointed to an incident in April 2009 in Louisiana as perhaps the most visible negative impact.

There 17 cows apparently found their way to a frack water source which they ingested, and then camera footage showed a field of dead cows.

A couple of additional troubling scenarios were shown and then Stahl worked her way into talking about Susquehanna County.

She likened Dimock to a “ghost town” where well water has been contaminated by natural gas drilling in the township.

Bill Ely was one of three Dimock residents interviewed, and he pointedly demonstrated to Stahl how his well water can be ignited after shaking.

Dimock resident Bill Ely shows how it is possible to ignite his water because of the high level of methane in it.

The 30-year veteran of Procter & Gamble who has lived in the same home for 47 years said there was a time since Jan. 18, 2009, when he and his wife were fearful that their house could blow up.

Ely said he doesn’t feel people by just watching the program got a sense of what life is like not having clean water for two years now.

“Yes, I want my water back, but I also want medical monitoring for my grandchildren and great grandchildren who live with me. What have they been facing all this time?” he asked.

Dimock residents, from left, Ron Carter, Craig Sautner, Vicki Switzer, Norma Fiorentino and Bill Ely speak to TV crews from ’60 Minutes’ in August

Switzer said she thought the program was balanced and “I hope it makes people think. Quality of life is what we’ve lost here, and we just want it back.”

Craig Sautner said he felt there was too much pro-industry emphasis on the newfound ‘Shaleionaires’ – people who have made exorbitant sums of money in what Stahl called a “good old-fashioned gold rush” just because they sit on land which might have a shale deposit below.

“They don’t realize what they’ve lost when water goes bad,” he said.

He told Stahl on air, “I can live without natural gas, I can’t live without my natural water.”

The three residents all live within proximity of Cabot gas wells – three of which have been plugged – and while no spokesman from Cabot was addressed in the segment, Stahl did make reference to the Dimock water problem as tied to bad concrete used by a Cabot contractor.

Following the airing of ‘60 Minutes’ Sunday night, Cabot spokesman George Stark said “The segment did a nice job of pointing out the rewards – a clean burning source of American produced energy, economic development, jobs and wealth creation – and the risks, which need to be minimized through environmentally sensitive practices.”

He added, “Our industry is doing all it can to eliminate mechanical and human error. We are committed to safe, sound production of natural gas. Likewise, we are focused on the growth and development of Susquehanna County.”

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