A gas company is attempting to use a half-century old Pennsylvania law to frack underneath the land of property owners who refuse to allow the controversial practice on their land, yet a majority of Pennsylvanians may be unaware as two of the state's top three newspapers have failed to mention the contentious issue.
Hilcorp Energy, a Texas-based oil and gas company, is pushing legal action in Pennsylvania to be able to drill underneath the property of landowners that have refused to sign a lease if enough of their neighbors have already signed, a practice known as "forced pooling." The "unused and outdated" law, which is "pitting neighbor against neighbor" as reported by the Associated Press, would "shred private property rights" according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the only of the three highest circulating papers in Pennsylvania to cover the story. The other two, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have completely overlooked the issue which has received national attention.
The "forced pooling" law would force landowners to allow the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract natural gas reserves underneath their property without their consent, creating concerns about the impact on property values and the threat of water pollution. A leaked document from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that natural gas extraction has caused methane to leak into domestic water wells, causing "significant damage" to the drinking water supply of the town.
Pennsylvania isn't the only state dealing with the "forced pooling" issue. Energy companies have been exploiting similar laws in many states including in Illinois and Ohio to the outrage of unsuspecting landowners. In Ohio, citizens are "furious" about the ruling that one citizen fears will "make him legally responsible for spills and other damage" according to the Associated Press. Some residents have "resigned to losing future income," while dozens of others are pushing forward lawsuits in an attempt to stop the forcible drilling.
There is a similar sentiment in Pennsylvania even among those who support natural gas drilling and fracking. For example, Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett -- a strong proponent of natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania -- opposes the law, likening it to "private eminent domain." And Marcellus Drilling News, a pro-fracking news site, has expressed disapproval of Hilcorp's use of the law, calling it "the low road."
Despite the prevalence of green energy in Pennsylvania, a Media Matters study found that both the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette generally ignore clean energy in their reporting and neither paper has ever mentioned the overwhelming public support for green energy.
According to the Media Matters study, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette collectively wrote 62 articles on energy and the environment from July 1, 2012 through August 15, 2012. In that time period, neither paper reported on public support of green technology, and both papers failed to discuss green energy in all but 9 articles. These papers did, however, cover stories about natural gas, coal, and oil frequently -- rarely mentioning green energy as an alternative source of energy.
Although nearly impossible to discern from the pages of the Inquirer or the Post-Gazette, Pennsylvania is actually one of the top green energy producing states in the country. As of 2010, Pennsylvania made the Solar Energy Industries Association's top 10 list for cumulative installed solar capacity. In addition, both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have been designated Solar America Cities by the Department of Energy. Through the solar energy initiative championed by former Governor Ed Rendell, consumers could expect to see savings of $10 billion by 2017.
Pennsylvania also ranks 16th nationally in total wind capacity installed, according to the American Wind Energy Association, with 751 megawatts (MW) currently online and another 3,391 MW in queue. Last year, PECO Energy Co. announced it was dropping the extra fee for purchasing renewable power -- which mostly comes from wind energy -- and would be keeping prices the same for customers or potentially even lowering their bill.
Green energy is also very popular among Pennsylvania residents. According to an October 2010 poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research, 85 percent of Pennsylvania voters surveyed thought it was important to support continued expansion of wind energy farms. In addition, a majority of voters would still support clean energy technology even if it cost $2 extra per month. Another poll conducted in April 2012 by the Small Business Majority found that 73 percent of Pennsylvania small business owners surveyed thought that government investment in clean energy has an important role in boosting our national economy. Pennsylvania's largest newspaper, however, have entirely failed to report this dynamic.
For more information on our analysis of clean energy coverage in state media click HERE
A two-part Media Matters examinantion of the largest newspapers in CO, NH, NV, OH, PA and VA from July 1-August 15 and from August 16-October 31, 2012 revealed a variety of shortcomings in the way clean energy and regulatory issues are covered by those publications.
Several media reports have noted that Sen. Judd Gregg cited concerns about the census in a press release announcing that he was withdrawing his nomination for secretary of commerce. But those reports ignored Gregg's subsequent statement during a press conference that the census was "not a major issue" in his decision to withdraw.
The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Wall Street Journal reported that Sen. John McCain, in the words of the Journal, "said he would send at least three additional brigades to Afghanistan." But none noted that McCain reportedly stated following his speech that his proposal to deploy three additional brigades to Afghanistan would require "greater participation on the part of our NATO allies," or that McCain spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace reportedly said the three brigades he mentioned would include non-American troops.