CNBC Digital Piece Ignores Key Facts, Advances Discredited Narrative

In a new online video, CNBC asks an important question: “Should the U.S. Ban Fracking?

Regular viewers would expect the business-focused outlet to include fresh data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (ban on hydraulic fracturing would result in 19 million lost jobs by 2025 and reduce U.S. GDP by $7.1 trillion) or November remarks from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell (“I think to shut down the shale industry, yeah, that would probably not be a good thing for the economy”) on the matter.

Despite asking the right question, however, CNBC’s piece, part two of a series that began in June, relies on biased, activist sources, and old, discredited claims that fall far short of providing viewers with an accurate and in-depth look at America’s energy revolution.

Here are five things viewers should know:  

  1. Biased, Activist Sources: CNBC centers its reporting on deeply biased sources without transparently and accurately disclosing their points of view. This lack of disclosure flies in the face of widely-held journalistic standards for fair, balanced reporting.

    Dr. John Stolz, for example, is a well-known activist who, upon terminating his bid for Congress in 2017, wrote on his Facebook page that he “will now be free to continue my outreach and advocacy for the new economy with a fossil fuel free future.” Further, Dr. Stolz’ research is funded by the Heinz Endowments, an organization that bankrolls anti-natural gas activism. Reporting on the Heinz Endowments’ activism, the Philanthropy Roundtable wrote: “The Heinz Foundation has handed out some $12 million in recent years, mostly to stir opposition in Pennsylvania, where shale-gas extraction has proceeded with bipartisan support.”

    CNBC portrays another key source, attorney John Smith, as “somewhat of a legend,” but doesn’t disclose  that Smith has represented and served as solicitor for several townships that sought to ban all oil and gas development, and represented the anti-fracking Delaware Riverkeeper in additional litigation.

    Finally, CNBC chose not to identify an individual shown on screen during an interview with Bryan Latkanich. The individual is Lois Bower-Bjornson, an anti-natural gas activist with Clean Air Council who has a long, clear record working to ban responsible, job-creating natural gas development. 
  2. Top Environmental Regulators Dispute Claims: CNBC focuses more than half its story on the false and misleading claims of Bryan Latkanich – claims that the Pa. DEP and independent investigators have discredited numerous times. Specifically, DEP tested Mr. Latkanich’s water in 2013 and then six times between 2017 and 2019 and concluded his water supply was “not adversely affected by oil and gas activities.”

    Latkanich’s claims are nothing new – as we covered in June 2019 following part 1 of CNBC’s two-part series: “We also know that Mr. Latkanich has campaigned in other states alongside Clean Water Action and other fringe and well-funded activists that want to ban strongly regulated shale development, which is keeping energy costs low for families, creating good-paying local jobs and literally saving thousands of lives annually.”
  3. Tight, Modern Oil & Gas Regulations: CNBC’s story includes attorney Smith’s opinion of Pa. regulations, but omits the fact that Pa.’s top environmental regulator confirmed in 2018 “we have very good oil and gas regulations.” Secretary McDonnell has also reinforced the fact that Pennsylvania has “some of the most protective regulations in the nation [that] ensure safe development of this important resource.”

    Further demonstrating a clear commitment to environmental protection, unconventional operators, who account for the incredible growth of Pennsylvania natural gas production, earned a 98.3 percent regulatory compliance rate in 2018 following a record 19,617 DEP inspections.
  4. Broad, Shared Economic Gains: For more than a decade, shale development has been a key driver of Pennsylvania’s economy, generating broadly shared benefits for families across the region.

    No city has benefitted more from the shale revolution than the City of Pittsburgh,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told KDKA radio in the fall. “I’ll never forget seeing the Marcellus Shale in 2007 and realizing we have hope. We have hope for the future.” Pittsburgh, in fact, was recently ranked as one of the “most successful” Rust Belt city comebacks, with the report citing the “steady supply of well-paying, blue-collar jobs” from the Marcellus shale sector. That economic growth extends far beyond natural gas extraction as the energy produced here gives manufacturers the competitive edge to invest, grow and create thousands of well-paying, family sustaining careers, particularly for the union and building trades.
  5. Clean Air and Water Progress: Thanks to clean, domestic natural gas, we no longer have to choose between economic growth and environmental progress – we can, and do, have both. The “either-or” narrative CNBC advances is not reflective of today’s reality. Research released this week shows total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions again dropped in 2019 as more natural gas is used in power generation.

    Additionally, Pennsylvania’s top environmental regulator, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, noted during a hearing last year, “we were already well on our way in larger part – and have actually since met what were proposed [Clean Power Plan] goals – primarily because of the shift toward cleaner natural gas.

    As environmental activists become increasingly vocal in their push to ban further development of natural gas, it is important to understand that natural gas produced in the Marcellus Shale and other regions of America is playing a critically important role in helping the United States reduce carbon emissions.