On Thursday, February 27, I received an email that said: “I'm a producer at the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We're working on a segment about fracking & I wanted to reach out to see if you'd be interested in participating. I read your column in Town Hall a few months ago & it's just what we're looking for—we'd like to have someone dispel a lot of the myths & untruths about fracking.” I responded that, yes, I was interested. After doing my research, I agreed to participate.
On March 6, I flew to New York City for a taping on March 7. I knew that the Daily Show is a comedy show masquerading as a news program. My peers told me horror stories of how the show had treated others whose views didn’t mesh with those of Jon Stewart—not that the guests were personally abused, but that the final product didn’t represent what was really said during the taping. I weighed the pro and cons and decided to take the risk. I figured that no matter how good I might be, I was unlikely to change the opinions of the young audience that watches the Daily Show and thinks it is real news. Additionally, my audience doesn’t generally watch it—and if they do, they’ll know my comments were heavily edited, as my views are well known. What really pushed me to accept the invitation was the fact that the following week, March 10-13, I was scheduled to be in Southern California speaking on college campuses and my Daily Show taping would enhance my “street-cred” with the potential audiences.
I knew I was not the first person to whom they had reached out. Others had turned them down. If I said “no,” they’d continue down some list until they found someone who’d say yes. I figured it might as well be me because I know that I know my topic. I know I will represent it accurately. The next person on the list might not be as well informed.
I expected that they’d try to spring something on me and make me look foolish. Based on the pre-taping interviews, I felt that I had a sense of where the interview would go. They had a few questions about which I was unsure. I sent an email to the several thousand people on my enewsletter list asking for input on specific questions. Many sent me helpful information that I read on the plane on the way to New York. I talked to industry experts. I studied up as if I was heading in for a final exam. I wanted to be sure they couldn’t trip me up.
When I walked into the offices of the Daily Show, I felt that I was ready. I told them: “I know your job is to make me look bad, but mine is to be sure I look good.” I wore a favorite red silk blouse with gold jewelry.
The team was very kind to me. They shot some “B roll” of Aasif, the correspondent who’d be doing the interview, and me walking toward the room where the taping would take place and some of me working at a computer. I was escorted to a dark, dreary-looking room with camera and sound guys, and Jena, the producer.
The interview started straight enough. They asked one of the questions they’d asked via telephone: “Why do environmentalists hate fracking?” I explained that I didn’t think it was really about fracking, as thousands, if not millions, of wells had been drilled using hydraulic fracturing since modern techniques were developed in 1949. I pointed out that a primitive form of fracking was done in the late 1800s when a nitro glycerin torpedo was dropped down a well hole. Despite this long, safe, and prosperous history the frack attacks had started in October 2007—shortly after the technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling were successfully combined and began to unleash America’s new energy abundance.
I continued: It is not really about fracking. It is about fossil fuels—and hating them. The average person doesn’t have a clear understanding of the role that energy plays in their lives (which is why I do what I do). All most people know about energy is the price of gasoline and they know “drill, baby, drill.” They know that increased production of oil translates to lower prices at the pump. So the anti-fossil fuel crowd can’t come out with an anti-drilling campaign, but they can use a term that sounds scary and that people do not understand: fracking—the vernacular for hydraulic fracturing.
To prove my point, I told about driving through Starbuck’s two days earlier. I’d bantered with Jason, the young man selling me my Café Mocha. I told him I was going to New York for the Daily Show to talk about fracking; that they’d have a pro-fracking guest and an anti-fracking guest; that I was the pro-fracking guest. He replied: “Whatever that is.”
Because people, like Jason, do not know what fracking is, the antis can give it whatever definition they want and use fear, uncertainty, and doubt to turn people against the proven technology that is almost singly responsible for creating millions of jobs in America and bringing us closer to energy independence than previously ever thought possible. In a recent Fracking by the Numbers report, on page 6, Environment America offers a definition that basically covers the entire drilling process from permitting to production—including “to deliver the gas or oil produced from that well to market.”
Once they had scared people, those against fracking set out to stop the procedure—with the ultimate goal of banning it all together. Since 96-98% of all oil-and-gas wells drilled in the U.S. today are stimulated using hydraulic fracturing, banning fracking essentially bans oil-and-gas production.
I backed up my opinions by citing the November 2013 elections where four towns in Colorado and three in Ohio had fracking bans on the ballot. All passed in Colorado and one in Ohio. Earlier in 2013, the commissioners in the little county of Mora, NM, voted to ban all oil-and-gas drilling outright—not just fracking (however, the Los Angeles Times coverage of the Mora County story called it a fracking ban—illustrating how the two concepts, drilling and fracking, have become interchangeable). Even though some of the communities voting to ban fracking have no potential oil-and-gas drilling, the wins provide momentum for a national movement. In a press release celebrating the Mora County vote—which also calls it a fracking ban—the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the group fomenting opposition in Mora County, said: “Mora County joins over 150 communities across the country which have asserted their right to local self-governance through the adoption of local laws that seek to control corporate activities within their municipality.” In January, 2014, left-wing advocacy group MoveOn.org heralded its “#FrackingFighter” campaign in which it calls for “grassroots organizing and people power to beat back big industry in town after town and county after county.” They declare: “now it’s time to double down on our strategy.”
Aasif asked about fracking accidents. I asserted that there were none that I was aware of and cited the fact that three leading Obama Administration secretaries—hardly fossil-fuel fans—had declared fracking to be safe: former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and current Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.
Now, in hour three of what I told the crew was like three hours of waterboarding where they kept throwing stuff at me in hopes I’d give something up, the tone changed. Suddenly, Aasif repeatedly asked me about pizza and whether it was appropriate compensation for a “fraccident.” I stopped and told them: “I will not say that word.” Since I was not aware of any fracking accidents, I wasn’t going to let them get me on camera saying “fraccident.” He pushed on anyway and carried on about how wonderful New York pizza was. Surely, it would be appropriate compensation for a “fraccident” that caused a four-day fire and killed one person. No, it wouldn’t. I offered: “The courts have established damages for loss of life and loss of property.” He continued with the pizza theme. Somewhere in there, he mentioned Chevron. Frustrated, I finally said something to the effect of: “If the person who’d received the damages wanted pizza, then yes, it would be appropriate.”
When we were about to wrap, they thanked me and, on camera, gave me a pizza.
Later I received an email from the producer who’d invited me saying: “Thanks again for coming out for this interview. I hope it wasn't too silly! Aasif & Jena thought you were great, though.”
On the plane on the way home, I reflected on the experience and deduced what they were up to. I sent the producer a follow up email: “I am glad that Aasif and Jena thought I was great. I told them it felt like three hours of waterboarding. I can’t wait to see what you all do with it. I am assuming that you are going to do a fake news story on a fracking/drilling accident that results in a four-day fire and one death and the evil oil company offers pizza as compensation. You will have me saying that there has never been a fracking accident that I know of. Then you have me saying, yes, I watch the news…”
Once I was back at my desk, I did a search on Chevron, accident, and pizza. The story came up. It wasn’t a fake accident, but it also wasn’t a “fraccident.” While the exact cause of the Greene County, PA, well fire is still under investigation, the local news reported: “Chevron had previously completed drilling and hydraulically fracturing, or fracking, the well and was in the final stages of using steel pipe to hook it up to a pipeline distribution network for production.” The Pennsylvania Depart of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Scott Perry stated: “the problem may have come from a defect in the wellhead itself. Chevron’s wellheads are ringed with collars that have set pins running horizontally through them.” Perry says one of the pins may have blown out of the collar, releasing the gas.
Apparently, according to the DEP the “gas well explosion is the first serious Marcellus shale well blowout in our region.” Houston-based Wild Well Control, which responded to the Greene County accident, says in the past year it responded to five-surface well blowouts accompanied by fires. The statistics suggest major fires are relatively rare.
The accident referenced by the Daily Show, took place in a rural area and no homes were endangered. But Chevron realized that the increased truck traffic and other activities inconvenienced the folks of Bobtown. In an effort to be a “good partner” in the community, Chevron offered vouchers to the only eatery within 80 miles. While the locals aren’t upset with Chevron for the gesture, saying: “The whole issue was blown out of proportion," comedians have had a field day with it and the anti-fossil fuel crowd is using it for messaging. A petition has been started at MoveOn.org (surprise) demanding that Chevron apologize for the free pizza—calling it “an insult.” There are currently 1200+ signatures, mostly from distant locales, but none from Bobtown. Local resident Gloria Garnek commented on the contrived controversy and the coupons: “People here, you know, we were kind of overwhelmed a little bit with all the publicity and people coming in. So I think it’s a nice thing.”
Thank you, Daily Show, for flying me to New York and taking good care of me while I was in town. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about hydraulic fracturing and alerting me to Bobtown Pizza. Without the March 7 taping, I wouldn’t have told the story of the anti-fossil fuel crowd’s efforts to ban fracking and exploit the good people of Bobtown.
While it felt like three hours of waterboarding, I believe I’ve been able to make some good come from the experience. I can’t wait to see how they turn three hours of recording into a 3-5 minute segment when it airs in late March or early April.