Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thoughts on the "60 Minutes" Piece

I tried to keep an open mind when viewing the piece on shale drilling on Sunday's "60 Minutes" program.  In all, I found that it was fairly objective but it fell victim to the big logical fallacy being perpetuated by anti-shale advocates that hydraulic fracturing has caused the recent gas-related incidents in Pennsylvania.

Because the point of departure for the piece was the new wealth created for landowners, specifically in the Haynesville Shale, at least the story had some hoofing to do to get to the gripes of the anti-shale folks (much to the chagrin of people posting complaints on the "60 Minutes" web site).  Since most stories seem to start with the negative view, that change in perspective was refreshing.  To me the wealth creation is one of the least effectively told stories out there.  Not just the million dollar checks but the opportunity for normal folks to earn a residual on their land so that they can continue to farm and pursue other interests without the land ownership being a burden.  I predict this will be an even bigger story in the Marcellus Shale.  I'm glad the producers didn't go overboard in trying to portray TX/LA residents as the "Beverly Hillbillies," but they did have the obligatory, patronizing gold Cadillac shot.

I thought the interview with Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy and the self-proclaimed face of the natural gas industry (when he's not trying to convince investment analysts that he now runs an oil company), was mixed.  He did a good job of explaining things but came off as defensive at times.  I think that is unavoidable with "60 Minutes" given its pedigree in confrontational journalism.

There was also the expected trip to Dimock, PA and obligatory light-the-well-water-on-fire scene.  You can't tell a story without telling both sides, but unfortunately there was little done to put the scene in context since methane in wells is not an entirely unusual situation in the coal mining country of Appalachia. But it is true that Cabot's ham fisted method of dealing with the problems early on have created lingering problems for the company and the industry as a whole in the Northeast.

In the interview with the executive director of the Sierra Club, one could tell that he was definitely conflicted.  Coal is the Public Enemy Number One for the Sierra Club, but they can't stand on the sideline when an environmental issue is being discussed.  I had to chuckle when he jumped at Lesley Stahl's offer to come down on both sides of the fence to say that gas is the future but its production needs to be tightly regulated.

Ultimately, I think that is the main message of the piece.  The story didn't introduce anything new, but it exposed a larger audience to shale gas drilling.  It also generally avoided the temptation to sensationalize either side of the debate


Anonymous said...

I don't know. The "shaleionaires" were older, already-lived-their-lives guys who had nothing to lose. The Texas couple with the child, and trampoline and the enviable equines, not to mention the fire water and dead cows -- it was classic big-gas Aubrey, vs. small town families. Small town families will win every time -- hence the negative gas feedback. Surely, they could have portrayed some families who had more at stake than gold cadillacs ...

Anonymous said...

could have, but didn't. this is only getting started.