Sunday, November 07, 2010

Drilling in the Local News

This past week, KREX-TV put together a multi-part series of investigative reports to mark the beginning of the November ratings sweeps period.

They chose a timely and provocative topic; pipelines associated with gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing that had been installed poorly in at least two locations by contractors working for Antero Resources. The primary focus of the stories was on a section of pipe constructed through one Silt-area rancher's property.

KREX reporter John Dzenitis appeared to do some serious legwork in attempting to flesh out the claims made by rancher Bob Regulski against Kahuna Services, which performed contracted pipeline work for Antero through his property. Mr. Dzenitis briefly outlined the legal dispute between him self and Antero that resulted in Garfield County ordering a stop to the work being done there. He also interviewed engineers in Glenwood Springs, and a noted environmental scientist based in Paonia. He contacted officials with Garfield County (dubbed "Gasfield County" as a tag line for the story), the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and even managed to snag an interview with an attorney for Antero.

The picture that Mr. Dzenitis was able to paint was one of shoddy workmanship, environmental damage already occurring from leaking pipes less than 2 years old, and government officials shrugging their shoulders, pointing fingers elsewhere, and taking action only when prodded to do so through media attention or legal action. It wasn't a pretty picture, especially when the reports pointed out that Kahuna has laid over 80 miles of pipeline in western Garfield County, and at least one engineer was very concerned as to the quality of the work based on what was done on Mr. Regalski's property, and the integrity of the other pipeline work as a result.

The Garfield County Commissioners will hold a special meeting in Rifle on Tuesday to address issues specific to drilling activity in the Silt area, and especially on Silt Mesa. Hopefully KREX will be there as a follow-up to their series.

I've embedded all three segments below, with links to their respective online pages. I've emailed Mr. Dzenitis and News Director Keira Bresnahan to suggest that the quality of this report deserves a dedicated page on their website, with all three segments included and perhaps some added value that only the Internet can currently provide, such as links to electronic versions of the numerous documents that the reports featured as part of the investigation. Hopefully, the station will consider making this a topic of ongoing focus, and not just an avenue to a ratings bump during sweeps.

KREX also appeared to score another first with these reports; they are the first daily media outlet in the Grand Valley to report anything about this. The Free Press reprinted a report from their sister paper, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. Their reporter, John Colson, has done the lion's share of the reporting on this so far.

The Daily Sentinel made a little bit of headway toward this end in today's paper, reprinting a story from today's New York Times that illustrates the differences in attitudes toward drilling activities in two separate locations, one in Louisiana and the other in rural Pennsylvania.

The effort undertaken by the staff at KREX is hopefully the beginning of increased media attention toward the impact of drilling, especially hydraulic fracturing, on the quality of life in Garfield County. Focusing on effective regulation and enforcement now, before drilling in other areas starts to proliferate, is something that our local media can do to help meet their obligations to all citizens of these areas.

The underlying question for me continues to be how much intrusion can be tolerated into the health, safety, and intangible beauty that is Colorado to secure local economies and our nation's energy future. The more I look at it from the perspective of two different areas in our country, the more disappointing the future looks.

Hopefully, the message from the Hickenlooper administration, as well as the COGCC and local governments, will be simple, direct, and have some teeth behind it - Do it right and safe the first time, or don't bother doing it at all.

Have a good week ahead.

KREX Series, Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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