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Monday, January 09, 2012

Gas Well 'Fracking' Suspected of Tainting Ohio River Drinking Water Supplies: Clueless Enquirer Focuses on Youngstown Quakes

Pennsylvania Researcher Testing Steam for Bromide
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- For at least a year, officials in communities that draw their drinking water supplies from the Ohio River have been concerned about a sharp spike in bromide, a chemical that is adversely impacting the region's most important waterway.  Bromide is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling.  It can cause a chemical reaction with drinking water purification chemicals that makes tapwater unsafe for humans.  There are dozens of recent reports of bromide spikes along the Ohio River -- as anyone can easily learn by clicking here.

 Surprisingly, this recent deterioration of Ohio River water quality -- so important as the source of the Cincinnati area's lifegiving water supplies -- seems to have completely escaped the notice of the city's largest news gathering organization.  Potential pollution problems somehow do not appear to be newsworthy to the Cincinnati Enquirer.  A major league whiff?

One cannot say the Cincinnati Enquirer missed the story because there is no local organization paying attention and worrying about bromide contamination.  The Daily Bellwether reported last month that ORSANCO, a multi-state agency that monitors Ohio River water quality has discovered unusually "high concentrations" of bromide in the river.  ORSANCO is the acronym for Ohio River Sanitary Commission, and its headquarters are just a few miles east of the Enquirer's downtown Cincinnati newsroom.   Perhaps that distance puts it out of range of the newspaper's reporting staff.

Meanwhile, today's Enquirer front page has a lengthy story about the hazards of 'fracking' in YOUNGSTOWN, a city more than 200 miles away at the opposite end of Ohio.  The story is about earthquakes that have been linked to the subsurface injection of gas well drilling byproducts.  These injection wells are suspected of cracking geological strata and causing temblors.  Credit the Enquirer for noticing Youngstown has the shakes.  But  the story isn't the Enquirer's.  It was written by Spencer Hunt, a Columbus Dispatch reporter.  Yes, a Columbus-based journalist did the work for his newspaper.  Then  the Enquirer recycled the report; no enterprise or reporting effort at all, just a journalistic hitchiking job.   Hunt reported:
    "The fracking process injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals to shatter shale and release the trapped oil and gas.  The fluid that comes back up with the oil and gas -- it's called brine -- is being disposed of in these injection wells.  While opponents of fracking have complained about environmental threats the chemicals pose, earthquakes add a new wrinkle."
What is most disconcerting is that a good chunk of this "fracking" story actually is in the Enquirer's front yard, and it has failed to notice.  Insiders say the Enquirer's staff has been stripped so clean by the newspaper's out-of-town corporate parent, Gannett Co. Inc., that it can barely fill its pages.  The insiders report there is a growing dependence on news releases, and less legwork by staff reporters.  Thus, short-shrift of complex or complicated issues.  Or nothing at all.

Public Radio in Pennsylvania has been on top of the bromide story, and has published the reports from  recent scientific conferences on its Website (PDF).  The U.S. EPA has a major laboratory in Cincinnati adjacent to the University of Cincinnati campus.  Much of that lab's work is about drinking water safety.  This Ohio River story is easily in reach if only the local media would take notice.  Maybe that's too much to ask in an era of downsized newsrooms and absentee owners who overwhelmingly focus on the bottom line rather than content and community service.


  1. The Enquirer newsroom itself is the victim of constant corporate fracking. Tremors are felt every six months or so.

    Just today a friend of mine visiting from out of town flipped through my print Enquirer and observed that it would be great having it as his own hometown paper because reading it would never cause him to be late to work. He also said that reading the Enquirer's editorial page would spare him the cost and trouble of reading the Washington Post, because the Enquirer routinely outsources its opinion space to Post columnists.

  2. Spencer Hunt wrote the Columbus Dispatch story on the Enquirer's front page. Spencer Hunt used to be an Enquirer reporter. He was among the many fracked by Gannett who moved on the greener pastures. Those mother frackers.

  3. Bill,
    Thanks. That's what happens when paper decides it no longer needs environment reporter (who breathes, drinks?).

  4. Well, we learned that George Clooney's movie will credit Cincinnati. Seems they don't want us to know much else.

  5. If Clooney was in "A River Runs Through It" they might have found the story.

  6. Why don't they sell out to the Columbus Dispatch? The paper will be printed in Columbus by late 2012. More than 200 printers in Cincinnati are getting put on the street and losing their jobs and nobody is even fighting for them at City Hall. Nobody on the City Council cares about more jobs being lost, they talk about this but do nothing. And where is Steve Chabot, who said he was going to fight for jobs when he ran in November 2010. His mouth is zipped shut. All talk all the time is all we get.