by Chris Potter
Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog group, recently had tough words for how two of Pennsylvania's largest newspapers are covering a natural-gas drilling issue ... and amazingly enough, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wasn't one of them.
In a Monday post, MMFA complained that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Philadelphia Inquirer "have failed to mention" the controversy surrounding half-century-old law that could allow a company to drill for natural gas beneath the land of property owners who never agreed to it. MMFA credits the Tribune-Review, meanwhile, as being "the only of the three highest-circulating papers in Pennsylvania to cover the story."
The controversy focuses on what's called "forced pooling" -- a practice in which gas drillers are able to consolidate adjoining parcels of land into a "pool" and, well ... drink everyone's milkshake. Essentially, once the state recognizes a "pool," the driller can take gas from within the entire pool, regardless of any individual property owner's wishes.
"Forced pooling" is not a new concern in the Marcellus Shale, as City Paper reported nearly four years ago. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a consortium of drillers, once sought to create what it called "fair pooling" regulations, which would allow Marcellus drillers to form pools when a certain percentage of land owners in an area signed a lease. (The proposal included provisions for compensating landowners in the pool who didn't sign leases.) Corbett himself opposed the idea, though he later signed a bill that included some pooling provisions. But in any case, an earlier set of pooling regulations -- written for use in other gas-producing geological formations -- had already been on the books. And as the Tribune-Review noted last October, Hilcorp Energy Co. is hoping to use those older regulations to facilitate its own drilling efforts in Lawrence County.
Pooling is one of those odd issues that joins left and right: Many environmentalists are wary of any effort to facilitate drilling (though pooling backers claim the process provides for more efficient drilling, reducing the number of well sites). On the right side of the spectrum, property-rights absolutists don't want the government, or anyone else, telling them what they can do with their land. The latter concerns are on display in this follow-up Trib editorial, which calls forced pooling "patently unconstitutional."
In fact, Media Matters credits the Trib with covering the forced pooling story five times between July 2013 and the end of last week. The P-G and the Inquirer, meanwhile, "have remained silent" on the issue, says MMFA. As a result, the group contents, "a majority of Pennsylvanians may be unaware" of the dispute ... even as national media outlets CBS and the Associated Press, have covered it.
MMFA doesn't exactly toss laurels at the Trib, but any positive mention from the website is notable. Media Matters, after all, was founded by David Brock, once a Clinton-hating hatchetman for the far-right; Brock later recanted and had harsh words for the Clinton-bashers, not least among them Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife. MMFA has frequently criticized the paper since then, and the Trib has not been shy about responding in kind. Let the healing begin!