Report: Three Hours of Waterboarding About Fracking on The Daily Show

Published March 22, 2014

On Thursday, February 27, I received an email inviting me to be part of a segment “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart was doing on fracking. After doing my research, I agreed to participate and flew to New York City for a March 7 taping.

I expected that they’d try to spring something on me. Based on the pre-taping interviews, I had a sense of where the interview would go. 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 Daily Show offices, I felt that I was ready.

The interview started straight enough. They asked: “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.

Because people 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 modern oil-and-gas production.

I was 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, the correspondent 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.”

Once I was back at home and at my desk, I did a search on drilling, accident, and pizza. The story came up — but it 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 Department of Environmental Protection’s 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.

The accident referenced by The Daily Show, took place in a rural area and no homes were ever endangered. But Chevron realized that the increased truck traffic and other activities inconvenienced the folks of Bobtown, a place on the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border with a population of 747 people. 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 demanding that Chevron apologize for the free pizza — calling it “an insult.” There are currently nearly 13,000 signatures, mostly from distant locales, but none from Bobtown. Local resident Gloria Garnek commented on the contrived controversy and the coupons saying: “I think it’s a nice thing.”

I’ll have to wait to see how The Daily Show turns three hours of media waterboarding into a 3 – 5 minute segment when it airs in late March or early April. 

[Originally posted at Townhall.]