Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that "hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources." But that's not what the media heard. (Photo: Faces of Fracking/flickr/cc)

Newsweek, Wash. Times Publish False Headlines About EPA Fracking Study

Denise Robbins

 by Media Matters

UPDATE (6/5/15): Following the publication of this post, The Washington Times changed its headline from "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water" to "EPA finds fracking poses no direct threat to drinking water." However, the New York Post published an article on June 5 adopting The Washington Times' original language, headlined, "Fracking doesn't harm drinking water: EPA."


Within hours of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releasing a study on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," Newsweek and The Washington Times published online articles with headlines that falsely claimed the EPA determined fracking does not pollute drinking water. However, while the EPA said it found no evidence that fracking has led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States," the study also identified "specific instances" where fracking "led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells."


We Interrupt This Article with an Urgent Message!

Common Dreams is a not-for-profit organization. We fund our news team by pooling together many small contributions from our readers. No advertising. No selling our readers’ information. No reliance on big donations from the 1%. This allows us to maintain the editorial independence that our readers rely on. But this media model only works if enough readers pitch in.
We urgently need your help today.
If you support Common Dreams and you want us to survive, your gift today is critical.
Please give now to our Mid-Year Fundraiser!

In its headline, Newsweek asserted: "Fracking Doesn't Pollute Drinking Water, EPA Says." The Washington Times' similar headline, "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water," was also adopted by The Drudge Report, a highly influential conservative news aggregator. 

But the EPA study said none of those things. Rather, the EPA concluded (emphasis added):

From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources. These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.

We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.

A more accurate headline about the EPA's study would have resembled that of U.S. News & World Report, which stated: "EPA: Fracking Tainted Drinking Water, but Problems Not Widespread."

Indeed, the EPA's determination that fracking has contaminated some drinking water wells was even included within the body of The Washington Times article.  But a headline often shapes the way the rest of the article is perceived, and even reading the article may not be enough to correct for the headline's misinformation -- that is, if the reader gets past the headline, which most Americans do not.

In addition to mischaracterizing the EPA study, Newsweek and The Washington Times also excluded EPA's explanation of why its findings don't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The agency identified several "limiting factors" in its analysis, including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, stating that these limitations "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty." As the Environmental Defense Fund stated in a press release about the EPA study, "Better and more accessible data on activities surrounding hydraulic fracturing operations is needed."

© 2021 Media Matters for America

Denise Robbins

Denise Robbins joined Media Matters' Climate and Energy team in 2013. Prior to working with Media Matters, she worked in communications for renewable energy and environmental advocacy.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Bombshell': Total Knew About Climate Threat From Fossil Fuels for Decades, But Denied It

"The dire consequences of climate change we are now experiencing could have been avoided if Total executives 50 years ago had decided that the future of the planet is more important than their profits."

Jessica Corbett ·

Report Details 'Dangerous Trajectory' of Countries' Fossil Fuel Production Plans

"World leaders need to put their resources where their rhetoric has been—stopping the extraction of oil and gas and directing attention to how we will finance the transition to climate justice instead," said one campaigner.

Julia Conley ·

'This Is Sick': Cable Companies Refuse to Air Ad Criticizing Corporate Donors to Florida's Abortion Opponents

"Corporate America protecting itself from being called out for supporting candidates that want to ban abortion in Florida," is how state Rep. Anna Eskamani summarized Comcast and Spectrum's decision.

Kenny Stancil ·

Sanders to Host "What's in the Damn Bill" Online Panel Discussion About Democrats' Package

The Senate Budget Committee chair will be joined by other progressive lawmakers and leaders at 8:00 pm Wednesday.

Common Dreams staff ·

Don't Be Distracted by Possible Facebook Rebrand, Say Critics of Tech Behemoth

"Just to be clear, Facebook, our problem with you is not your name."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo