Fracking or hydraulic fracturing? Depends on your point of view

I have had a number of people ask me to comment on the media coverage of the shale gas debate in New Brunswick.  Some people are quite frustrated.  I’m not commenting on the media except to say that day in and day out journalists cover the minutiae of community life (Will the gas price go up tomorrow or not?  Was the Minister up fishing at Larry’s Gulch or not?  Will gas tax go up by a penny?) and then a big public policy issue comes along and they dive in with gusto.  Instance Relevance Again.   Ratings spike.  Twitter feeds quake.  All of a sudden journalists matter for a while.

Same for columnists.  I can write a dozen articles and they may never get read.  I write an article on shale gas on the Globe’s  Economy Lab and it is the most read story of the day.  Although, quite frankly, I wish the issue would go away because I also attract more hate email about this stuff.

I will say this about the media.  There is a kind of herd mentality to it.  If you do a Google News search for 2009 on the term ‘fracking’ you will get about 100 hits.  So far in 2011 you will get 5,000 hits.    Companies have been ‘fracking’ in New Brunswick albeit it in a limited way for years.  But apres Gasland, all bets are off.

I also searched for the term ‘hydraulic fracturing’ and the results were very interesting.  Virtually every single story about ‘fracking’ was negative – sometimes intensely negative.  Stories about ‘hydraulic fracturing’, by contrast, were about 50/50 positive and negative.    Of the list I scanned, hydraulic fracturing is the preferred term in industry and business publications and ‘fracking’ is the preferred term in normal media.

Don’t know what that means but it is interesting.

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