ProPublica's Shaky Facts:

My media column for today's Rocky Mountain News continues an investigation of ProPublica, a non-profit which supplies articles for free to mainstream media. The particular story I write about involves natural gas drilling in Colorado and Wyoming, and a technique known as hydraulic fracturing. My column finds very serious factual errors in the ProPublica article. For example, I write:

The Colorado experience of zero cases of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing is consistent with the 2002 study from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (a consortium of state regulatory agencies). The Commission surveyed regulatory agencies in 28 states (including Colorado and the other four states where ProPublica claimed that there were more than 1,000 "documented" cases of contamination). The response covered the entire history of hydraulic fracturing in those states. Every single one of those 28 states reported that there had never been groundwater harm due to fracturing.
The ProPublica article did not report the evidence from that government study, but brusquely dismissed it as "an anecdotal survey done a decade ago." Actually, the 2002 study has no anecdotes, and with a dataset of almost a million wells, it cannot plausibly be considered "anecdotal."
The one article which I examined in depth is not necessarily representative of the overall quality of ProPublica's work. Nevertheless, the quality control failure on that article would make me very cautious about using ProPublica's work, if I were a MSM editor. Before using the article, I would probably assign one of my own staffers to fact-check the ProPublica article.