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Natural Gas and the News: Most messages on fracking ‘brought to you by our sponsors’

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Gas industry adsWhen it comes to natural gas extraction via “fracking,” TV journalism has some serious competition: energy industry commercials.

Like ads for political candidates that run concurrently with broadcast news coverage of the presidential race, ads promoting natural gas (and other fossil fuels) have long been running in concert with news segments about the topic, most recently touting the prospect of a “boom” made possible by the controversial extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing of the shale sprawling beneath more than 30 U.S. states.

During the past three years, Extra! found, there has been exponentially more propaganda for the wonders of natural gas on our screens each night than theoretically objective news segments about natural-gas extraction.

First, some background: Fracking is a technique for tapping gas lurking in shale deep within the earth by drilling horizontally to reach the deposit, then forcing through a high-pressure mixture of millions of gallons of water plus sand and (often unidentified) chemicals to fracture the rock and release the gas, allowing it to be pumped back up to the surface along with the slurry.

Proponents tout the otherwise inaccessible fuel as a home-grown source of cleaner energy that will bring gushers of money and jobs, while critics and a growing body of evidence have implicated the practice in everything from poisoning groundwater and polluting air to creating earthquakes and fracturing communities—all while remaining exempt from many federal environmental laws.

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