We applaud Denver7 for listening to our criticism of their story from earlier this week and responding with a lengthier piece that seeks to provide more perspectives around the key issue of public health near oil and gas operations.
Unfortunately for their viewers, Denver7’s latest piece might simply be called “more of the same.” The piece relies on yet another well-known anti-fossil fuel activist to support their original story, whose ties they failed to disclose, again.
The crux of Denver7’s reporting is that there are health-related concerns in Weld County that some say are tied to oil and gas operations – or in their terms, “fracking sites.” To tell this story, they highlighted one blood test of a child brought forward by a concerned resident in testimony before Colorado state health regulators on Monday.
We responded immediately, noting that Colorado health experts take these claims seriously and have conducted extensive analysis in the region over the years and made those findings public. In fact, earlier this year, EID released a report that detailed these efforts and summarized Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) data. The report also outlined public health indicators in the Weld County region that showed numbers improving.
We also noted that anti-fossil fuel activists have long targeted these public hearings in order to gain press attention, which they’ve succeeded in doing again. We usually find that when these stories are aired, relevant facts and perspective that may discredit anti-fracking claims are often missing, until weeks and months later.
To address our criticisms, Denver7 produced a follow up story as part of their “360 stories” series, which seeks to bring in additional voices and perspectives. Denver7 didn’t actually reach out to EID for comment for their second story, although they did briefly mention our blog post from Tuesday. But, to counter our perspective, they spotlight a doctor they say reached out to them following the airing of their original piece. What they don’t disclose, and what we think is worth mentioning, are the extensive ties this doctor has to anti-fossil fuel groups in Colorado.
New Source, Same Problem
In our first piece, we revealed that the resident that brought the blood test forward, Elizabeth Ewaskowitz, Ph. D., paid a Lafayette doctor to conduct what’s known as a “VOC,” or, volatile organic compounds blood level test on her son. The doctor was not a physician but a Registered Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine based in the Boulder County area. We did point to public information showing Ewaskowitz’s relationship to anti-fossil fuel groups, which Denver7 categorized as an attempt to discredit her and the reporter.
For their second piece, Denver7 featured Dr. John Hughes to offer a medical perspective in the story. Dr. Hughes is currently part of the Martinez lawsuit against the state of Colorado, which seeks to curtail oil and gas operations in the state. Hughes signed on to an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs alongside the likes of: Kids Against Fracking, 350 Colorado, Frack Free Colorado and Food & Water Watch.
He is also a co-author of a recent report that, on first glance purports to show direct links between oil and gas activity and chronic illness. But a closer look shows this research to be the latest in a series of reports that include numerous shortcomings and have been characterized by health officials as, “research that suggests more research needs to be done, not research that definitively links oil and gas exposure to cancers in this age group.” In fact, the most recent study’s press release states plainly that “[t]he study acknowledged substantial uncertainties and the need for more research.” Energy in Depth has exposed the series for its public attention stunts.
Prior to his work with Dr. Lisa McKenzie, Hughes’ assertions in 2014 were questioned by McKenzie herself — his current co-author — who said the associations being made by Hughes’ research were not able “to make that link,” and suggested that a better study would need to be conducted. Hughes responded that his study “wasn’t meant to be a super-validated study.” But Hughes made his assertions anyway, and even taunted Gov. John Hickenlooper as “Frackenlooper” at the same 2014 forum.
If that’s not enough, he has close ties with Frack Free Colorado. None of these connections were disclosed. Rather, Denver7 simply characterized him as an interested doctor that reached out to them to provide feedback.
So when this doctor makes the statement “the state is in bed with the industry in quite a real way,” having the rest of this information is essential.
Activists to Denver7: “Thank you for being there for us!”
Denver7 apparently didn’t like us raising our suspicion on why they were at the COGCC hearing to begin with. We have repeatedly written that activists use these hearings to capture headlines through various theatrics and stunts. We attend a lot of these meetings, and don’t usually see TV cameras, so when Denver7 just happened to be on hand for this presentation, of course we were suspicious.
That said, Denver7 made clear in their latest report that they did not know Ewaskowitz would be at the meeting, and visa-versa. We are happy to correct the record about why they were on hand for the COGCC hearing.
Either way, anti-fracking activists sure seemed to appreciate Denver7’s reporting, writing on Facebook about the first story, “Also worth noting, channel 7 news has been consistently voicing our concerns when they can. Denver7 thank you for being there for us!”
Getting this story right is of utmost importance. Issues surrounding public health are a key priority not only for Energy in Depth, but for the industry as a whole. In fact, that is why EID launched a microsite dedicated to public health issues this year and have released two comprehensive reports that feature unbiased data from state and local governments and health officials.
That is also why EID is quick to hold Denver7 accountable in its reporting. The first story failed to provide key information, including the constant health monitoring conducted by state regulators, frequent on-ground responses by the CDPHE when residents raise concerns, and also, basic background on the “doctor” involved in the initial testing. The same can be said of the second piece. Simply disclosing all relevant information can help viewers make up their own mind about the credibility of the source used, and the claims presented.
We look forward to hearing about CDPHE’s findings on this issue. Ewaskowitz told Denver7 she has filed formal complaints with the CDPHE and COGCC. She also mentioned she was “surprised at how quickly they followed up,” so it’s clear that Colorado’s state regulators are taking her case seriously and diving right in to determine the cause of her son’s elevated VOC levels.
Denver7’s “360” segment purports to cover both sides, but still misses the mark by not providing, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.” By quoting Hughes as an unbiased third-party source without researching or disclosing his strong ties to anti-fossil fuel activists and his own personal history of activism and statements, Denver7 offers less than a full airing of differing opinions in its reporting.