The public interest journalism organization ProPublica even has a section on its award-winning website devoted to a long-running series of reports exploring the dangers of fracking. The latest, dated August 13, 2013, is titled, “New Study Finds High Levels of Arsenic in Groundwater Near Fracking Sites.” And in Colorado, Hickenlooper has faced stiff opposition to his support for fracking. Meantime, in New York the fight between fracking supporters and opponents has been so fierce that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is up for re-election and might be eying a 2016 White House bid, has apparently become so fearful of offending one side or the other that he’s continued to delay a decision on whether to allow the high-tech drilling.

To be sure, there have been countless stories about fracking. Many emphasize its economic benefits and suggest that the dangers have been overstated. Others, like the ProPublica reports, emphasize its perils. Still more, in what could be called the mainstream press, have diligently quoted both sides. So I can’t complain that there has not been enough coverage.

Yet I feel as brain-locked as Cuomo when it comes to fracking.

Sometimes, especially when the issue is complicated and can be clouded by each side’s jargon-filled scientific arguments, a different kind of journalism is needed. What I’d like to see is a comprehensive story from a completely credible and thorough reporter with no ax to grind and no preconceptions who could, yes, tell me what I ought to think about this.

Is fracking the next asbestos or lead paint, or is it our ticket to a new golden age? Or is it perhaps both?

Opponents often talk about how drilling accidents could kill thousands. Is that true? If so, does that mean it should be stopped, or do the benefits outweigh the costs?

If I told you at the beginning of the last century about a new technology that could revolutionize American industry and the American way of life and you countered that it would also cause 30,000 to 40,000 accidental deaths per year, we would both have been arguing about the advent of the automobile. So what can be authoritatively said about the likelihood and scale of fracking accidents or other dangers, and how do these threats weigh against the benefits?


Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.