Saturday, May 4, 2013

Eagle Ford Shale coverage has just begun

Jennifer Hiller, San Antonio Express-News reporter, discusses the environmental focus that news coverage on the Eagle Ford Shale will have in the near future. She was one of four panelists, including Pedro Rojas of Univision 45 in Houston, Dianna Wray of the Houston Press, and Greg Jefferson, San Antonio Express-News business editor.

By Melody Mendoza

The booming industry coming out of the Eagle Ford Shale is constantly producing new stories that professional journalists say are just beginning to highlight the environmental concerns.

Jennifer Hiller, San Antonio Express-News reporter who covers the shale, said she sees water and waste becoming a new topic of discussion.

“We’re hearing a little bit of caution,” she said, but residents "are at a level as close to zero unemployment as you can be” so they’re more accepting of the possible impact.

Hiller was one of four journalism panelists who discussed the complexity of coverage about on the Eagle Ford Shale at Society of Professional Journalist’s Region 8 Conference May 4 at the Marriott Plaza San Antonio.

The panel also included Pedro Rojas, anchor for Univision 45 in Houston, Dianne Wray, Houston Press reporter and former environment and energy reporter for the Victoria Advocate, and Greg Jefferson, San Antonio Express-News business editor.

“It’s an enormously complex story,” Jefferson said. “It’s very rich.”

This industry already supports 116,000 jobs throughout South Texas and acquired $61 billion in 2012, Jefferson said.

Hiller said there’s an estimated 7 to 10 billion barrels of oil in Eagle Ford with barrels selling for $85 to $100 per barrel. Even if oil prices drop, Hiller said barrels could sell for as low as $40 and still be profitable.

The shale is a marine rock that has oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids such as propane.

“That’s what makes Eagle Ford a little bit different,” Hiller said. “Everyone wants liquids because that’s where people can get money.”

Rojas called it a revolution.

“We’re seeing a lot of jobs moving that way,” he said. “Eagle Ford Shale is a topic that always come to the table.”

Because the industry has affected the state so much economically — creating jobs and revenue — news reporters are always looking for ways to bring new information to their readers.

“The trick is to just keep advancing the story in different ways and keep trying to get a little deeper,” Hiller said. “I think everyone’s getting tired of the surface coverage.”

She said the prices of natural gas liquids or oil is interesting because it tells the people why certain things are going on in the area.

She also said medical-related topics haven’t been covered much.

“There’s a huge shortage of doctors and nurses,” she said. “There are health issues that come along when you have a whole bunch of workers dumped into a region.”

Another potential issue that could develop from the Eagle Ford Shale is water in relation to the drought, which all panelists agreed would come up in stories soon.

The shale “uses about 5 million gallons of water per well,” Hiller said. “There are methods so that it can be cleaned and used again on the site, but it’s not done in Texas very often.”

Fracking and disposable wells were also discussed, which have been the cause of earthquakes in similar areas where oil is being extracted.

Hiller said there haven’t been many reports of earthquakes in South Texas, but there have been some in Dallas.

Wray said university studies have related the earthquakes to the disposable wells rather than fracking.

“But they’re all part of the same process,” she said.

Rojas said the fracking process has changed in the Eagle Ford Shale region. Instead of just drilling vertically, he said pipes are going horizontally as well.

“There are so many environmental aspects to this that I feel like we’re barely scratching the surface of right now,” Hiller said.

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