Coding & Grounded Theory Methods: A Brief Investigation of Fracking & Deliberative Discourse


This is a brief exercise I completed for a graduate course on research methodologies. It is by no means reflective of a thorough and thoughtful research project. No author names of affiliations have been included in the data, and this data is not published or scientific by any means. I attempted to refrain from taking a position on the issue itself and, instead, focused on the data itself and the emergent codes as I strived for objectivity. I encourage you to leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter if you have a question about my process in gathering this data, my method, and the inferences I draw from it.


Method & Article Selected

Because I follow a large number of environmental organizations and activist groups on Twitter, for this exercise I decided to click on an article that seemed to be trending the past couple of days. This article, written by Lynne Peeples and entitled “Fracking Industry Distorts Science to Deceive Public and Policymakers, Says Watchdog Group,” was posted on Huffington Post Green on February 21, 2015. The article is centered on questioning primarily the corporate (presumed fracking supporters) but also the activist (presumed fracking opposers) uses of scientific facts, and this article presents a prime instance of conflicting discourse claims related to environmental policy and science communication. After reading through the article and most of the comments (197 total, as of the time of this writing), I decided to utilize criterion sampling (Blythe, 2007). In criterion sampling, a set of texts is selected if those texts meet a specific set of criteria, such as author attributes (Blythe, 2007). In this Huffington Post Green article, only Facebook comments were enabled for readers to respond. To perform this analysis, I selected 20 comments authored by those who had earned a “Top Commenter” designation (this was my criteria). I then assigned a number to each of the 20 comments before analyzing the corpus.


Unit of Analysis

Because none of the comments contained visuals, I decided to narrow my unit of analysis to a set of verbal rhetorical units. I selected these units that emerged from my initial reading of the corpus. Using a grounded theory approach, I selected these units to restrict any single comment from being coded by multiple units. These units include:

  • The writer characterizes the issue as one of discourse
  • The writer characterizes the issue as one of politics
  • The writer characterizes the issue as one of public health
  • The writer characterizes the issue as one of science

These are just three of many potential verbal units that can be used to code the data (such as claims to reliability, claims to validity, types of evidence, use of anecdote, etc.). I initially did not include discourse as a unit, but as I began coding data, it became clear that many claims were directly centered in the use of language to form positions on this issue. To that end, the codes were both assigned and emergent from the corpus.



Number Code Passage Comment
1 Public Health I’m shocked that big oil and there toadies would ever lie to the public. I live in Alaska and we are still finding oil from the Exxon Valdez spill. Which according to oil companies and the studies they paid for says isn’t there anymore. Now if I could just get them to eat some nice oil flavored clams. The author reflects on the environmental and health implications of an oil spill.
2 Politics For further evidence as to how science is being manipulated regarding the Gas and Oil Industry, the State Department’s findings of the Keystone Pipeline was written by EX GAS Company EXECUTIVES! and not by anyone working in the State Department, The author reflects on an unfair practice occurring in a governmental agency.
3 Science This is rich comming from the group that has manipulated the “Facts” and “Settled Science” about global warming. We are expecting about 12″ of global warming here today. The author seems to be critiquing groups who deny global warming by using scientific facts.
4 Discourse Of course, the Green movement has NEVER manipulated a statistic to support their own narrative, accurate or not. I’m always amazed at how groups get narratives going that are value laden, and then deny or ignore any evidence that conflicts with the political narrative…”We are having an abonormally WARM winter in the US, which supports global warming” Never mind much of the Central US is breaking all time record lows right and left. Next comes the claim that global warming will invariably lead to a new ice age, and such record lows are a direct consequence of global warming..The claims get ever sillier and more far fetched as the evidence supporting the narrative claim doesnt wash.. How else can data that conflicts with the narrative be rationalized?The good health advice is to “never eat foods high in cholesterol to help control your blood cholesterol level” Quit eating eggs, shrimp and red meat in order to be healthy.The big news is that EVERY group tries to manipulate statistics to support whatever narrative serves their political ends of the moment. The author, though bringing in issues of health, politics, and the use of scientific claims, centers on the deliberative nature of discourse in this issue.
5 Science The biggest economic benefit to the middle class during Obama’s tenure has been the drop in energy prices…period. Fracking in the US is the single reason for this…period. There are over 1,000,000 operating fracking wells in the US with no serious problems reported…period. Windmills kill more birds each year, including hundreds of bald eagles, than did the ExxonValdez spill…period.Everyone uses statistics to bolster their cause, so this is hardly news. Relies on the validity of scientific facts to make supportive claims to fracking.
6 Political …democracy?…capitalism?..morality?…exceptionalism?..stand tall, be proud…and rejoice in the system! The author seems to present an ironic critique of the political system.
7 Public Health If the industry’s contribution to the climate crisis isn’t enough of a reason to discontinue this practice, the other problems associated with fracking should be. There are the toxic chemicals injected through our aquifers, the toxic and radioactive waste, the explosive nature of gas, and the multitudes of health issues along with many other known and unknown risks. Check out the impacts people are suffering through , google the list of the harmed . The author reflects directly on the health issues as the primary reason for stopping fracking.
8 Discourse I have to question that this is one sided. I believe that the oil and gas industry must comply with a lot of rules and regulation. On the other hand the Luddite Industry is given a pretty free hand to say and do fairly questionable things. To imply that the oil industry deceives and the Luddite industry does not is ridiculous. I feel the Luddites are spreading way more misinformation than perhaps any one of their industries or science which they oppose. Anyways, fracking is on the demise. Octopus drilling will soon become the norm for industry and the new evil process for the Luddites. Author questions the political aspect of this issue in that there’s more than one “side,” questioning the way language is used to form positions in this debate.
9 Discourse The eco-left are far more dishonest than corporations. They pander to fear, ignorance and hatred and they cost lives by preventing newer and safer technologies from being implemented. Fracking is many times safer and cleaner that coal, and natural gas replaces coal. We burn 200 million tons less coal a year because of fracking. Wind and solar haven’t replace any coal.We could have been completely off coal had in not been for the war on nuclear waged by the eco-left. While the author of this comment uses safety as an example (alluding to public health), they make a direct statements about the rhetorical use of language.
10 Discourse I wish I could find my old college economics book that my prof. assigned. I was taking a statistics course. The prof gave us all the same data, senario, etc. three days later while working on this project he gave us an assignment to buy a paper back book titled. ” How to Lie With Statistics” We then had to take the same data and argue different view points. It is so easy to make statistics fit any pre conceived notion or point of view. That is why I NEVER believe anyone when they start spouting statistics, or using statistice to “prove” a hypothosis. This is all drivel. The bottom line is the government will eventually approve, we will benefit, the opposition will whine and moan, any problem with be blown out of proportion and other unsafe options (can you say moving volitiles on rail. Read West Virginia) the profit motive will be excoriated. These comments are neither right or left, just an unbiased observation. Also, I can prove it with statistics!! The author discuses the suasive uses of statistical data.
11 Political Distortion is just the tip of the iceberg. Here in North Carolina they have outlawed talking about the chemicals they use. They have outlawed talking about climate predictions that have a gloomy outlook for the coastal area. And of course our Governor is owned by Duke Energy. The author discusses the governmental power, control, and restrictions placed to oppress public deliberation on this issue.
12 Discourse Research and statistics can be manipulated to say whatever the person using them wants to say,” said Robert Galbraith, an analyst with the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative and co-author of the report released on Wednesday” Isn’t that what the global warming and anti fracking people have been doing all along? Author questions the deliberative nature of research and statistics.
13 Discourse Industry purposefully distorting scientific fact so they can profit at the expense of the public health and the ecosystem? No, that would never happen. The KOCH brothers and the US Chamber of commerce would stop it immediately, the Jesus would smile. Ironically pokes at the potentially distorting uses of language.
14 Discourse It is not nice to Frack with Mother Nature. Sometimes she Fracks you right back. Uses a pun to playfully make a stance on the issue.
15 Public Health I would like to know what are the chemicals that are injected into the ground during the fracking process. The “industry” says these are no more harmful than household chemicals? Well, we have some pretty toxic stuff in our homes and garages, and laws prohbit us from throwing them away with the normal garbage due to their toxicity–the threat of poisoning ground water. In fracking thousands of gallons of these chemicals are used per minute. How can they not enter our ground water and poison us? While the author briefly discusses the persuasive uses of language, their underlying concern is one of health.
16 Public Health It worked in PA for a while. Our DEP kept saying no water was contaminated, no wells were ruined for several years. If you called in to report it you were told you were going to be investigated for harassment. Then they were sued, right to know, and all of a sudden there were over 200 water sources contaminated. See how easy it is to keep the public from knowing what is happening to our environment. All it takes is enough money, in PA it was $23 M. While an element of this comment focuses on concealing information (through the uses of languge), this comment seems to center on the health issues related to water contamination.
17 Discourse (“Research and statistics can be manipulated to say whatever the person using them wants to say,” said Robert Galbraith, an analyst with the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative and co-author of the report released on Wednesday) no kidding, like the Scientists that faked Global Warming so they could keep their Government grants. The thing about computers and their results, they are only as good as the Input. If the input is faulty, You got phoney evidence of Global Warming, There is no problem with fracking as long as those doing the fracking are following the rules. and that is the whole issue about anything. When I hear someone calling climate change entirely man’s fault, I laugh. especially when it has been proved solidly that our Planet has gone through global Freezing and Global Warming many times before Man showed up. People forget, the ground we walk on is merely a crust for what lies beneath and comes out often enough in the form of fissure cracks or volcano’s. That’s what really causes climate change. The author claims the persuasive element of discourse as a determining factor in this debate.
18 Science I am not surprised that the fracking industry, notorious for its funding of studies that reflect well on their practices (so-called Frackademia), would try to smear evidence of fracking harms by engaging in personal attacks, but this kind of attack also turns science itself into an ideological battleground. It’s true that the highly informed scientists who did peer reviewed studies came to the conclusion that fracking is the public health crisis of our time and then took a stand against it. That is not bias. That is conscience. On the other hand, scientists who take money from the fracking industry are beholden to their sponsors, and those ties must be disclosed. Studies funded by the industry are subject to greater scrutiny, for obvious reasons. Though most of this comment centers on the discourse and scientific knowledge, it is indeed most concerned with the actions of scientists and the scientific community in general.
19 Political Three things: 1. They receive some of their money from anti-frackers.2. Ex-oil Execs wrote the paper. Maybe we should have a cab driver do it.We don’t want experts to figure it out so we will have lobbyist’s do it.3. Most of you people are to young to remember the 70’s oil embargo so I understand that you aren’t seeing the whole story. In a nutshell, OPEC basically cut our oil off. Thus the Energy Dept. was formed to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and we had gas rationing, long lines, etc. Then some of the members of OPEC had whole sports cars covered in diamonds and proudly displayed them as their symbol of beating the Americans for domination in the oil industry.We need alternative energy but we are not there yet. There are safe fracking methods and that is what we should employ until we get alternate fuels. Oil will NEVER go away so people should understand that most oil companies don’t want to loose a drop of oil or pollute a river or cause any damage to the environment because it not only gives them a public relations nightmare but it hurts the bottom line. The author of this comment is primarily concerned with the choices of those in power to make decisions in spite of public interest.
20 Political I think the deception is more likely the other way around, just as with UCS and nuclear power. Unfortunately, a few greedy businessmen cut corners and give fracking a bad name for the entire industry. This comment seems to focus on both the deceptive potential of discourse, and, more importantly, the actions of those in power and the resulting effects on the economic system and publics.



This is of course just a little activity I performed, but in order to really analyze the results from coding these comments, I’d need to possibly rework my coding scheme. For instance, the codes I selected seemed to overlap for many of the comments, and I needed to provide a justification for my choice. A stronger, or more useful coding scheme would allow me to select multiple codes for each comment. Further, narrowing my codes to types of claims (validity, reliability) would provide a stronger set of data for analysis.



Stuart Blythe (2007). Coding Digital Texts and Multimedia. Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues. 203-228. Hampton Press.