Yet Another 'Fracking' Story on the Front Page: NYT Again Hits 'Reckless' Natural Gas Extraction

New York Times reporters Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore filed another in a series of front-page stories Friday revolving around the natural gas industry, especially the 'fracking' process by which natural gas is obtained from shale and is opposed by liberal environmentalists. This time the scene is the paper's own backyard: 'Cuomo Moving To End a Freeze On Gas Drilling.'

The Cuomo administration is seeking to lift what has effectively been a moratorium in New York State on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique used to extract natural gas from shale, state environmental regulators said on Thursday.

The process would be allowed on private lands, opening New York to one of the fastest-growing - critics would say reckless - areas of the energy industry. It would be banned inside New York City's sprawling upstate watershed, as well as inside a watershed used by Syracuse, and in underground water sources used by other cities and towns. It would also be banned on state lands, like parks and wildlife preserves.

One suspects the Times will not be relaying quotes of Cuomo the hero on this subject the same way it did after he successfully shepherded gay marraige through the state legislature.

Hydrofracking has prompted intense protests from some environmental activists, who say it threatens the cleanliness of groundwater. The process involves injecting large volumes of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, deep into the ground to break up rock formations and release natural gas. It is legal in a number of other states, including Pennsylvania.

Indeed, earlier this year reporter Ian Urbina went after allegedly lax regulation of fracking in Pennsylvania. More recently, Urbina filed two front-page investigative stories that resulted in much rebuttal from people who actually study the natural gas industry.

Jon Entine at George Mason University is only the latest to rip apart Urbina's contentions about fracking, at RealClearPolitics on Friday. Excerpts:

Times' editors present this story as an independent investigation, as blowing the top off a conspiracy of silence from natural gas "insiders." It brags in a special section headlined "Industry Privately Skeptical of Shale Gas" of reviewing, over six months, "thousands of pages of documents related to shale gas, including hundreds of industry e-mails, internal agency documents and reports by analysts....Readers are left with hyperbolic but anonymous fragments of criticism, many years out of date, sprinkled with derisive comments from Berman and Rogers.

Entine revealed that the paper's sources have ties to critics of shale gas, which the paper failed to disclose.

The Times' story rehashes criticism of the shale gas industry that has been rattling around the Internet for years. The only new identifiable voice is that of Deborah Rogers. She is described by Urbina as "a member of the advisory committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas" and later as a "commissioner" at the bank. She portrays herself as having begun her "financial career in Europe where she worked in Corporate Finance in London, specifically venture capital."


Urbina also did not disclose that Rogers has been fighting the natural gas industry - and Chesapeake Energy in particular - tooth and nail for years. She is on the steering committee of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project at Earthworks, an anti-shale-gas advocacy group, and lectures around the country....Where were the Times' fact-checkers?

Some of the Times' sources were not impressed with reporter Urbina:

I spoke with representatives of two companies that are portrayed in the Times' piece as peddling to their customers the "bubble lie" that shale gas has a rosy future. PNC Wealth Management said it was not contacted by the reporter. IHS Drilling Data spokesperson David Pendery, quoted in the Times story, was irked at the paper. "I got a bizarre call from the New York Times reporter, who wanted me to respond to sections of an email that he read to me, but he wouldn't supply us with the actual email so we could read it in context," he said. "He wasn't very professional."

Entine concluded that 'the Times chose to endow with credibility what other responsible news outlets had determined was less than newsworthy' and called on Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane to get involved.

You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.