Marcellus Shale Coalition Provides Devastating Critique of NYT Anti-Gas Article

Below is a detailed response from the Marcellus Shale Coalition to the New York Times “hit piece” on gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale (see MDN’s review of that article here).

Yesterday’s New York Times included a story highly critical of the regulatory framework governing waste water treatment and disposal from natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania. While raising some valid questions about water monitoring, this article – seven months in the making – lacks context, offers misleading comparisons and in some cases put forth information that is not supported by the facts.

Following we offer up that context and provide interested parties additional background – all available in the public domain – that paints an entirely different picture than what was laid out by the Times yesterday morning. We hope you find this additional information helpful and informative.

Additional background and context on claims outlined in New York Times story:

NY Times Myth: “[Pennsylvania] is the only state that has allowed drillers to discharge much of their waste through sewage treatment plants into rivers.”

  • Pennsylvania leads the nation in waste water recycling; vast majority of produced water reused in drilling operations: “State environmental regulators say that nearly 70 percent of the wastewater produced by Marcellus Shale wells is being reused or recycled. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, puts the number higher, saying that on average 90 percent of the water that returns to the surface is recycled.” (Scranton Times-Tribune, 2/27/11)
  • Industry moving towards 100 percent recycling, zero discharge: “It makes sense to reuse this water,” said Ron Schlicher, an engineer consulting for the treatment company. “The goal here is to strive for 100-percent reuse, so we don’t have to discharge.” (Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 10/28/10)
  • Marcellus operators recycling majority of waste water: “…all of the state’s biggest drillers say they are now recycling a majority of the wastewater produced by their wells in new fracturing jobs, rather than sending it to treatment plants. Hanger said about 70 percent of the wastewater is now being recycled …” (Associated Press, 1/4/11)
  • Recycling of waste water to be norm for Marcellus Shale gas wells (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10/20/09)

NY Times Myth: “Gas producers are generally left to police themselves when it comes to spills. In Pennsylvania, regulators do not perform unannounced inspections to check for signs of spills. Gas producers report their own spills, write their own spill response plans and lead their own cleanup efforts.”

  • Flashback — DEP Inspector visits drilling site, unannounced, finds leaky valve on storage tank: “A DEP inspector discovered the spill while inspecting the well pad. The inspector found that the bottom valve on a 21,000-gallon fracking fluid tank was open and discharging fluid off the well pad. No one else was present at the pad, which has one producing Marcellus well.” (DEP press release, 11/22/10)
  • In 2010 alone, DEP oversight staff performed nearly 5,000 inspections at Marcellus Shale drilling locations, a more than 100 percent increase over the previous year.(DEP Year End Workload Report, accessed 2/27/11)
  • Pennsylvania recognized for having “well managed” hydraulic fracturing regulatory program: “A targeted review of the Pennsylvania program regulating the hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells has been completed by a multi-stakeholder group, which has concluded that the program is, over all, well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives.” (STRONGER press release, 9/24/10)
  • Pennsylvania hired more than 110 new inspectors, oversight personnel in last two years: “DEP was hit with layoffs after the overdue state budget was enacted in October, but the agency’s oil and gas division is considered exempt from layoffs or hiring freezes, added Mr. Hanger. All told, 193 agency employees work full time on oil and gas regulatory issues.” (Scranton Times-Tribune, 1/29/11)
  • Former PA Sec. of Environmental Protection details strong regulatory oversight and enforcement: “[The DEP] hired in 2009 and twice in 2010. We opened a new drilling staff office in Williamsport in 2009 and another in Scranton during 2010. Pennsylvania is the only state that has hired substantial or any staff for its drilling operation. The NYT does not say that, because it does not fit its narrative of lax Pennsylvania regulation. Indeed, the reporter deliberately did not include a long list of actions by DEP that represented strong enforcement.” (John Hanger blog, 2/27/11)

NY Times Myth: “But the relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.

  • Does The Times Read The Times? According to an NY Times fact-check, from last week: “The method of drilling is not called ‘hydraulic fracturing.’ Fracturing, or ‘fracking’ is a process that is one part of drilling a well and producing oil or gas. Fracturing has been used by drillers for around 60 years.” (New York Times, 2/24/11)

NY Times fails to provide proper context: “Drilling companies were issued roughly 3,300 Marcellus gas-well permits in Pennsylvania last year, up from just 117 in 2007.”

  • Like most information, without context, readers can and will be lead to think something that is not entirely accurate. While the reporter is correct in stating 3,300 Marcellus permits were issued, he fails to state that less than half that number of wells were actually drilled. According to state data, between January 1 and December 31, 2010, 1,446 Marcellus wells were drilled. (DEP Year End Workload Report, accessed 2/27/11)

NY Times fails to provide proper context, again: “The risks are particularly severe in Pennsylvania, which has seen a sharp increase in drilling, with roughly 71,000 active gas wells, up from about 36,000 in 2000.”

  • Of those 71,000 active natural gas wells in Pennsylvania wells, only 2,498 are horizontal Marcellus wells – or 3.5 percent of all wells in Pennsylvania.  (DEP Year End Workload Report, accessed 2/27/11)

Bonus Fact Check

NY Times quotes former Pa. DEP secretary…

… But the reporter never actually interviewed top environmental regulator for story about environmental regulations in Pennsylvania: “[T]hough I am quoted in the piece, this reporter never interviewed me prior to the publication of the Sunday article… As Secretary, I was interviewed hundreds and probably thousands of times.  I made myself totally accessible to reporters.  My staff knew that I was available to reporters. This reporter today says he asked Governor Corbett’s administration at DEP on January 21st, three days after Governor Rendell and I left office, to confirm the quotation that the reporter strung together (sic) from some other source.” (John Hanger blog, 2/27/11)

*Marcellus Shale Coalition Press Release (Feb 28) – Drilling Down into NY Times Story on Wastewater

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