New York Times Publishes Hit Piece on Natural Gas Drilling, Quoted Source Responds to the Article

New York Times buildingHave no fear, the great New York Times is now on the case of natural gas drilling, and it has “uncovered” some rather disturbing news:

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.(1)

The article goes on to refer to unnamed “secret” studies that were never released, with references of how “many experts” are “worried.” Let’s be honest—this is a “hit piece” from the NYT on natural gas drilling. The overall theme of the piece is that local sewage treatment plants are not capable of treating fracking wastewater because of high levels of naturally-occurring radioactivity, and that radioactivity is finding its way into water supplies for millions of people. During the course of the article the NYT writer throws in all of the other anti-drilling arguments he can think of, from air pollution to scenery pollution to accidents and more. Sad really, what’s become of the once-great Gray Lady.

Is there an issue with treating frack wastewater that contains high levels of radioactivity at local sewage treatment plants that then discharge into area waterways? The honest answer is, we don’t know for certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The issue should be investigated to assure everyone that a threat does, or does not, exist—and done so quickly.

But here’s the problem with NYT piece: It shades and colors the facts. Case in point: Very early on, the first named expert quoted, former Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), John Hanger, says he was never interviewed for the article! So how can the NYT quote him? They apparently took statements from previous public interviews and passed them off as statements for their article. Sec. Hanger, who was certainly no friend of the drilling industry during his tenure as Secretary, responded to the NYT article on his personal blog. Here are a few highlights:

“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.”

“The NYT piece makes errors when discussing the 2008 high TDS levels on the Mon[ongahela] River. … The NYT piece does not state clearly or fully that in October 2008 DEP issued orders to municipal sewage plants discharging to the Mon[ongahela] River or its tributaries to cut by 95% its drilling wastewater volumes. …Reporting accurately and fully this action plus that DEP issued the Public Water Advisory would not fit with the article’s determined narrative of lax regulation.”

“I was informed by agency radiation experts that the radiation levels were not a threat to truck drivers, workers at sewage treatment facilities or the public.  …I believe the agency staff were handling this issue in a serious, careful manner.  I still believe that to be in the case.”

“[T]he DEP gas drilling regulatory program was reviewed in 2010 by an Independent Auditing organization called STRONGER that includes reviewers from industry, other states, and environmental organizations. The DEP regulatory program received high marks. Of course the reporter did not include the fact of this independent audit in the story.”

“[T]hough I am quoted in the piece, this reporter never interviewed me. … The words that I find myself saying in this piece were said by me somewhere at some time and in some context but they were not said in the context of an interview for this piece. The reporter never called me after January 18th for any purpose including to confirm the quotation that he put together for me. The reporter did not ask the new administration for my contact information after I left office.”(2)

MDN asks the question, If the NYT played fast and loose with one of its star “interviewees” for the article, what other so-called “facts” have they also played fast and loose with?

(1) The New York Times (Feb 26) – Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers

(2) Facts of the Day, John Hanger Blog (Feb 27) – Statement regarding Sunday NYT February 27th Drilling Article