The New York Times’ Completely Fictitious Fracking Article (UPDATED)

At Hot Air, Jazz Shaw thoroughly dismantles one of the worst examples of agenda-driven, slanted, left-wing mendacity posing as journalism – namely, the New York Times’ breathless smear of hydraulic fracturing over the weekend.

The NYT piece, written by Ian Urbina, assaults fracking along familiar lines – namely, the meme that wastewater from the fracking process is full of icky stuff and ruins drinking water. Only this is a little different take from what we’ve already seen; while previous attacks on the practice have made the claim that natural gas wells using fracking to produce gas from shale formations contaminated underground aquifers – a narrative we’ve debunked on this site countless times – Urbina’s spin is that natural gas drillers are trucking that wastewater to the treatment plant and dumping it there.

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.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

Urbina then commits a mistake which all by itself would shred whatever credibility the article may have…

There are business pressures” on companies to “cut corners,” John Hanger, who stepped down as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in January, has said. “It’s cheaper to dump wastewater than to treat it.”

Records back up that assertion.

A mistake, because as Shaw notes, Hanger was never interviewed for the piece and didn’t issue the quote in the story in the context Urbina quoted him.

Well, he should certainly be in a position to know, so that must be some damning testimony, eh? Well… it would be, had the author actually spoken to Mr. Hanger for the article or even had a clue what he was talking about. But he didn’t and John quickly took to his blog to set the record straight and to point out that the quoted comments related to a different situation and that his actual position was almost precisely the opposite of that portrayed in the Times.

Shaw then excerpts Hanger’s blog post on the subject…

“[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.”

“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 the case.”

As for the radioactive materials supposedly released into the drinking water, Shaw notes that those are naturally occurring and in quantities so small that they don’t affect anyone when they get into a river. Hanger’s blog entry is clear on that – and he demands that Pennsylvania immediately begin testing for those elements and release the results to prove it.

Those are but two examples among many Shaw uncovers in Urbina’s lengthy diatribe. It’s so full of errors, misleading statements, straw men and half-truths as to indict the Times’ credibility in total for having run it.

But this is typical stuff. The Left, of which the Times is the foremost propaganda instrument, simply cannot handle shale gas and the prospect of what it holds for the American future. For two reasons. First, shale gas doesn’t require a government subsidy like wind and solar energy do; it is profitable and versatile in that it can be used to power the grid and as a transportation fuel. It flies in the face of the Left’s narrative that government needs to promote “alternative” energy sources made of fairy dust and polar bear breath or else we’re at the mercy of foreign oil.

And second, shale gas and fracking are being successfully regulated at the state level. It doesn’t require a federal EPA response. A five-year EPA study concluded in 2004 proved it. That’s why Urbina’s piece, like many before it, decry “lax” regulation at the state level.

Because of those two factors, we’ve had an all-out effort for over a year to convince the public shale gas is a silent killer that must be tied in knots by the government. So far that effort hasn’t produced any results outside of New York, which has shut down operations in its part of the Marcellus Shale. But they will keep trying, regardless of how many times their lies are exposed as such, until someday something bad will happen that can be demagogued into strangling a vital national industry the way the combination of Three Mile Island and a stupid Jane Fonda movie destroyed the development of nuclear power in the late 1970’s.

That’s how this works.

The good news is that it isn’t the late 1970’s anymore. The legacy media isn’t the only outlet for information, and sites like this one and Hot Air are capable of debunking crap like Urbina’s New York Times piece before it builds a false narrative into a groundswell for public policy.

UPDATE: Oh, by the way – this didn’t make it into Urbina’s piece. Wonder why…

Senator Inhofe: I’m anxious to get to this second panel, Madame Chairman. I can’t remain silent after Senator Lautenberg’s statement about hydraulic fracturing. I have something to say about that, but first, I want to ask all three of you and response: Do any one of you know of one case of ground water contamination that has resulted from hydraulic fracturing? Start with you, Mr. Silva.

Peter Silva: Not that I’m aware of, no.

Senator Inhofe: Ms. Giles?

Cynthia Giles: I understand there’s some anecdotal evidence, but I don’t know that it’s been firmly established.

Senator Inhofe: So the answer is no, you don’t know of it.

Cynthia Giles nods.

Senator Inhofe: Alright, Mr. Larsen?

Matthew Larsen: I’ll have to respond in writing, I don’t, I’m not aware of all of our studies on that topic.

Senator Inhofe: Well, but you’ve already answered. You’re not aware. That’s the question I asked you. Here’s the problem we have. Senator Lautenberg referred to this as something that’s new. This isn’t new. It’s been around over fifty years. And, we do approximately thirty-five thousand wells a year – nearly a million wells, without one documented case of groundwater contamination. I’m concerned about this, because I know for a fact that if you took away the ability, as all other countries do, of hydraulic fracturing, we’re going to become much more dependent upon other countries for our ability to produce oil. Now, I want to repeat that one more time that there has never been a documented case in almost a million uses of that technology. The EPA did an extensive study of this back, prior to, it lasted a long period of time, they concluded in 2004 that it does not warrant any further study. And, I want to submit for the record a document that tells the history of hydraulic fracturing. And, I will reserve time in case I need it, I hope I don’t.

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