NY Times Blows Story on Drilling “Dangers” UPDATE: Another Fact Check Fail

posted at 10:10 am on February 28, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

There seems to be little question remaining over whether or not there is a rather blatant agenda in some segments of the media when it comes to natural gas drilling in this country. For the latest example, one need look no further than Ian Urbina’s latest piece in the New York Times with the excitable title, Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers.

Never one to soft sell a good meme, the Times skips right past any of the normal environmental hazards associated with energy exploration and goes right for… radiation!

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.

One of the dominant themes in the Times’ “analysis” is that drilling waste water – possibly containing radioactive particles (more on that below) – is being improperly dumped into waste water treatment plants by greedy energy companies. They do this, according to the author, because they are under-regulated and looking to save money. To back up the assertion, they quote former Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection secretary John Hanger.

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.

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.

“[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.”

The beginning of the article is discussing “radioactive elements” found in waste water from drilling sites and makes quite a fuss over it. Can you find unstable particles in such water? Yes. They’re known as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, and in this part of the country you find them in minute quantities if you drill for oil and gas. Or if you dig for coal, or copper or gravel. And if you dig a well down to the aquifer to obtain drinking water for your home, you’ll find them there also. When you dig a basement / foundation for a new home you’ve got a fairly good chance of stirring a few up. They are in the ground all over the planet.

NORM deposits are obviously something to be aware of and sensible precautions are required. But the density of these materials is so low that it is diluted in any major water flow to levels which fall far below any environmental standards, as Hanger further notes.

Once the Times finishes with their headline grabbing lede about radiation (!) in the water, the article then seems to go on in a scatter-shot fashion to throw mud at any wall they can find to see if something will stick. Their second line of attack moves from Eastern PA and NY out to Western Pennsylvania, where evil energy companies made the water so unsafe that residents were advised to drink bottled water instead of the public drinking water supply.

And recent incidents underscore the dangers. In late 2008, drilling and coal-mine waste released during a drought so overwhelmed the Monongahela that local officials advised people in the Pittsburgh area to drink bottled water. E.P.A. officials described the incident in an internal memorandum as “one of the largest failures in U.S. history to supply clean drinking water to the public.”

It’s true that a 2008 recommendation was made favoring the use of bottled water in the Pittsburgh area. But one look at their water safety report for that year shows that the concerns over water quality cover a wide range of problems, including agricultural run-off and unrelated industrial activity, with drilling of any sort falling far down the list. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of faulty sewage treatment plants.

Pittsburgh’s waste treatment plant Alcosan (North Shore) dumps an estimated 21 billion gallons of raw sewage into the river every year… They were fined 1.6 million dollars for violating the clean water act.

The hit piece then leaves the Marcellus shale entirely and swings all the way out west to Texas, where families in “affected areas” are suffering troubling health problems. The quotes from this section immediately got one concerned citizen up in arms over yet another tragic “fracking victim.”

In Texas, which now has about 93,000 natural-gas wells, up from around 58,000 a dozen years ago, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling said in 2010 that it found a 25 percent asthma rate for young children, more than three times the state rate of about 7 percent.

It’s ruining us,” said Kelly Gant, whose 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son have experienced severe asthma attacks, dizzy spells and headaches since a compressor station and a gas well were set up about two years ago near her house in Bartonville, Tex.

Wait… what? I’ve seen a lot of ills laid at the doorstep of fracking in the past, but… asthma? Because of one well and a compressor station near your home? And this startling conclusion is drawn even though the very same paragraph in the article goes on to point out, “The industry and state regulators have said it is not clear what role the gas industry has played in causing such problems, since the area has had high air pollution for a while.

Gee. I wonder what might play a larger role in asthma rates? Nearly inert natural gas rigs or rampant air pollution combined with the usual particles found in an area with naturally high levels of dust, pollen, molds and other airborne irritants?

File this article under the heading of one more attempt to prevent the development of any domestic energy supplies unless they fit in with the green /renewable energy agenda. And that’s the same agenda which, while it may serve a great purpose in the future, still can’t finance itself without massive government subsidized support.

UPDATE: Further in the article, the Times uncovers what must certainly be some sort of conspiracy.

A confidential industry study from 1990, conducted for the American Petroleum Institute, concluded that “using conservative assumptions,” radium in drilling wastewater dumped off the Louisiana coast posed “potentially significant risks” of cancer for people who eat fish from those waters regularly.

Ooooo… a confidential study. Sounded pretty shady to me, so I contacted a representative of the American Petroleum Institute to find out why they would be keeping such blockbuster information secret from the public. As it turns out, that study has been public for almost two decades and the results aren’t quite what the Times implies.

The API study mentioned in the NYT article was not confidential. In fact, it was turned into API Publication 4532 and published in 1991. Furthermore, it discusses the health risk associated with radium radiation and concludes, “The number of excess cancers predicted per year is comparable to the number expected to result from background concentrations of radium. Because of the many conservative assumptions incorporated into this screening-level analysis, it can be concluded that the risks associated with the discharge of produced water to coastal Louisiana is small.”

Was anything in this article fact checked before they ran it?


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“It’s safer than childbirth.”
 
- British doctor

rogerb on February 28, 2011 at 10:13 AM

I have one 1/4 mile from the house. It went up in one day. 20 days later it is gone and just a well head remained. No dust on my car. No excessive noise. No dead dogs or cats or birds in my backyard. My wife didn’t grow a third leg…or a fourth eye :). The water from my tap tastes just like it did before, horrible Texas. Thank goodness for Ozarka.

Limerick on February 28, 2011 at 10:16 AM

NY Times Blows Story on Drilling “Dangers”

pilamaye on February 28, 2011 at 10:21 AM

I’d like to hydrofrack the NYT.

John the Libertarian on February 28, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Does anyone still categorize the NYT as “non-fiction”?

mr.blacksheep on February 28, 2011 at 10:24 AM

Re: Radiation

Put a Geiger counter on a bunch of bananas sometime. The high level of potassium in bananas means there will be a measurable level of decay of K-40. A recent episode of NCIS: Los Angeles had as a plot element the idea that terrorists would hide a nuclear device in a shipment of bananas and thus avoid detection, as a radiation detector would trigger on any load of bananas.

The Monster on February 28, 2011 at 10:26 AM

I like how the left takes one piece on information and builds on it. And they never have to prove it. It’s good to be them.

Cindy Munford on February 28, 2011 at 10:28 AM

Let the Ba$tards Freeze In The Dark. Thanks to the libs and their brilliant economic and regulatory policies, it has taken me 3 years to fund and gather all the necessary permits for my next well, which I am finally able to begin drilling next week.

Jocundus on February 28, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Down the road from my house is the everglades. They have a strange feature that few see or understand … swamp gas, methane, leaks to the surface from the peat layers. And when an ignition source is nearby, boom, poof, big flair, coming right out of the swamp water. Can last for hours, for days or weeks.

It’s that smell you smell around landfill operations.

Gas naturally leaks from the ground. So does CO2 leak from what people think are rocks, otherwise known as calcite(CaCO3)

In Colorado we had a deep water well … One of the hazards for water drillers was hitting an underground natural gas pocket … in which case it could burn down your house. No oil well or gas well drilling for 50 miles around. Shallow natural gas deposits are everywhere.

Why not discuss how giant useless windmills are destroying the raptor population of the USA ????

tarpon on February 28, 2011 at 10:31 AM

Fracking has been around in the oil and gas industry since the late 40s. But since it is now being used in areas like the Marcellus Shale, which includes, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and runs all the way down to northern Tennessee, the process has gotten into areas where there are significant deposits of liberal activists.

Add to the fact the process was created by Halliburton! (no dobut the then 7-year-old Dick Cheney was somehow involved) and you’ve got the perfect combination for an evil corporation/evil process scare story from the Times, with the eventual goal not just to regulate fracking (which does have to be done properly to keep the water/sand/chemical mix out of the aquifer levels), but to eventually ban the process entirely and in turn cripple the domestic oil and natural gas drilling industry.

jon1979 on February 28, 2011 at 10:32 AM

… and unfortunately, a vast swath of US citizenry swallow this blatant anti-energy propaganda at face value. I saw some nitwit discussing this last night as though it were gospel. I just don’t know how this can be overcome.

Midas on February 28, 2011 at 10:33 AM

IIRC, in a ‘cost cutting’ measure, the Times no longer uses ‘fact checkers’.

And it makes it easier to get the story published.

GarandFan on February 28, 2011 at 10:33 AM

I guess the 1st ammendment makes a paper immune to FRAUD.

It is fraud none the less.

golfmann on February 28, 2011 at 10:34 AM

The largest source of methane on this planet is rice paddies. What are we going to do about it?

seven on February 28, 2011 at 10:35 AM

… My wife didn’t grow a third leg…or a fourth eye :)…
Limerick on February 28, 2011 at 10:16 AM

Yes, but did she grow any extra boobies?

;)

wearyman on February 28, 2011 at 10:37 AM

“Does anyone still categorize the NYT as “non-fiction”?” To which I answer: Does anybody still read NYT?

alwyr on February 28, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Why the lies? Because they can.

mchristian on February 28, 2011 at 10:38 AM

The progressive agenda demands that America be beggared before the rest of the world.

Any kind of energy independence has to be quashed, if it takes a few lies, no biggie.

Rebar on February 28, 2011 at 10:41 AM

Let these morons heat their houses with wind and produce the ink for their newspapers with solar.

Mommy, where does electricity come from?
-It comes from the outlet, honey.

Bishop on February 28, 2011 at 10:41 AM

Radiation?

There are two forms of “things” in this universe (as far as science can prove at the moment): matter and energy. Radiation is energy. Radioactivity is a specific form of radiation. But what’s the biggest source of radiation on earth? The sun. Obviously we need to ban the sun!

rbj on February 28, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Jayson Blair Ian Urbina lives on at the Times

J_Crater on February 28, 2011 at 10:49 AM

I eagerly await the Times’ expose on the dangerous nicotine levels in Americas silent killer- the Eggplant.
The only agenda the Times has is the promotion of anything that hurts the nations individualism and independence.
Facts need not apply- just ask Toyota.

jjshaka on February 28, 2011 at 10:54 AM

There’s far more dangerous chemicals used in the printing process of a daily newspaper than drilling for gas wells. I wonder doubt if Mr. Urbina even knows this, or plans to write about it.

Rovin on February 28, 2011 at 10:55 AM

Radiation is energy. Radioactivity is a specific form of radiation.

Um, no. Gamma radiation is energy. Alpha radiation is He-4 nuclei dislodged from larger nuclei that don’t have enough neutrons; Beta radiation is high-speed electrons resulting from “weak” decay of neutrons in nuclei that have too many neutrons. (At large enough atomic numbers, there is no “right” number of neutrons, and all isotopes will decay either via alpha or beta processes.)

The Monster on February 28, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Nice research, Jazz. Thanks for helping expose the NYT’s blatant fear-mongering & fact-tweaking.

KS Rex on February 28, 2011 at 11:03 AM

NY Times Blows

FIFY

Knott Buyinit on February 28, 2011 at 11:04 AM

So will they print a correction?

Cindy Munford on February 28, 2011 at 11:10 AM

“The industry and state regulators have said it is not clear what role the gas industry has played in causing such problems, since the area has had high air pollution for a while.”

Well, OK, but things are different, now that the oil companies are there. The oil companies are a deep-pocketed potential scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. Anything.

There was even an attempt to blame the drilling in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for an earthquake that occurred about 5 miles deep, when the drilling reached depths of about 1.5 miles. Impossible to have caused the quakes, but those deep pockets are a tempting target.

iurockhead on February 28, 2011 at 11:10 AM

There are radioactive minerals in sidewalks, street paving materials, your car, concrete building materials, bricks, plants, meats, your body, and anything else with minerals (except some highly purified laboratory samples).

How much radioactivity do the NYT delivery trucks stir up and distribute each year?

HotWeaver on February 28, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Good work, Jazz. The enviros pushed natural gas as the ‘clean energy alternative’ but now they want to kill that business too.

fwiw, more info on the science here.

Buy Danish on February 28, 2011 at 11:15 AM

Why not discuss how giant useless windmills are destroying the raptor population of the USA ????

tarpon on February 28, 2011 at 10:31 AM

Because that idea has about as much truth as the NYT story.

Slowburn on February 28, 2011 at 11:15 AM

Speaking of dangers …

Somali pirates seized a Danish yacht with seven people on board, including three children, the Danish foreign ministry said Monday. The ship was captured while traveling through the Indian Ocean, AFP reported. It is now being sailed toward Somalia, the Ministry told the wire service.

Tony737 on February 28, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Ever wonder why the old liberal media doesn’t seem to mind the enormous problem of newsprint in landfills? In some landfills newsprint takes up 20% of volume, and contrary to liberal beliefs, newsprint doesn’t degrade quickly. Studies of old landfills confirm this.

We need a deposit charge on newspapers of $1 or so, to be reimbursed when the paper is turned in for recycling. Mother Gaia demands it!

slickwillie2001 on February 28, 2011 at 11:26 AM

Radioactivity does not = cancer or bad.
Radioactivity is natural & not all is harmful. Like the K-40 in the bananas someone already mentioned here.
This kind of ignorance about EVERYTHING regarding the natural world is why irradiated food is not catching on.
Bcs people are ignorant &/or willfully stupid & they become fearful of what they do not understand.
And sometimes a little knowledge is more dangerous.
John Stossel himself was responsible for a lot of this kind of thinking.
Thank God he wised up & is now on a better path.
I use many of his free DVDs for teachers to teach kids how to think aobut things like this.

Badger40 on February 28, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Ian Urbina’s is an admitted child molester…that is a fact, as honest as the quote used in the article.
He once was quoted as saying the word “it is good”, and then later was found to have stated the words ” to be a child molester”, put them together and what do you have “it is good to be a child molester”…yeah, that’s how easy it is to be a NYT reporter.
Now they can come after me, but I am telling you the truth, those two phrases he has written.

right2bright on February 28, 2011 at 11:28 AM

They forgot to mention Blackwater.

Kenosha Kid on February 28, 2011 at 11:32 AM

Ever wonder why the old liberal media doesn’t seem to mind the enormous problem of newsprint in landfills? In some landfills newsprint takes up 20% of volume, and contrary to liberal beliefs, newsprint doesn’t degrade quickly. Studies of old landfills confirm this.

We need a deposit charge on newspapers of $1 or so, to be reimbursed when the paper is turned in for recycling. Mother Gaia demands it!

slickwillie2001 on February 28, 2011 at 11:26 AM

But think of all the carbon sequestering that the undegraded newsprint represents. We must stop recycling paper to prevent global warming.\\s

Slowburn on February 28, 2011 at 11:38 AM

So will they print a correction?

Cindy Munford on February 28, 2011 at 11:10 AM

HA HA HA HA HA! Good one!
Oh, wait… you were serious?

Sorry.

Jazz Shaw on February 28, 2011 at 11:40 AM

That sleight-of-hand non-quote of John Hanger should be grounds for this “reporter” to be fired. This is as shoddy as journalism can get, though I suppose it is par for the course these days at the NYT.

rockmom on February 28, 2011 at 11:40 AM

OK not all radiation = cancer.
Our scientific knowledge results in more trouble I think sometimes than it’s worth.
Everybody thinks they are dying from everything.
Every little twitch or twinge of the body, little palpation of the chest, sniffle, discharge, itch, rough skin patch, red mark, cough, shortness of breath, allergic reaction etc. is somehow some disease which demands to be identified & treated with exotic pharma drugs.
People hundreds & thousands of years ago had these same anomalies & not all of them were deadly.
They just lived with them, took natural medicinal herbs for symptoms maybe, & went on about their business.
People now think everything must be sterilized of anything before they touch it.
People are now afraid of nature.
Morons. All of them.

Badger40 on February 28, 2011 at 11:46 AM

NORM has been around for a very longtime and is general limited to the ancient saltwater which comes up with natural gas and oil. The highest concentrations (which I have observed) are with the molecular sieves which remove the moisture from the natural gas BEFORE it gets to any compressor station, other than those where the gas is collected in the field from various wells.

The NORM is not in high concentrations before or after the dehydration process.

The vast majority of well wastewater is reinjected back where it came from.

Since the mid-80′s it has been tightly controlled and regulated. Previous to that little was known about it in the industry.

Kermit on February 28, 2011 at 11:51 AM

though I suppose it is par for the course these days at the NYT.
rockmom on February 28, 2011 at 11:40 AM

They couldn’t even get the obit for Judith P. Sulzberger right. Scroll down for corrections. (h/t James Taranto).

Buy Danish on February 28, 2011 at 12:04 PM

When you dig a basement / foundation for a new home you’ve got a fairly good chance of stirring a few up. They are in the ground all over the planet.

Granny, don’t even THINK about planting them roses!

Herb on February 28, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Mrs. Gant, you should move immediately and take the kids to a much safer part of the country. A place where unicorns and skittles are present with no gas or oil.

Kissmygrits on February 28, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Nice research, Jazz. Thanks for helping expose the NYT’s blatant fear-mongering & fact-tweaking.

KS Rex on February 28, 2011 at 11:03 AM

Great post Jazz, please tell me you’re not writing under the HuffPo compensation model.

Mark30339 on February 28, 2011 at 12:21 PM

I didn’t read the whole story yet. Did they mention Cheney and Halliburton?

mchristian on February 28, 2011 at 12:31 PM

They don’t need no stinking fact check. They are the New York Times.

Cindy Munford on February 28, 2011 at 12:40 PM

Great post Jazz, please tell me you’re not writing under the HuffPo compensation model.

Mark30339 on February 28, 2011 at 12:21 PM

After an interview one of the Huffpo folks did with me during our last congressional campaign, I don’t think I’m in danger of having them offer to pay me any time soon. But if they do, I’ll let you know…

Jazz Shaw on February 28, 2011 at 1:07 PM

Was anything in this article fact checked before they ran it?

Stupid question…why should they, what are you going to do about it?
Only a conservative would question it…which makes you the one with a bias.
Accept it and move on…

right2bright on February 28, 2011 at 1:13 PM

I haven’t seen “gasland” but I imagine this story was “prepared” to reinforce that “documentary” in case it won best Documentary at last night’s Oscars. (I don’t know, only watched the last few minutes to see what won the biggies. I have become a real skeptic on all documentary films these days. Just so many lying POS’s like Michael Moore making them.

Webrider on February 28, 2011 at 1:31 PM

Let’s start drilling in Central Park.

darclon on February 28, 2011 at 2:03 PM

…So what is the impact of the massive “Truth Pollution” emitted every day from the NY Times???

Dead trees…for no productive purpose.

Dysfunctional actions by government and individuals…based on false information.

Ignorant readers…some damaged for life.

…etc.

My “environment” is FREEDOM, and the NYT is a MAJOR POLLUTER!!!

landlines on February 28, 2011 at 2:33 PM

Fox News Lies! Fox News Lies! Fox News Lies!

/NYT Reader

scituate_tgr on February 28, 2011 at 5:17 PM

The ink on newsprint has a story to tell. The ink producers twist the green story every way possible, but fish will always smell like fish. Consider the consequence of water used to recycle newsprint or newsprint pitched directly to landfill. The argument is equally ludicrous.

ericdijon on February 28, 2011 at 5:31 PM

NY Times Blows Story on Drilling “Dangers”

Un-Fracken-Believeable!!!

/can’t believe nobody did this yet. LOLZapaloosa

44Magnum on February 28, 2011 at 5:33 PM

NY Times Blows Story on Drilling “Dangers”

FIFY.

Dopenstrange on March 1, 2011 at 12:56 AM