Journalism in the Public Interest

A Fracking Mischaracterization

An Investor’s Business Daily editorial repeats some canards about ProPublica’s coverage of the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing.

 The headline on Tuesday’s editorial in Investor’s Business Daily – “Get the Frackin’ Gas” – is both clever and on the mark. The publication gets into trouble, however, when the body of its editorial veers into mischaracterizing ProPublica’s reporting on the environmental risks that need to be dealt with to produce the huge amounts of natural gas available underground in the United States.

Our reporters, led by Abrahm Lustgarten, have researched and written more than 50 stories on the subject over the past 18 months and are as expert on the topic as anyone in America.

Here is what is beyond dispute: The gas is highly desirable as a fuel, because it burns relatively cleanly and produces less greenhouse gas per unit of energy than oil or coal. There is lots of it obtainable within the U.S. using an enhanced version of an old drilling technology, called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – much more than was widely supposed just a few years ago. That means using natural gas to power cars and electrical generation doesn’t require sending huge sums abroad, weakening the dollar and strengthening countries that aren’t particularly friendly to ours – Russia, Iran and Venezuela among them.

Here is a fact that some in the gas industry want to deny: There are significant risks to the water supply from producing these huge quantities of gas, but they are easily manageable with appropriate regulatory supervision. Unfortunately, the IBD editorial buys into the head-in-the-sand denial.

The editorial quotes a senator from the Oklahoma oil patch as saying there has never been a documented impact on water supplies from fracking. As former President Bill Clinton would understand, that depends on how you define “documented” and “fracking.” If you use any sort of sensible definitions, there have been well over 1,000 incidents in which spillage or leakage of fluids used in fracking have damaged water supplies.

An unmitigated canard quoted in the editorial – one that has a goofy way of creeping into discourse from a variety of people who dislike something we have written – is that George Soros, the global billionaire, is behind our coverage. Soros has never given us a penny, and even if he had, none of our funders know in advance what we are going to write about, nor do they have any role in deciding what stories we do or don’t do.

What our reporting over the last year and a half has demonstrated is simple: A provision in the huge 2005 energy legislation (crafted as a result of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s task force on the subject) exempted fracking from regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and left environmental supervision to the states. This gives the drilling industry huge freedom to play one state off against another in the race to get billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs.

The growing numbers of proponents of eliminating that exemption argue that such action would provide a common regulatory framework and assure drilling could go forward in relative safety. The industry has responded with a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to block that move, on the grounds that effective regulation would add to its costs.

ProPublica will continue to cover the issue aggressively, and factually.

“There are significant risks to the water supply from producing these huge quantities of gas, but they are easily manageable with appropriate regulatory supervision.”

I am shocked at the cavalier attitude expressed in the latter half of the above sentence.  It is nothing but irresponsible speculation, based upon neither scientific study, nor experience.


Dec. 25, 2009, 9:07 a.m.

New York Needs to Enact a TOTAL STATE-WIDE BAN on Hydro-Fracking
YOUR Comments Due December 31, 2009

Take Action  

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released the draft supplement to the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Oil and Gas Drilling in New York State on September 30 of this year. These proposed guidelines specifically identify procedures for high volume hydro-fracking shale formations. This drilling technique IS DEVASTATING and needs to be banned totally.

ATTENTION: Do not be misled by the efforts of others.  Some are claiming to protect our environment, but they are not calling for a TOTAL STATE-WIDE BAN.  Some are trying to only ensure protections of certain water supplies, or ask for more time to comment, or more regulation of the industry.  The only sensible and scientifically verifiable protection is a total state-wide ban.  If you are in touch with them, on their email lists, or for some reason donate to them, Ask them why.

Hydro-Fracking Liquid Waste
The proposed regulations would approve the use of large open pit toxic soup lagoons, to store the flowback fluid from several well pads. These lagoons are proposed to be approximately 5 acres in size. Flowback fluid is the contaminated fluid that returns to the surface during the drilling process. This chemical cocktail is estimated to be between 9%-35% of the fluids used during drilling and contains harmful chemicals and other toxins from the drilling process. THERE IS NO SAFE WAY TO HANDLE THIS!

Radioactive Waste
The radioactivity of production brine waste from “traditional” vertical wells drilled into Marcellus Shale was found to be 267 times the recommended EPA levels under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Protect NY’s Environment, Public Health, and Taxpayers:
Enact a TOTAL STATE-WIDE BAN on Hydro-Fracking
New Yorkers cannot and must not choose between clean water and energy; we need both. The NYSDEC draft regulations to govern hydro-fracking are gravely deficient. Currently the dSGEIS:
fails to provide a comprehensive plan for the safe treatment and disposal of polluted water;
fails to address the safe disposal of radioactive waste;
fails to assess the cumulative impacts on New York’s air, water, land, and public health; and
fails to protect New York taxpayers from paying for increased costs associated with new infrastructure and potential toxic remediation efforts.

What You Can Do:
Call Governor Paterson, DEC Commissioner Grannis, and your state Assembly member and senator to demand that Albany Enact a TOTAL STATE-WIDE BAN on Hydro-Fracking!

Write or call the DEC and your state leaders, and tell them to:
Enact a TOTAL STATE-WIDE BAN on Hydro-Fracking

Please call or write:
Governor Paterson:
Your NYS Assembly member: To find out who your Assembly member is and their phone number, visit:
Your NYS Senator: To find out who your Senator is and their phone number, visit:
Submit comments to the DEC:
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) <x-msg://182/>
Online: <> <>
Written: ATTN: dSGEIS Comments, Bureau of Oil & Gas Regulation, NYSDEC Division of Mineral Resources, 625 Broadway, Third Floor, Albany, NY 12233-6500
Information from the NYS DEC on the DSGEIS:

Information on SWiM’s Hydro-fracking campaign, of which Friends of Brook Park is a part:

Thank you for taking action. Together we make a difference!


For more information on the work of Friends of Brook Park, please visit:

Come visit Chautauqua County. 

We have about 40% of the the states 12,000+ producing wells. 

Folks that are terrified about the prospect of gas development would be surprised to find that Chautauqua County is one of the most beautiful parts of the state. 

Come look for yourself.  There is no devastation.

Solar and wind are great, but they are not going to heat NY anytime soon.

It amazes me that so many “environmentalists” advocate for continued reliance on coal and foreign produced heavy heating oils.  Either you are for shale gas or coal.

Re:  David Stein’s comment

I respectfully suggest that Mr. Stein read the recently released study by Hazen and Sawyer, performed for the NYC DEP, and presented as a comment to the NYSDEC dsGEIS.  I would also suggest he read the USEPA comments to the NYSDEC’s dsGEIS.

Mr. Stein appears to be recirculating the industry’s (and unfortunately, the NYSDEC’s) propaganda, when he quotes the reference to existing producing wells.

Wells that are directionally drilled and hydraulically fractured into shale plays are simply not comparable to the ones that he refers.  The impacts from the proposed wells have a multiple factor of up to 112 times those to which he refers.  This involves water usage, toxic flowback waste, truck traffic and the like. 

If someone were to believe Mr. Stein’s analogy, then that person must also believe that a sum of $50,000 is equal to one of $5,600,000.

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