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Gov. Cuomo's state Democratic Party chairman says, "Drill, baby, drill" when it comes to controversial "hydrofracking" to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation on the New York-Pennsylvania border.

And party leader Jay Jacobs, a successful summer-camp owner, has a financial interest in having the drilling take place -- although he insists that it has nothing to do with his support for the hotly contested activity.

Jacobs says he's signed a contract with, and received per-acre upfront money from, energy giant Hess Corp. to drill on some 140 acres of land at his Tyler Hill summer camp, just over the border from New York's Catskill Mountains.

FUEL FOR THOUGHT: As Albany weighs hydrofracking, Democratic boss Jay Jacobs already has a deal with Hess to drill at his Tyler Hill summer camp in Pennsylvania.

Jacobs, who annually hosts hundreds of kids at Tyler Hill and two other nearby Catskills camps in New York, called the risks from hydrofracking "minuscule."

While Jacobs told The Post he's never talked with Cuomo -- who will soon decide whether to give hydrofracking the go-ahead -- about the issue, he said his own study convinced him it's the right thing to do.

"Many things that we do in modern society have the potential to destroy the environment, and we can't stop doing everything because of minuscule risks. It's when those risks become significant that we have to stop," said Jacobs.

"My belief is if we can extract natural gas, which is a cleaner form of energy, from our land, reducing the import of foreign oil and the cash flowing out of our country, and make for cleaner air, improve the economy and not damage the water, I'm for it," Jacobs continued.

"We have to be rational here, not emotional. If it's going to destroy people's water, I'm against it, too. But I've been led to believe that there are definite ways if you do this right not to destroy the water."

Jacobs wouldn't disclose how much money he's received from Hess.

But he said he entered into a contract with the huge company only after insisting on "tough restrictions" that banned drilling during the camping season and from the immediate areas around the camp buildings and related facilities, including adjacent lakes.

Jacobs said one of his two Catskill camps wouldn't be eligible for gas drilling because it's in the New York City watershed area, which will be excluded from consideration.

He said gas companies haven't approached him about his other camp, although even if they do, he insisted he wouldn't sign a contract because of Cuomo's involvement.

"I want to underscore that I haven't done anything [on drilling] with my land in New York, so I don't want anyone to think I will benefit one way or another [from Cuomo's decision], Jacobs said.

"I've been very careful. I don't want anyone accusing me of benefiting financially from anything I did in New York."

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens told Cuomo in a detailed report in July that the hydrofracking technique could be safely carried out in most areas of the Southern Tier, as long as strict regulatory oversight was imposed.

Drilling advocates, pointing to Pennsylvania, say it would generate tens of thousands of New York jobs in an economically depressed region and bring in billions in badly needed tax revenues over the next decade.

Opponents, led by major environmental organizations, claim hydrofracking could damage critical watershed areas, although no such damage has occurred in Pennsylvania or in other regions of the country where it's been used.

A 60-day public-comment period on the recommendation begins today, after which Cuomo will render a decision.

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This is excellent information with further definition and research on a NY Times article previously posted on this site. It gives insight into the efforts made by the NY Times reporter to strengthen his story to the detriment of the reader and the subject at hand. Of note is that the bringing out of the facts is at least partially done by the NY Times. The disappointment is that a once proud news organization has lowered itself to tabloid reporting levels  which should be noted by anyone interested in good reporting. Once the words are said, the article published, no amount of apology, explanation or clarification  can take back the initial impact..JLC pulse

Energy in Depth August 1, 2011

Interns Behaving Badly

And reporters too? NYT public editor takes aim once again at questionable reporting
at center of natural gas attack series

 

The New York Times formally established the position of public editor in 2003 in direct response to the fall-out associated with the Jayson Blair scandal. Since then, the office – which serves as the Times’ version of “an internal affairs division,” according to past public editor Clark Hoyt – has commented on and occasionally criticized the paper’s reporting on everything from Israel and Palestine to John McCain and Eliot Spitzer.

 

Over the past two weeks, though, the ombudsman’s office, currently run by long-time newspaperman Arthur Brisbane, has appropriately focused most of its attention on the Times’ increasingly controversial series attacking natural gas – posting its first reprimand on July 16, and then following up this weekend with another piece taking square aim at the way these stories are being reported and edited. In his latest column, Mr. Brisbane blows the whistle on reporter Ian Urbina’s use of redaction to hide from his readers that a key U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) “official” whose anonymous comments critical of shale formed the basis of Urbina’s June 26 story was actually, as it turned out, just an EIA intern. Says Brisbane:

 

Without ample descriptions of the unnamed sources, readers couldn’t know who was speaking and could not judge for themselves the merits of what was said. In the case of the redacted e-mails, the descriptors tended to obscure how many E.I.A. staffers were involved and when an intern was the e-mailer.

 

The “intern” was C. Hobson Bryan, a 2009 college physics-engineering graduate who E.I.A. said was hired as an intern in summer 2009 and upgraded to general engineer in March 2011. One of his e-mails was attributed to “one official” who said the shale industry may be “set up for failure.” Later, he was an “energy analyst” … Next he was “one federal analyst” who said, “It seems that science is pointing in one direction and industry PR is pointing in another.” …Can an intern be an “official”? It doesn’t sound right to me.

 

Here’s a link to the original redacted EIA emails, and here’s a link to the unredacted versions grudgingly posted by the Times last week, after EIA itself released the same emails to Congress earlier this month. Among the things that really jump out: the reporter’s painstaking work to block-out just about every single word or reference that even remotely hints at the notion that his key source of quotable material – Hobson Bryan III, a 2009 graduate of Washington and Lee Univ. – was merely an intern.

 

In a response column posted alongside the public editor’s piece on Sunday, Urbina’s editors write that the redactions were necessary “to protect sources” – as if  mentioning the kid’s status as an intern at a massive federal agency that typically employs dozens of them at any given point in time was somehow going to be enough information to expose his personal identity to the world.

 

Of course, while the Brisbane confutation does an excellent job of spotlighting the tricks used by the reporter to add artificial heft to his piece, it doesn’t spend much time detailing what the intern actually wrote – or with whom he was in contact as part of his “official” duties with the agency. According to the unredacted emails, the intern’s primary charge initially was to frame-out and stand-up a new EIA website focused on shale. To do that, he tapped other EIA interns for research, an outside web developer for design work, and none other than the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – perhaps the most prominent anti-shale group in the U.S. -- for recommendations on content.

As you’d expect, and as the emails show, NRDC didn’t waste any time at all in hooking young Mr. Bryan up with all the goods – sending over its 2007 regulatory wish-list document entitled “Drilling Down” (ironically, the same name used by Urbina for this series), a several-times-over debunked study on air quality in DISH, Texas, another air study oft-cited by shale critics from Al Armendariz (rebutted here by Ed Ireland of BSEEC), and links to the website of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), perhaps the shrillest opponent of responsible energy development in operation today, and the group most closely associated with Deborah Rogers, whom Urbina quotes in his July 25 piece without ever mentioning her affiliation with OGAP.

 

In correspondence back to NRDC’s Amy Mall, the EIA intern was quite grateful for the attention, and quick to confirm that he was on board with NRDC’s “very helpful” recommendations. He even tells Ms. Mall that he’s “going to make sure there are links to ‘Drilling Down’ in the final product.” And it’s at that point, frankly, where things get a little bit weird, with Bryan shifting gears a bit to provide Ms. Mall with a window into his profound philosophy on life (page 40):

 

Having recently graduated from geology and engineering, I think I can safely say that trusting industry to regulate itself is a bogus idea, comparable to letting the wolf guard the hen house. Through the experiences of my mother who was an environmental lawyer, my father who is a sociologist that specializes in environmental impact assessment, and a grandfather who was a hydrologist, I’ve had a lot of exposure to situations where greed and lack of social responsibility goes unchecked, undermining the wellbeing of society and the environment. Fortunately there are still people who value nature in its pristine, original form and the collective good over the pockets of just a few.

 

Of course, at other points in the emails, the intern doesn’t come off quite as “thoughtful” as he does above. In an email dated Sept. 16, 2009, Bryan, the intern, wrote a message to a friend (page 38) lamenting that much of his work had been rejected by his superiors -- “what the eff I am really here for if they already have their own versions of the ‘unbiased, objective, EIA truth.’” Bryan was about to reach his breaking point. “Watering down these sections anymore is going to make me feel like a young boy without a dik [sic.],” he wrote. “Maybe we should just frac them.”

 

Other emails show Bryan sending around links to papers and presentations from peak-oil advocate Arthur Berman (page 33), the lead source for Urbina’s discredited article on shale economics. Berman, Bryan, NRDC, OGAP, Rogers, and Urbina. Are we the only ones around here with a nagging suspicion that some of these pieces may just fit together somehow?

In his widely read daily “Playbook” email sent around yesterday, senior POLITICO reporter Mike Allen links to the Brisbane rebuttal and uses the occasion to offer up a cautionary “memo to young journos.” Among his suggestions: “Including other points of view strengthens, not weakens, your article.” And: “Referring to a single source in multiple ways doesn't serve your reader.” We’d hasten to add one more: Don’t allow yourself to be captured by a small group of ideologues and interest groups. Because if you do, the only decent journalism generated from it will likely come from the public editor himself.

Why Redacting E-Mails Is a Bad Idea

By Arthur S. Brisbane           Public Editor, The New York Times

July 30, 2011

TWO weeks ago, I raised questions about a New York Times article that warned of a bubble or Ponzi scheme in the development of shale gas energy. Today I want to look closely at the front page shale gas article that appeared one day later, which relied heavily on documentation with sections blacked out to shield its anonymous provider.

Published on June 27, the second piece reported that e-mail conversations inside the Energy Information Administration revealed that some staff members there doubted the optimistic shale gas projections published by their unit of the Department of Energy.

 

The e-mails, quoted extensively in the article and published in a document “viewer” on nytimes.com, captured conversations between summer 2009 and April 2011. The Times redacted all the names, substantial sections of the e-mails and even whole e-mails.

The doubts highlighted in the e-mails left a cloud over the E.I.A., which policymakers rely on for information. E.I.A.’s acting administrator, Howard K. Gruenspecht, called before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, said the e-mails were “largely to and from a person who was hired by E.I.A. in 2009 as an intern and later developed into an entry-level position.”

“The e-mails as posted on The Times Web site were heavily redacted and redacted in ways that I think provide misleading information on their context,” Mr. Gruenspecht added.

My assistant, Joseph Burgess, obtained unredacted copies of the e-mails from Republican energy committee staff. A comparison of the versions reveals some of the classic problems associated with anonymous sourcing.

In the article and in the document viewer, readers never learn the actual positions or identities of the e-mail senders, who are characterized using descriptors like “official,” “energy analyst,” “federal analyst,” “senior adviser” or “senior official.” Nowhere is an e-mailer characterized as an “intern.”

Without ample descriptions of the unnamed sources, readers couldn’t know who was speaking and could not judge for themselves the merits of what was said. In the case of the redacted e-mails, the descriptors tended to obscure how many E.I.A. staffers were involved and when an intern was the e-mailer.

The “intern” was C. Hobson Bryan, a 2009 college physics-engineering graduate who E.I.A. said was hired as an intern in summer 2009 and upgraded to general engineer in March 2011. One of his e-mails was attributed to “one official” who said the shale industry may be “set up for failure.” Later, he was an “energy analyst” wondering, “Am I just totally crazy, or does it seem like everyone and their mothers are endorsing shale gas without getting a really good understanding of the economics at the business level?” Next he was “one federal analyst” who said, “It seems that science is pointing in one direction and industry PR is pointing in another.”

At the time of the first two e-mails, Mr. Bryan was a general engineer; at the time of the third, he was an intern. The document viewer included three other e-mails dating to his internship period in which Mr. Bryan was referred to as an “official.”

Can an intern be an “official”? It doesn’t sound right to me.

In addition to the redactions and use of confusing, multiple descriptors, in four e-mails references to interns were blacked out to protect sources.

In response to my questions, reporter Ian Urbina and his editors — national editor Richard L. Berke and Adam Bryant, a deputy national editor — said the majority of the quotes published in the article came from multiple senior energy officials, whose concerns were echoed in an internal E.I.A. presentation and in interviews with nearly a dozen federal energy officials.

“Our goal is to publish as much information for readers as possible, redacted or not, and we intend to keep pursuing that goal,” Mr. Bryant said.

They also noted that of the 25 pages of e-mails posted online, part of a much larger collection, only 11 of them include e-mails from the period when Mr. Bryan was an intern and that, in the article itself, only one Bryan quote came from that period.

Indeed, all of that is true. One of the quoted senior staffers was Charles Whitmore, who the E.I.A. said is a senior market analyst. As highlighted in the article and document viewer, Mr. Whitmore engaged in a lengthy 2011 e-mail dialogue with Mr. Bryan about the uncertainties surrounding shale gas, predicting some bankruptcies and warning of “irrational exuberance.” I don’t feel the redactions in this group of e-mails distorted their meaning.

However, redactions of an earlier 2009 e-mail from Mr. Whitmore to an NPR reporter did create uncertainties. In the e-mail, Mr. Whitmore pointed to three sources of possible research value. One of them, the Department of Energy’s Shale Gas Primer, he described as “perhaps a bit on the rosy side” — a quote The Times used. The references to the other two research sources, which were outside organizations, were redacted, leaving the reader to wonder why.

Mr. Whitmore also told the NPR journalist in the e-mail that he believed shale gas to be “the big energy story of the last couple of years,” a segment that was blacked out.

The editors told me all the redactions were made to conceal sources, and that “none of the redacted material contradicts the points made in the story.”

The matter, though, is moot because on Wednesday The Times decided to post the unredacted e-mails, a move editors said could be made because E.I.A. had put them in the public domain.

During an interview on Tuesday, they told me they would have published the unredacted set in the first place if open records requests for them had been honored by the agency.

The fact is, The Times decided to go with the redacted documents and, in doing so, placed the serious shortcomings of anonymous sourcing on display.

When I asked Bob Steele, a DePauw University journalism ethics expert, he agreed that the redacted e-mails failed to provide information that readers needed to assess them. “When one reads government documents that have information blacked out, as a reader one almost inevitably starts wondering: ‘Why don’t we get to see these names? What is going on here?’ ” he said.

Anonymous material says to the reader: Trust us. But if the reader ends up feeling burned — if, for example, an “official” proves to be an intern — the trust won’t be there the next time.


This is a really good read if you want to understand the issues and have reasonable information about all of the gas obstructionist blather and hyperbole. JLCpulse

The Wall Street  Journal, Review and Opinion  June 25 2011

The U.S. is in the midst of an energy revolution, and we don't mean solar panels or wind turbines. A new gusher of natural gas from shale has the potential to transform U.S. energy production—that is, unless politicians, greens and the industry mess it up.

Only a decade ago Texas oil engineers hit upon the idea of combining two established technologies to release natural gas trapped in shale formations. Horizontal drilling—in which wells turn sideways after a certain depth—opens up big new production areas. Producers then use a 60-year-old technique called hydraulic fracturing—in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the well at high pressure—to loosen the shale and release gas (and increasingly, oil).

***

The resulting boom is transforming America's energy landscape. As recently as 2000, shale gas was 1% of America's gas supplies; today it is 25%. Prior to the shale breakthrough, U.S. natural gas reserves were in decline, prices exceeded $15 per million British thermal units, and investors were building ports to import liquid natural gas. Today, proven reserves are the highest since 1971, prices have fallen close to $4 and ports are being retrofitted for LNG exports.

The shale boom is also reviving economically suffering parts of the country, while offering a new incentive for manufacturers to stay in the U.S. Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry estimates fracking in the Marcellus shale formation, which stretches from upstate New York through West Virginia, has created 72,000 jobs in the Keystone State between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011.

The Bakken formation, along the Montana-North Dakota border, is thought to hold four billion barrels of oil (the biggest proven estimate outside Alaska), and the drilling boom helps explain North Dakota's unemployment rate of 3.2%, the nation's lowest.

All of this growth has inevitably attracted critics, notably environmentalists and their allies. They've launched a media and political assault on hydraulic fracturing, and their claims are raising public anxiety. So it's a useful moment to separate truth from fiction in the main allegations against the shale revolution.

• Fracking contaminates drinking water. One claim is that fracking creates cracks in rock formations that allow chemicals to leach into sources of fresh water. The problem with this argument is that the average shale formation is thousands of feet underground, while the average drinking well or aquifer is a few hundred feet deep. Separating the two is solid rock. This geological reality explains why EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, a determined enemy of fossil fuels, recently told Congress that there have been no "proven cases where the fracking process itself has affected water."

Getty Images

A drilling team from Minard Run Oil Company pull out steel pipe during a fracking operation at a 2100 foot natural gas well in Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania in 2008.

1frack
1frack

A second charge, based on a Duke University study, claims that fracking has polluted drinking water with methane gas. Methane is naturally occurring and isn't by itself harmful in drinking water, though it can explode at high concentrations. Duke authors Rob Jackson and Avner Vengosh have written that their research shows "the average methane concentration to be 17 times higher in water wells located within a kilometer of active drilling sites."

They failed to note that researchers sampled a mere 68 wells across Pennsylvania and New York—where more than 20,000 water wells are drilled annually. They had no baseline data and thus no way of knowing if methane concentrations were high prior to drilling. They also acknowledged that methane was detected in 85% of the wells they tested, regardless of drilling operations, and that they'd found no trace of fracking fluids in any wells.

The Duke study did spotlight a long-known and more legitimate concern: the possibility of leaky well casings at the top of a drilling site, from which methane might migrate to water supplies. As the BP Gulf of Mexico spill attests, proper well construction and maintenance are major issues in any type of drilling, and they ought to be the focus of industry standards and attention. But the risks are not unique to fracking, which has provided no unusual evidence of contamination.

• Fracking releases toxic or radioactive chemicals. The reality is that 99.5% of the fluid injected into fracture rock is water and sand. The chemicals range from the benign, such as citric acid (found in soda pop), to benzene. States like Wyoming and Pennsylvania require companies to publicly disclose their chemicals, Texas recently passed a similar law, and other states will follow.

Drillers must dispose of fracking fluids, and environmentalists charge that disposal sites also endanger drinking water, or that drillers deliberately discharge radioactive wastewater into streams. The latter accusation inspired the EPA to require that Pennsylvania test for radioactivity. States already have strict rules designed to keep waste water from groundwater, including liners in waste pits, and drillers are subject to stiff penalties for violations. Pennsylvania's tests showed radioactivity at or below normal levels.

• Fracking causes cancer. In Dish, Texas, Mayor Calvin Tillman caused a furor this year by announcing that he was quitting to move his sons away from "toxic" gases—such as cancer-causing benzene—from the town's 60 gas wells. State health officials investigated and determined that toxin levels in the majority of Dish residents were "similar to those measured in the general U.S. population." Residents with higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. (Cigarette smoke contains benzene.)

Fracking causes earthquakes. It is possible that the deep underground injection of fracking fluids might cause seismic activity. But the same can be said of geothermal energy exploration, or projects to sequester carbon dioxide underground. Given the ubiquity of fracking without seismic impact, the risks would seem to be remote.

Pollution from trucks. Drillers use trucks to haul sand, cement and fluids, and those certainly increase traffic congestion and pollution. We think the trade-off between these effects and economic development are for states and localities to judge, keeping in mind that externalities decrease as drillers become more efficient.

Shale exploration is unregulated. Environmentalists claim fracking was "exempted" in 2005 from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, thanks to industry lobbying. In truth, all U.S. companies must abide by federal water laws, and what the greens are really saying is that fracking should be singled out for special and unprecedented EPA oversight.

Most drilling operations—including fracking—have long been regulated by the states. Operators need permits to drill and are subject to inspections and reporting requirements. Many resource-rich states like Texas have detailed fracking rules, while states newer to drilling are developing these regulations.

As a regulatory model, consider Pennsylvania. Recently departed Governor Ed Rendell is a Democrat, and as the shale boom progressed he worked with industry and regulators to develop a flexible regulatory environment that could keep pace with a rapidly growing industry. As questions arose about well casings, for instance, Pennsylvania imposed new casing and performance requirements. The state has also increased fees for processing shale permits, which has allowed it to hire more inspectors and permitting staff.

New York, by contrast, has missed the shale play by imposing a moratorium on fracking. The new state Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, recently sued the federal government to require an extensive environmental review of the entire Delaware River Basin. Meanwhile, the EPA is elbowing its way into the fracking debate, studying the impact on drinking water, animals and "environmental justice."

***

Amid this political scrutiny, the industry will have to take great drilling care while better making its public case. In this age of saturation media, a single serious example of water contamination could lead to a political panic that would jeopardize tens of billions of dollars of investment. The industry needs to establish best practices and blow the whistle on drillers that dodge the rules.

The question for the rest of us is whether we are serious about domestic energy production. All forms of energy have risks and environmental costs, not least wind (noise and dead birds and bats) and solar (vast expanses of land). Yet renewables are nowhere close to supplying enough energy, even with large subsidies, to maintain America's standard of living. The shale gas and oil boom is the result of U.S. business innovation and risk-taking. If we let the fear of undocumented pollution kill this boom, we will deserve our fate as a second-class industrial power.

By
Published: July 29, 2011 New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Securities and Exchange Commission sent subpoenas this week to energy companies asking them for documents about how they calculate and publicly disclose the performance of their shale gas wells, according to oil and gas industry lawyers.

The subpoenas reflect the regulators’ interest in determining whether companies are overstating how their gas wells perform and how much gas these companies can profitably extract over the long term.

It is not clear how many subpoenas were sent. John Nester, a spokesman for the commission, declined to comment.

“The use of subpoenas makes clear that the S.E.C. is taking a formal, not a casual, look at the matter,” said a market research report on Thursday by Robert W. Baird & Co., an international financial services firm. The report also noted that subpoenas do not mean that the commission intends to take action against any particular company, and that estimating reserves is not an exact science.

In a separate note, Gerard G. Pecht, a lawyer with Fulbright & Jaworski, told clients that the subpoenas were focused on the actual performance of shale gas wells compared with how companies were projecting their performance, according to an article on FuelFix.com, an energy news Web site. Mr. Pecht did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The subpoenas also request documents related to discrepancies between what companies are telling investors about the costs of shale gas versus what they are reporting in federal filings.

Large natural gas companies, including Chesapeake Energy, EOG Resources and the Petrohawk Energy Corporation, did not return calls seeking comment. Alan T. Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, the largest natural gas producer in the country, said the company had not received a subpoena.

One oil and gas industry consultant said that he was called to a meeting in mid-June with investigators from the Fort Worth office of the S.E.C. The investigators, he said, wanted to discuss a range of shale gas companies, and discrepancies between data reported to federal officials and what these companies had told investors about profit and well performance. The consultant asked not to be identified, to avoid alienating the energy companies that are his clients.

According to several oil and gas industry lawyers, the subpoenas are in response to articles published in June in The New York Times, which showed that a range of industry and federal officials had questioned whether shale gas companies might be playing down costs or inflating their predictions about well performance.

Some federal agencies have also begun discussing concerns about the long-term productivity of shale gas wells.

For example, the 2011 summer newsletter of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, a research arm of the Department of Energy, says that technology needs to improve in the Barnett shale in Texas, and in other shale gas areas, for these shale gas wells to be more economically viable.

Shale gas wells often decline sharply after their first year, but many in the industry had remained optimistic about the wells’ ability to produce at a slow but steady rate for decades. Others have doubted these assumptions, which may not be holding up.

“A crucial challenge for the industry today,” the newsletter said, is that only a “fraction” — a third or less — of wells show “sustained long-term production,” which makes it difficult for companies to make money on this drilling.

The newsletter added that many of the wells produce poorly and others drop in production sharply after an early period of heavy production.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 30, 2011, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Regulators Seek Records On Claims For Gas Wells.

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