NTY Revisits June Frack-Attack

by Brian McGraw on July 18, 2011

in Blog

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Arthur Brisbane of the NYT this weekend published an op-ed which reads a bit like a ‘mea culpa’ in response to repeated criticisms of reporter Ian Urbina’s jumbling attack on natural gas hydraulic fracturing published late last month:

I also asked why The Times didn’t include input from the energy giants, like Exxon Mobil, that have invested billions in natural gas recently. If shale gas is a Ponzi scheme, I wondered, why would the nation’s energy leader jump in?

Mr. Urbina and Adam Bryant, a deputy national editor, said the focus was not on the major companies but on the “independents” that focus on shale gas, because these firms have been the most vocal boosters of shale gas, have benefited most from federal rules changes regarding reserves and are most vulnerable to sharp financial swings. The independents, in industry parlance, are a diverse group that are smaller than major companies like Exxon Mobil and don’t operate major-brand gas stations.

This was lost on many readers, including me. Michael Levi, a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that the article “repeatedly confuses the fortunes of various risk-hungry independents with the fortunes of the industry as a whole.”

He told me he hadn’t realized that the report was focused on independents and read it more broadly, adding, “If I didn’t know they were talking about certain independents, then Times readers — who don’t know what an independent is — they aren’t going to know what they are talking about either.”

This confusion stems from the language in the article, which near the top referred to “natural gas companies” and “energy companies.” The term “independent” appeared only once, inside a quoted e-mail.

The rest is here. His overall criticism is well founded. The original piece was quite one sided, with only a small section dedicated to those with confidence in the industry. It failed to differentiate between small and large producers, and used scare words such as ‘Enron’ and ‘ponzi scheme’ which were unwarranted. To readers unfamiliar with the natural gas industry, it might have been helpful to point out, as Brisbane notes, that natural gas production has increased from 2% of natural gas production to over 20% in the last 10 years, leading to a steep drop in the price of natural gas.

There is already enough mis-information in the media concerning natural gas, such as the widely touted Gasland, or Stephen Colbert’s recent attack (criticized here). The NYT does a disservice to its readers when misleading criticisms like this are published to support the narrative that hydraulic fracturing is not something Americans should support. Unfortunately, despite the very fair criticisms, the lead author and editor are standing behind their work.

benj July 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm

It seems there is also a lot of misleading, one-sided misinformation from the natural gas industry as well (read: Energy in Depth).

Plus, I guess you are unaware that Stephen Colbert’s _job_ always misinforms as a satirist/comedian. Might be valuable to watch his show more often before believing what Mr. Colbert says.

Betsi July 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Totally agree!

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