NYT Marcellus Piece Muddies the Water in Pa

By Nicole Houck, Contributing Writer

Sunday’s New York Times featured an article highly critical of regulation of wastewater from natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The article highlights concerns over the contamination of public drinking sources because of a lack of regulation in the disposal and treatment of wastewater. Featuring an interactive map that displays water source contamination from 149 of over 200 gas wells by county.  The article precipitated a contentious response among some players in the Marcellus arena, particularly former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger.

From NYT: Kevin Moloney for The New York Times. Wells for extracting natural gas, like these in Colorado, are a growing source of energy but can also pose hazards.

Hanger was quick to respond via blog with a statement disputing several facts listed in the article.

“We must not drift into a war of competing theories or studies.  We need the facts. Pennsylvanians deserve nothing less,” Hanger writes.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants and report as soon as good testing allows the results to the public.  Only testing of the drinking water for these pollutants can resolve the issue raised by the NYT,” Hanger blogged. “Moreover, once the results comeback and no matter what the results are, testing should continue on a regular basis at least at the 65 public water systems identified by the NYT.”

Hanger continues his response to the article by disputing the NYT assertion that wastewater regulations in Pennsylvania are too lax. He references several actions taken by the DEP during his term as Secretary.

“Buried late in this enormous piece is a paragraph that states that the rules today are much stronger.  Shortly after I became Secretary on September 2nd, 2008, I concluded Pennsylvania’s rules governing gas drilling and protecting our waters needed to be strengthened. I directed 4 new policies or rules be drafted and completed as soon as possible.  All now have been,” Hanger says.

Hanger goes on to provide a list of important facts that the Times article neglects to mention. He also disses the credibility of the author’s sources in the article.

“Though I am quoted in the piece, this reporter never interviewed me prior to the publication of the Sunday article…This reporter today says he asked Governor Corbett’s administration at DEP on January 21st, three days after Governor Rendell and I left office, to confirm the quotation that the reporter strung together from some other source,” Hanger asserts.

“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. He made no attempt to reach me from January 18th until the piece was published.”

“I suspect I will have more say on this very soon,” Hanger says as an end to his blog post. It turns out that Hanger had much more to say, and he continues his examination of the facts and figures of the NYT article in a seven-part installment on his blog.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition also lends its opinion on the validity of the NYT article. A press release issued by the Coalition disputes several of the article’s assertion by labeling them as “myths” and contradicting the inaccuracies with cited facts.

“We offer up that context and provide interested parties additional background – all available in the public domain – that paints an entirely different picture than what was laid out by the Times yesterday morning,” reads the Coalition press release.

The article has also prompted US Representative Maurice Hinchey (D., NY) to push for further investigation of possible contamination of water sources by natural gas drilling.

“We can’t afford to take the ‘wait and see’ approach when it comes to radioactive, carcinogenic materials contaminating drinking water,” said Hinchey. “That’s why I’m calling on the EPA to act immediately to ensure that drinking water supplies are not being contaminated by radioactive waste from hydraulic fracturing. That means speeding up their ongoing study, monitoring radioactivity levels near drilling activities and working to eliminate the egregious exemptions from basic environmental safeguards, which prevent basic oversight of the fracking process.”

US Senator Bob Casey has also called upon the DEP and the EPA to increase inspections on PA water sources for radioactive material.

“No threat to Pennsylvania drinking water should be taken lightly; especially one involving radioactive material,” Senator Casey commented.  “Alarming information has been raised that must be fully investigated.  I am calling on the DEP and the EPA to increase inspections of Pennsylvania drinking water resources for radioactive material and to account for why sufficient inspections haven’t taken place.”

Regardless of the outcome of this debate, one thing is for sure: Ian Urbina definitely shook things up for Pennsylvania politicos with his this article.

March 2nd, 2011 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Harrisburg | 1 Comment

One thought on “NYT Marcellus Piece Muddies the Water in Pa”

  1. Glennis says:

    Ah yes; the New York Times. Sloppy reporting and all the news fit for wrapping fish. How are the mighty fallen!

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