The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Drilling Down on NYT Reporting

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted December 13, 2011

A good example of the New York Times’ approach to reporting on natural gas development.

Alarming headline:

Add Quakes to Rumblings Over Gas Rush

Then 340 alarming words about a disposal well that was drilled – not a natural gas production well that was drilled and fracked.

Then an alarming theory:

“As the United States undergoes a boom in the production of gas from shale, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has come under fire from environmentalists and others for its potential to pollute the air and contaminate drinking water. But the events in Youngstown…raise the disquieting notion that the technique could lead, directly or indirectly, to a damaging earthquake.”

And then the science:

“Scientists say the likelihood of that link is extremely remote …”

The paragraph goes on to say that there are thousands of fracking and disposal wells operating nationwide “without causing earthquakes,” and the wells’ relatively shallow depths mean that if any quakes resulted they would be “minor.” API’s Richard Ranger, upstream and industry operations senior policy advisor:

“As seismologists and geologists across the country have already determined, the activity that occurs during the hydraulic fracturing process does not produce vibrations of noticeable size, and there is no evidence it causes earthquakes. The minute vibrations occurring during this process may not even be detectable to humans. This is based on 60-plus history of these operations.”

None of this slows the Times – the newspaper, not scientists or anyone else, actually – from “raising the disquieting notion” that hydraulic fracturing “could” cause something major. No one in the article said or hinted that seismic activity, even if linked to hydraulic fracturing or fracking wastewater disposal, presents a risk to people or structures. No matter. On this issue the Times has a pattern of reporting on a defined truth – its defined truth—irrespective of objective reality. (Examples: natural gas leases and the economics of shale natural gas, here and here).

Here’s hoping that on this story, readers can dig through the hype and get to the facts.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.