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Monday, October 31, 2011

Shale Gas Fuels Legal Boom (In Pennsylvania)

From the Wall Street Journal 10-31-11

Fights Over Underground Rights  Confound Companies, 

Pennsylvania Landowners

The natural-gas boom in Pennsylvania is stoking legal battles over who owns gas that was worthless until a few years ago but now holds the promise of great wealth.
New drilling techniques have made it possible for energy companies to extract natural gas from a layer of rock deep underground called the Marcellus Shale, and the companies have paid Pennsylvania property owners billions of dollars since 2008 for the right to do so.
But because surface rights to properties in the state are sometimes sold separately from rights to the underlying minerals, such as coal, or oil and gas, and because mineral law in Pennsylvania remains murky, lawsuits are mounting.
These skirmishes could cause problems both for the energy industry and for people like Jim Grande, a retired printer in northern Pennsylvania. The 158-acre farm he bought in 1965 didn't include mineral rights, which are commonly sold separately in Pennsylvania.
When a quarry operator asked to mine stone from his property years later, Mr. Grande hired a lawyer to help him acquire the mineral rights to his land. A judge granted him ownership in 1999 after no one came forward to dispute his claim.
A decade later, Chesapeake EnergyCorp. offered him $293,000 to drill for natural gas. After consulting with a lawyer, Mr. Grande said, he signed the lease and took the money. Six months later, he was sued by the heirs of a former owner of the property who proved he had improperly claimed mineral rights belonging to them.
"It scared the hell out of me, to be blunt," said Mr. Grande, who is 81 years old and, with his wife, lives on a $944 monthly check from Social Security. He hopes to settle the lawsuit by paying the money back to Chesapeake, but he said he has spent more than half the money, largely on taxes and legal fees.
An attorney for the heirs who sued Mr. Grande didn't respond to requests for comment. Chesapeake, also a defendant in the suit, declined to comment.
No one tracks the number of disputes over gas ownership in Pennsylvania, but lawyers and court clerks in counties with heavy drilling say such conflicts are mounting. "I predict it will become the predominant area of litigation in the next year or two," said Joel Burcat, a lawyer at Saul Ewing in Harrisburg, Pa.
John Lowe, a professor of mineral law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Pennsylvania is a particularly fertile ground for lawsuits because mineral law there hasn't developed as thoroughly as in states with longer histories of natural-gas production.
"You have all of this money sloshing around, and unanswered questions are getting addressed," Mr. Lowe said.
Historically, litigation over mineral rights often follows a boom in oil and gas production; such cases continue to crop up in states like Texas and Louisiana. Laws governing ownership of mineral rights vary from state to state, but it is common in many to sell separate rights to minerals, coal, oil and gas.
That is the case in Pennsylvania, where new legal questions are coming up on some fundamental issues. These include whether ownership of shale gas, which is tightly bound to the rock in which it is found and usually extracted using horizontal-drilling techniques, should be treated differently from conventional gas extracted through traditional vertical wells.
In September, in a tangled case involving an 1881 land sale, a state appellate court found some merit in the argument of a Susquehanna County couple's claim that shale gas should belong to those who own the rock that contains it, and not to those who own rights to conventional natural gas on the property.
The court sent the case back to a lower court for expert testimony, raising questions about the validity of some leases and sending tremors of uncertainty through the industry.
Lawyers for energy companies have called for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to immediately review the case and quell the uncertainty.
Range Resources Corp., which has bought a lot of drilling rights in the Marcellus, got so many phone calls and emails about the case that in late September it drafted a letter to investors and analysts.
"Range does not expect the ultimate ruling to result in a change in law," the Fort Worth, Texas, company wrote, adding it would conduct business as usual but would identify leases that could be affected by the case.
Write to Daniel Gilbert at daniel.gilbert@wsj.com and Kris Maher atkris.maher@wsj.com

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hey Moon Township Supervisors-Stand Up To The Drillers!!!

(What we have in Pennsylvania is the belief by the drilling companies that they have a right to do it their way. Business is a speculative venture. There are no guarantees, yet these drilling predators believe nothing should stand in their way of profits over anything else, such as quality of life.)
Small community of South Fayette focus of big Marcellus Shale controversy
Lawsuit, elections turn South Fayette into major test case
Sunday, October 23, 2011

 It's a dispute that has turned South Fayette into an unlikely test case for drilling regulations across the Marcellus Shale region -- and has thrust an issue of national resonance into the realm of small-town politics.
Western Pennsylvania's dominant driller calls the township's regulations an illegal ban on natural gas development that's holding back development on leases set to expire, taking more than a billion dollars with them, at a time when the driller says it is short on cash. South Fayette is one of dozens of Pennsylvania communities to regulate gas drilling, but one of only two being sued by Range Resources for doing so.
Some South Fayette residents think they have a lot to lose, too: Drilling rigs don't mesh with subdivisions. A citizens group, Friends of South Fayette, has spent more than $20,000 to protect the ordinance approved last November that prohibits surface drilling in the community's neighborhoods, parks, farms and school zones.

» A website for ongoing coverage, resources, comments and more.
» Follow the Post-Gazette's coverage of the Marcellus Shale on Twitter at@pipelinePG.

Citizens of the affluent community show up at meetings in business attire and aren't in the least daunted by the phalanx of Range lawyers lined up before them arguing that the ordinance won't stand up in litigation.

"What a strategic error on the part of the industry to think this town was going to settle for that," said Keith McDonough, a major financial backer of the Friends of South Fayette.

The Range challenge is scheduled to be heard by the township zoning hearing board Nov. 9 -- one day after municipal elections, in which drilling has become the singular issue. It was to have been heard earlier this month, but that meeting was short-circuited when the township solicitor called on board members who have signed leases with Range to recuse themselves. The case is expected to move on to a higher court, where a ruling in favor of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Range Resources could overturn scores of small-town ordinances across the state.

The company would like to see statewide uniformity in regulations, something it argues would provide regulations to townships that cannot afford coffer-draining legal fees.

A scenic community

South Fayette makes for an unlikely battleground. The bedroom community -- 15 miles from Downtown on the Allegheny-Washington county border -- caters to Pittsburgh professionals who want views of rolling hills from the comfort of a 3,000-square-foot home. The median income almost hits $70,000. Most of the old farmland has been sold to subdivision developers, but there's still enough greenery to warrant a real estate listing description as "scenic." Pittsburgh Magazine not long ago named it one of the area's best suburbs.

Before drilling, most of the chatter was about a new shopping district planned for the township of 15,000. Like other affluent suburbs -- the ones that combine the rural with the residential -- it saw drilling as a spectator sport, something happening elsewhere.

But in the battle over how much and where to allow natural gas drilling, the two sides now are playing for keeps.

Range Resources has hired attorneys with experience fighting ordinances. Its partners are reaching out to South Fayette officials -- and in some cases, have hired them.
South Fayette groups have recruited new candidates for commissioner who get endorsed by national advocacy organizations. One incumbent was sent threatening text messages.
As with any small-town controversy, the details in the case can seem unique to South Fayette (ammunition here comes in the form of revoked birthday party invitations). But the shifting makeup of the community over the past year provides a glimpse into the litigation and division that other townships across Appalachia may face as drilling migrates out of Pennsylvania's southwestern pocket.

Suddenly, South Fayette seems less like a border town and more like a levee.

A lucrative location

Range Resources has made it clear there's a lot of money to be made in South Fayette. In a 2009 PowerPoint presentation for South Fayette officials drafting the drilling ordinance, the company estimated $180 million in royalties could be made by South Fayette landowners.

 Range Resources could have argued against any of the ordinances in communities around the state that the company interprets as de facto bans on gas drilling, company executives said. But it was the expiring leases in South Fayette and neighboring Cecil -- which Range Resources sued earlier this month -- that prompted that area to be targeted.

South Fayette's township budget this year: $11.9 million.

Communities such as Forest Hills, in Pittsburgh's densely-settled eastern suburbs, have issued outright bans on drilling that could have been contested.

But there's "just not the immediate drilling plans" to encourage legal action like there is in South Fayette, said Matt Pitzarella, Range Resources director of public affairs.

The South Fayette-Cecil border is a highly leased portion of land the company is eager to develop. A court ruling in favor of the company in both townships could create 46 square miles of unregulated land along the Allegheny County border.

The company, meanwhile, has a cash-flow problem that could be mitigated by the South Fayette development, Mr. Pitzarella said. Drilling comes with hefty upfront costs, and it can take years for a well to start turning a profit from the gas it extracts.

When making the case to South Fayette, Range Resources said a theoretical development of eight drilling pads could access 240 billion cubic feet of gas in South Fayette alone.

Range Resources estimated the township's reserves to be worth $1.2 billion.

A lease under the campus

Three months after the township ordinance passed, members of the South Fayette school board quietly signed a lease with Chesapeake Energy Corp., another energy company working in the region.

The vote was taken during a sparsely attended February committee meeting held in the middle of a snowstorm. Introducing the motion was school board member Bill Sray, who holds Chesapeake leases on about 200 acres near the school campus. His cousin, Tom Sray, is a township commissioner.

Four of the nine board members were absent. The vote was 5-0.

While drilling rigs are not allowed on the surface of school property, the lease permits horizontal drilling underneath the campus that originates from nearby properties. The school made $414,000 in acreage fees from signing the lease.

Making a public school district a business partner is not new to the gas industry.
Chesapeake has leases with several school districts in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, said Stacey Brodak, the firm's director of corporate development. The Oklahoma City-based driller has signed leases with nearly every school district in Fort Worth, Texas.

The idea of a drill site near the South Fayette campus led resident Alexander Czaplicki to consider moving his family to Florida, where he has some business connections and there's no chance for drilling.

"Sometimes I wonder, am I being paranoid?" he said.

As the drilling dispute heightened this year, humdrum public meetings in the township became charged events that required bigger auditoriums. Residents brought flipcams.
After 12 years as a South Fayette commissioner, Sue Caffrey decided not to run for a fourth term because of the "toxic environment."

"Now there's broken relationships and a lot of people who don't feel good about the way government happens," Mrs. Caffrey said. "And I'm one of them."

She said some board and community members spread misinformation and innuendo via Twitter, Facebook and text message. Neighbors stopped talking. Children were in danger of losing birthday party invitations because of a parent's stance on drilling.

The husband of a drilling opponent sent Mrs. Caffrey a threatening email. He told police it was sent in a moment of passion and that he didn't mean any harm.

After that, she said, police began attending public meetings to ensure "no one was going to act in a way they might regret later."

Lawyered up

In its 2010 annual report to shareholders, Range Resources said it saw a year-over-year increase of $4.2 million in legal fees and legal settlements. The company's legal fees in South Fayette have "not been a significant cost" for the company, said Mr. Pitzarella.

Range Resources hired attorneys from the Southpointe office of Fulbright & Jaworski for the case, including Kenneth Komoroski, who specializes in representing energy firms embroiled in citizen lawsuits.

Mr. Komoroski represented Texas-based Chief Gathering LLC in a suit filed by three Luzerne County families in September, trying to keep a gas pipeline out of their exclusive subdivision. He represented Houston-based Southwestern Energy Production Co. to defend its plans for a gas well against a Lackawanna County ordinance in May.

Mr. Komoroski also represented Cabot Oil and Gas when that Houston-based company was charged with contaminating 18 residential water wells in Dimock, Pa.

Range Resources said it hasn't communicated with South Fayette officials outside of legal matters since filing the lawsuit. But some of its business partners have.

MarkWest Liberty hired two township officials in the past six months. In April, South Fayette engineer Dave Gardner left to work for the Southpointe office of the gas compressor station and processing plant firm.

And last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette received reports that resigning township manager Michael Hoy was headed to MarkWest after 11 years with the township.

MarkWest is a strategic partner of Range Resources, and the two firms have developed gas sites in tandem across Pennsylvania.

The firm declined to comment on personnel matters, saying their clients dictated where they operate.

"Our gathering activities are principally driven by the drilling plans of our producer customers," the company said.

Another Range Resources partner to reach out to commissioners was Texas-based seismic testing firm Dawson Geophysical Co., whose Southpointe personnel lobbied commissioners against a proposed township ban on explosives earlier this month in an email obtained by the Post-Gazette.

Mr. Pitzarella said Range Resources never asked its business partners to intervene in South Fayette decisions.

The election

Mr. Czaplicki, the dad who once entertained a move to Florida, is running for school board.
Eight candidates are vying for the four commissioner seats up for grabs Nov. 8. Seven of those are first-time candidates; all but one backs the township ordinance being challenged by Range Resources.

Mother-of-two and cheerleading coach Jennifer Francis began attending public meetings last year and decided to run for commissioner with fellow resident Heather LeViseur in support of the restrictive drilling ordinance.

"Just because somebody has a different view than me, it doesn't make them wrong," she said. "It doesn't make them a bad person or an enemy."

Anita Z. Cardillo, a commissioner candidate who's lived in South Fayette for more than 20 years, said drilling made her take a look at local politics.

"I think the real issue is individual freedom and private property rights," she said.
Her husband, Fred Cardillo, is one of the zoning board members called upon to recuse himself from the Range Resources decision because of his family's leases.

Four candidates for commissioner -- Lisa Malosh, Deron Gabriel, Todd Miller and Joe Horowitz -- are running together as an unofficial ticket defending the township regulations. Two are Republicans, two are Democrats.

Mrs. Malosh said the drilling issue hasn't divided the community as much as unified those with similar concerns.

"People want to protect their homes and their kids and the things they enjoy, and that really brought a lot of people together," she said.

The chance for a new majority on the board -- and setting a precedent for drilling regulation in Allegheny County -- led the national environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action to make those four candidates its only local endorsement in this year's regional elections.

"We don't always go toward the municipal races," said Steve Hvozdovich, the organization's Marcellus Shale policy associate. "But we saw this as an important race for the environment."

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455. Andrea Iglar: pipeline.pg@gmail.com.

First published on October 23, 2011 at 12:00 am

Leasing influence: Local officials need a primer on conflict of interest
Saturday, October 22, 2011
The Marcellus Shale gas boom has brought many things to Pennsylvania -- jobs, environmental concerns and a debate over whether to tax the industry. No one expected an epidemic of conflict of interest.

But that's what has happened in municipalities where elected officials who have the duty of regulating the industry also hold personal drilling leases.

A report in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Janice Crompton revealed that, in Washington County, more than a quarter of such officials, who were chosen to act in the public interest, have a pro-Marcellus financial relationship. That's 94 leaseholders among 349 elected officials.

In 45 of the 66 municipalities in the county, ground zero in Western Pennsylvania for the new industry, at least one official has a lease.

Constituents who are wary of or opposed to drilling call it a deal with the devil. To everyone else, it's at least bad judgment and maybe worse.

A vexing situation exists in South Fayette, Allegheny County, where several of the township's zoning board members have leases with Range Resources. Last week the board put off a decision on a challenge from the energy company to the township's new drilling ordinance as calls mounted for those board members to recuse themselves.

Even South Fayette's solicitor believes it's a conflict of interest, one that should be remedied by appointing alternate zoning board members to hear Range's response to the law.

In Washington County, 19 municipalities have half or more of the seats on their governing bodies occupied by leaseholders. Five of the 19 communities -- Blaine, Carroll, Donegal, Morris and South Franklin -- have councils or boards of supervisors unanimously controlled by leaseholders. In the hamlet of Green Hills, pop. 29, the mayor is the only government official and he's got a lease, too.

Although the state Ethics Commission says officials with personal leases or close family members employed in the industry should not vote on or discuss issues that involve drilling, what happens when all three Carroll Township supervisors, not to mention the solicitor, have leases?

There's a price to be paid when one seeks election to government office, and part of it is to forgo some of the opportunities commonly available to one's neighbors. It's called maintaining independence and integrity, and it's about doing one's job as an impartial public servant.

We would have thought this would be obvious to public-minded citizens, but evidently not. It's clear politicians need a three-credit course on how to avoid conflict of interest.

First published on October 22, 2011 at 12:00 am


Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fracking Industry's War on the New York Times -- and the Truth

From the NYT by Robert Kennedy, Jr. posted on Huffington Post:

Superb investigative journalism by the New York Timeshas brought the paper under attack by the natural gas industry. That campaign of intimidation and obfuscation has been orchestrated by top shelf players like Exxon and Chesapeake aligned with the industry's worst bottom feeders. This coalition has launched an impressive propaganda effort carried by slick PR firms, industry funded front groups and a predictable cabal of right wing industry toadies from cable TV and talk radio. In pitting itself against public disclosure and reasonable regulation, the natural gas industry is once again proving that it is its own worst enemy.
I confess to being an early optimist on natural gas. In July of 2009, I wrote a widely circulated op-ed for theFinancial Times predicting that newly accessible deposits of natural gas had the potential to rapidly relieve our country of its deadly addiction to Appalachian coal and end forever catastrophically destructive mountaintop removal mining. At that time, government and industry geologists were predicting that new methods of fracturing gas rich shale beds had provided access to an astounding 2000-5000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the lower 48 -- enough, they claimed to power our country for a century.
These rich reserves might have allowed America to mothball or throttle back our 336 gigawatts of mainly antiquated and inefficient coal fired electric plants replacing them with underutilized capacity from existing gas generation plants. That transition could reduce U.S. mercury emissions by 20%-25%, dramatically cut deadly particulate matter and the pollutants that cause acid rain and slash America's grid based CO2 by an astonishing 20% -- literally overnight! Gas could have been a natural companion for wind and solar energy with its capacity to transform variable power into base load, and could have been a critical bridge fuel to the new energy economy rooted in America's abundant renewables.
American sourced natural gas might also have helped free us from our debilitating reliance on foreign oil now costing our country so dearly in blood, national security, energy independence, global leadership, moral authority, and treasure amounting to $700 billion per year -- the total cost to our country of annual oil imports -- in addition to two pricey wars that are currently running tabs $2 billion per week.
My caveat was that the natural gas industry and government regulators needed to act responsibly to protect the environment, safeguard communities from irresponsible practices and to candidly inform the public about the true risks and benefits of shale extraction gas.
The opposite has happened.
The industry's worst actors have successfully battled reasonable regulation, stifled public disclosure while disclosing compliant government regulators to engineer exceptions to existing environmental rules. Captive agencies and political leaders have obligingly reduced already meager enforcement resources and helped propagate the industry's deceptive economic projections. As a result, public skepticism toward the industry and its government regulators is at a record high. With an army of over 40,000 highly motivated anti-fracking activists in New York alone, popular mistrust of the industry is presenting a daunting impediment to its expansion.
I sit on the New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel. I and the other panelists are charged with developing recommendations to the Commissioner regarding rules that will hopefully safeguard New Yorkers from the kind of calamities caused by the natural gas industry to communities just across our border with Pennsylvania. We spend much of our time sorting truth from the web of myths spun about fracking by fast talking landsmen, smarmy CEOs, and federal regulators.
Recent studies have raised doubts about many of the industry's fundamental presumptions;
  • For example, releases of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, may counterbalance virtually all the benefits of CO2 reductions projected to result from substituting gas power for coal. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, Anthony Ingraffea, Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations, Climatic Change (2011); Wigley T. (2011) Coal to Gas: The Influence of Methane Leakage. Climate Change Letters. DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0217-3.
  • The human health impacts of gas extraction on local communities may rival those associated with coal. A new study by Centers for Disease Control finds that breast cancer rates have dropped in every county in Texas, but have increased in the six counties with the heaviest natural gas air emissions.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey just slashed its estimate on the amount of gas in the Marcellus Shale by 80%, raising doubts about all the industry's positive economic projections about jobs, royalties, and revenues. Industry based those projections on resource estimates that the federal government has now jettisoned.
  • Meanwhile local communities are finding the costs of irresponsible drilling to be ruinous. Contaminated well water, poisoned air, nuisance noise and dust, diminished property values and collapsing quality of life are often the predictable collateral damage of gas shale development in the rural towns of the east. Barth. The Unanswered Questions About the Economic Impact of Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: Don't Jump to Conclusions. March 2010. Accessed 8/10/11; Christopherson & Rightor. How Should We Think About the Economic Consequences of Shale Gas Drilling? May 2011. Accessed 8/10/11;Stephen G. Osborn, Avner Vengosh, et al., Methane Contamination of drinking water accompanying gas wells drilling and hydraulic fracturing, PNAS Early Edition, April 14, 2011; Riverkeeper, Fractured Communities (Sept. 2010),
  • In a devastating admission, the industry now acknowledges that it absolutely cannot afford to pay localities the costs of roads damaged from the thousands of truck trips per wellhead, leaving those ruinous costs to local taxpayers, many of whom will see no benefits from the shale boom, but only declines in their quality of life.
  • With several notable exceptions, like Southwest Energy, the industry has demonstrated a disturbing fervor for secrecy while advocating regulatory policies that favor the most irresponsible practices and the worst actors.

The shale gas industry's campaign against The Times illustrates the difficulty in getting solid information upon which to base a regulatory scheme. The Times is doing an unusually rigorous job at covering this extremely important and complex issue. The paper's ongoing series on natural gas drilling is one of the strongest pieces of investigative journalism this year from any news venue. Thankfully, The Times is covering this extremely important topic with rigor and balance. But it is also going the extra mile in the level of documentation it provides to bolster its stories, a move that raises the bar on public service journalism.
In an era when few papers or news outlets are still willing to take on very powerful interests, The Times has pursued very difficult questions about one of our country's richest and most aggressive industries. At a time when accessing documents through open records requests faces an obstacle course of daunting roadblocks, the series has spent nearly a year using these flawed tools to collect and publish an extraordinary trove of original documentation. Archives published by The Times include thousands of pages obtained through leaks and/or public records requests. The Times reporters provide page-by-page annotations explaining the documents so that the reader can sift through them in guided fashion.
Among the revelations uncovered by The Times' admirable reporting;
  • Sewage treatment plants in the Marcellus region have been accepting millions of gallons of natural gas industry wastewater that carry significant levels of radioactive elements and other pollutants that they are incapable of treating.
  • An EPA study published by The Times shows receiving rivers and streams into which these plants discharge are unable to consistently dilute this kind of highly toxic effluent.
  • Most of the state's drinking water intakes, streams and rivers have not been tested for radioactivity for years -- since long before the drilling boom began.
  • Industry is routinely making inflated claims about how much of its wastewater it is actually recycling.
  • EPA, caving to industry lobbyists and high level political interference reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney era, has narrowed the scope of its national study on hydrofracking despite vocal protests from agency scientists. The EPA had, for example, planned to study in detail the effect on rivers of sending radioactive wastewater through sewage plants, but dropped these plans during the phase when White House-level review was conducted.
  • Similar studies in the past had been narrowed by industry pressure, leading to widespread exemptions for the oil and gas industry from environmental laws.
  • The Times revealed an ongoing and red hot debate within the EPA about whether the agency should force Pennsylvania to handle its drilling waste more carefully and strengthen that state's notoriously lax regulations and anemic enforcement.
  • The Times investigation also explodes the industry's decade old mantra that a "there is not a single documented case of drinking water being contaminated by fracking." The Times investigation of EPA archives exposes this claim as demonstrably false.

A second round of New York Times stories showed that within the natural gas industry and among federal energy officials, there were serious and disturbing reservations about the economic prospects of shale gas:
  • Government and industry officials made sure that all of their reservations were discussed privately and never revealed to the American public. Internal commentary by these officials is striking because it contrasts so sharply with the excited public rhetoric from the same agencies, lawmakers, industry officials and energy experts about shale gas.
  • Many industry experts have reservations over whether the wells produce as much gas as industry is claiming and whether companies may be misleading investors, landowners, and the public about the true costs of shale gas.
  • Shale gas wells often dry up faster than companies expected -- sometimes several decades faster than predicted.
  • Rather than coming clean, the companies downplay how much it costs to keep these wells flowing and overstate how much profit companies can make by these wells.
  • Furthermore, only a small percentage of the land in each shale gas field turns out to be highly productive, even at the start. Nevertheless, companies routinely pretend that all of their acreage will be equally promising.
  • These emerging issues also sparked private discussion among federal energy experts, who expressed grave concern that their agency's predictions were too heavily influenced by the natural gas industry's over-optimism. The Times found that the EIA was heavily reliant on data provided by companies with shale-gas industry ties.

The science writer for the Knight Ridder Journalism website summed up the significance of the Times'revelations about the industry's ballyhooed economic prospects. "From here, it appears that the Times and [the series principal author] Mr. Urbina are calmly saying we should learn a lesson from the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, suggesting investors and regulators and gov't planners step with care and not be blinkered by all the money that's pouring in."
The organized attack on The Times and its reputation by well financed industry spin machines is illustrative of the perils and real challenges facing public service journalism today.
The Times piece has been the target of massive industry blowback. Industry funded front groups like Energy in Depth, an army of slick PR firms, and former regulatory officials like PA DEP Commissioner John Hanger, now on industry's payroll, have artfully manufactured deceptive talking points and posted blogs that are parroted by journalists looking for an industry response to The Times coverage and then emailed as "facts" to the industry's supporters and its indentured servants in Congress.
Ironically, many of the attacks against the series have claimed that the articles were poorly sourced or under-researched. Yet, The Times has not printed a single factual correction. This is certainly an admirable reporting record for a series that has been running in the paper for nearly a year. This is because, despite massive efforts by the industry to find errors, no critic has been able to identify a single fact that The Timesactually got wrong. The Times posted thousands of pages of closely annotated original-source documents along with its news articles.
Rarely has a series had such wide-reaching and immediate impact. The New York Times articles have led to major changes in how the industry as well as state and federal regulators are handling one of America's most important energy issues.
Documents uncovered by The Times have already been put to use in litigation by injured parties seeking to force some treatment plants to stop handling the frack wastewater. The Times series has also pressured the EPA to begin a review of treatment plant permits (signaling the agency's possible intent to prohibit plants from discharging treated waste into rivers without comprehensive testing for shale gas contaminants). Healthy skepticism raised by the series has dampened some of the thrilled exuberance among Wall Street bankers ecstatic about the latest gold rush, federal lawmakers in the thrall of industry money, and in hard pressed rural communities seduced by hollow promises of massive royalties, local prosperity and abundant jobs.
As our panel grapples with these complex and difficult problems, we have found that the principal impediment to going forward with recommendations regarding regulations that could allow fracking in our state is a general mistrust of the claims we are hearing from industry and federal regulators. Revelations from The Times series and elsewhere have cast doubt upon all the industry's assurances about fracking and have complicated the task for those of us charged with advising the regulatory agencies on developing rules that could allow the industry to proceed while safeguarding the public interest.
For many of us on New York State's fracking panel, the one bright light has been the presence of Southwest Energy's Vice President and General Counsel Mark Boling. Boling is bullish on shale gas but his passion for public disclosure and a rigorous and rational regulatory framework, his candor about the perils of certain practices and his honest assessments of the costs and benefits of gas shale extraction have inspired trust and confidence among his fellow panelists. Boling's candor may have made him a pariah in his industry, but the panel's confidence in his integrity is the one thing that might allow us to go forward with recommendations regarding a regulatory scheme that could allow certain kinds of fracking to proceed in New York State. None of us wants to be in the position of getting seduced by sweet and lofty promises that quickly turn into a sour gas and impoverished communities.
Gas fracking flacks routinely make extravagant promises about bringing jobs and income to the depressed rural communities. If those jobs and royalties don't come -- the way they have not come for people in Bradford County, PA -- New Yorkers will be justifiably angry, as they wonder why the government and our panel did not protect them when there were so many warning signs.