'Fracking' Attack: NYT Won't Give Up Fighting Natural Gas Extraction, Even After Embarrassing Itself

Even after being embarrassed by a series of misleading reports from reporter Ian Urbina in June 2011, the New York Times continues to lash out against hydro-fracking, the process of pumping chemicals and water into shale to extract gas.

Metro reporter Mireya Navarro pumped up on Tuesday a controversy manufactured by environmental opponents of fracking in upstate New York: "Institute’s Gas Drilling Report Leads to Claims of Bias and Concern for a University’s Image."

A report from a new institute at the State University at Buffalo asserting that state oversight has made natural gas drilling safer is causing tumult on campus and beyond, with critics arguing that the institute is biased toward industry and could undercut the university’s reputation.

The study, issued on May 15, said that state regulation in Pennsylvania had made drilling there far safer and that New York rules were even more likely to ensure safety once drilling gets under way in the state.

But a government watchdog group quickly raised questions about the study’s data and the authors’ ties to the oil and gas industry. And a newly formed group of professors and students is calling for a broader inquiry into the genesis of the institute, which issued the report only weeks after its creation was announced in April.

“This report reflects the interests of the gas companies, not scholarship,” said Jim Holstun, a professor of English and one of around 20 members of the newly formed University at Buffalo Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, which met for the first time Wednesday night. “We look very bad.”

As if the vast majority of academic research doesn't reflect ties to and interests of liberal groups.

The drilling process has roiled communities in Pennsylvania since it began in full there in 2008, with many residents complaining about air pollution and threats to groundwater aquifers. It has also proved divisive in New York, where the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is finalizing proposed regulations to allow drilling upstate.

E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University at Buffalo, said in an interview that the idea for the institute came out of a series of seminars on hydrofracking issues held by the geology department last year that pointed up the need for a forum “for the exchange of ideas and debate.” The institute as a whole has yet to receive financial support from the industry, Dr. Pitman said, and its start-up budget -- about $40,000 --came from the college’s discretionary funds.

In their report, the shale institute’s researchers said they examined violations by Marcellus Shale drillers in Pennsylvania from January 2008 to August 2011. It said that the incidence of major “polluting environmental events” related to hydrofracking -- like contamination of local water supplies and spills -- declined by more than half in three years, “a rather notable indicator of improvement by the industry and oversight by the regulators.”

The report added that under New York’s proposed rules, which are more stringent, any problems “could have been either entirely avoided or mitigated.”

But in a searing critique issued nine days later, the Public Accountability Initiative, a local watchdog group, questioned the study’s claims, saying the rate of major violations had actually gone up. The group also took some of the authors to task for copying entire passages from a report they wrote last year for the conservative Manhattan Institute, without proper attribution.