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New York Times Looks Like Industry Shill in Latest Story on Gas Drilling

The paper published a story about the virtues of natural gas drilling that read like an industry power point presentation.

An article published last week in the New York Times ("Estimate Places Natural Gas Reserves 35% Higher") extols the potential virtues of a natural gas boom and, in particular, new technologies that have made it possible to profitably extract that gas from shale formations in the United States. The article reads like an industry power point presentation and, though it mentions environmental concerns ("Some environmental groups fear that hydraulic fracturing will pollute drinking water"), does not quote a single critic of the industry, glosses over the details of hydraulic fracturing, and trumpets the line that natural gas is a clean alternative to fossil fuels. While natural gas is relatively clean burning compared to coal and oil, the process of removing it from the earth is far from what most would consider clean or environmentally sound. Moreover, the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment remains highly controversial. 

According to Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, a small environmental organization in New York State, "Gas extraction, particularly shale gas extraction, is a dirty and destructive business that degrades our environment. It's a daunting task, but somehow we have to make both the public and the politicians aware that the environmental damage wreaked by gas extraction is an important part of the equation that has to be considered as we chart our energy course for the future."

The New York Times, rather than present the arguments of those who are opposed to opening up certain areas to natural gas drilling, relies almost entirely on industry insiders and those connected with the Potential Gas Committee (PGC), a group of "academics and industry experts" supported by the Potential Gas Agency at the Colorado School of Mines. Created in the 1960s, the Potential Gas Committee issues a review of the nation's gas reserves every two years. This year they've made headlines with the estimate that the United States has 35 percent more natural gas reserves than previously thought. The Times article ran the day before the Committee's report was released and fails to explore its connections to the gas industry, identifying it simply as "the authority on gas supplies."

According to their website, the Committee currently has 105 members who contribute their time pro bono ("typically after work and on weekends"). They are primarily geologists and engineers "engaged in exploration for and development of natural gas."

Though sales from the Committee's reports cover some internal costs, the rest of the group's funding comes in the form of "strings-free" contributions from a "diverse array of companies, organizations, and individuals that for whatever reason are interested in the Nation's future supply of natural gas." Given the actual makeup of the Committee's sponsors, the phrase "for whatever reason" is rather telling.

Here are a few of the organizations that provide "stings-free" funding: Chesapeake Energy Corporation (one of the big players drilling in the Marcellus Shale), The Houston Exploration Company, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation (also involved in Marcellus Shale drilling), Wolverine Gas and Oil Corporation, The American Gas Association, Duke Energy Field Services, GASCO Energy, Black Diamond Energy, White Eagle Exploration Inc., among others. Committee volunteers are affiliated (or have been affiliated) with many of the big industry players such as Halliburton, Schlumberger, Chevron, Shell, and Cabot Oil & Gas. Other organizations represented include the American Gas Association, The American Association of Professional Landmen, the World Petroleum Congress, and the World Energy Council.

Not surprisingly, on the day the report was released, the American Petroleum Institute issued its own statement arguing that the Committee's work, "underscores the vital role of hydraulic fracturing, a production technology needed to develop shale gas," even though the report has little to say on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. "Without hydraulic fracturing," the API continues, "these crucial American-owned natural gas resources would likely remain in the ground.