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The New York Times’ war on shale gas continues with two more big stories by Ian Urbina. The front page of the Sunday paper featured “‘Enron Moment’: Insiders Sound Alarm amid a Natural Gas Rush”, complete with pullquote “Word in world of independents is that shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes.” That was followed today by “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas”. Both articles are based primarily on piles of emails, the first from industry sources and the second from EIA staff. I hate to say it, but on the whole, both pieces are of pretty poor quality. That’s a shame, because both – particularly the first one – had the potential to raise some important issues for debate.
I can’t say that I’ve read through all of the hundreds of pages of documents that the Times has posted on its site. But I’ve gone through a good enough slice of them (including all the emails that the Times references in its articles) to get a feel for how Urbina went about using them in his stories. There’s a pattern: Urbina was clearly looking for negative views of shale gas, and had no problem finding them. Given the massize size of the industry, and the number of financial bets being placed upon the sector, that shouldn’t be a surprise. What is a surprise is that Urbina hasn’t done much to put them in context.
I’m going to focus on the Sunday story here, because it’s much more interesting, and because some of its sources raise some genuinely important issues, which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs. In contrast, today’s story is mostly a mix of some frustrated EIA analysts’ complaints and some healthy internal EIA debate taken wildly out of context.
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