Appalachian Basin

Ian Urbina Tries to Sell us a “SONY Walkman” in 2012

Ian Urbina made an appearance at Susquehanna University where he gave a presentation on his New York Times series Drilling Down.  The presentation actually showed what an “Investigative Journalist” with an agenda really looks like. This was made clear throughout his presentation, including in the question and answer portion when he withheld information regarding advances the industry has made since his series debuted years ago.

Ian Urbina recently made an appearance at Susquehanna University where he gave a presentation on his New York Times series Drilling Down, confirming what many of us already knew from his writing: Urbina is a journalist with an anti natural gas development agenda.   The room of about 25 local residents interested in the subject and quite a few students who appeared to be there for a class assignment that didn’t require them to stay for the question and answer session. Urbina focused on outdated information, offering skewed numbers, and never mentioned any advances made since his series debuted. I, for one, felt like I was listening to someone trying to sell me a Sony Walkman in 2012, completely ignoring the latest I-Pod.

Urbina said he started his research by investigating exactly what was in the waste water generated from the development of the Marcellus Shale and what was happening with that waste product.  His research, of course, only confirmed what most of us already know: flowback is comprised predominantly of salt, with some naturally occurring materials.  And, yes, a small percentage of that contains Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM), but those levels are equal to or less than the amount given off by granite counter tops, which another New York Times reporter revealed.  He then went on to discuss waste water disposal and I began to wonder if he’s been living under a rock the last year or so.


Tweets From Jim Hamill During the Presentation

Tweets From Jim Hamill, WNEP, During the Presentation


Urbina talked about what was happening to the waste water from well development as if the waste was just pumped into rivers and streams directly from sites with no treatment.  That is not the case by any means.  When development first began in this region, waste product was taken to city treatment facilities and treated and released as any other industrial waste or disposed of in deep well injection sites in other states.  In January 2011, the Department of Environmental Protection recommended–not mandated–the practice of taking waste water to these treatment facilities cease.  The industry complied almost immediately and  now most if not all operators in Northeastern Pennsylvania use a 100% recycling method, which will also be required in New York.  A new company, Eureka Resources in Williamsport, still takes waste products from local operators, but they meet and exceed all DEP water quality and waste management standards.   As an investigative journalist I would have thought Urbina might mention this, but he did not.

Here is a video of ComTech explaining the recycling process.

Questions & Answers

This was the part of the presentation where Urbina’s agenda really shined.

Student Question – What do you think about Josh Fox and the facts that he has put out there about the industry.  Also what do you think about the industry not having to disclose the chemicals they use in their fracking solution?

Tweets From Jim Hamill During the Presentation

Tweets From Jim Hamill, WNEP, During the Presentation


Urbina’s response to first question- “Much of what Josh Fox has reported has been fact.  There are always going to be quivering over numbers, even the series that I wrote, but the New York Times has an aggressive fixing procedure.  Not one of my facts was corrected.  I think that Josh was very early on this topic and much of what Josh has reported is well thought out. He was the person that brought this to the attention of the world.”

We, along with many others, will have to agree to disagree with that statement.

Energy In Depth and the Times’ own ombudsman also debunked Urbina’s series: [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [bonus].

Urbina’s response to second question – You’re right they don’t disclose the chemicals used in the fracking solution.  Do I think there are things they don’t want us to know about in there? Possibly.

Really? is a self disclosure site where companies are voluntarily posting their hydraulic fracturing solutions on a well by well basis. I’m pretty sure Urbina would have heard of this, considering it’s had over 30,000 submissions by nearly 400 companies and almost 350,000 views.

What’s in Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid?
Water and sand make up 98 to 99.5 percent of the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing. In addition, chemical additives are used. The exact formulation varies depending on the well. –

Frac Solution Recipe

So, we do know part of the formula for a frac solution.  Sand and water make up 99.7 percent of a frac solution and the rest consists of additives which are highly diluted and often found in common household items.

Maintaining a water well requires it to be cleaned of bacteria from time to time.  The known method of doing this involves pouring bleach into the well.  Now again because of the amount of water and dilution that takes place it is not an issue.  The same concept applies to fracturing solutions.

I found it odd that Urbina, a self-proclaimed investigative journalist, did not know about FracFocus, so I asked him if he ever heard about it and what he thought about the DEP test results from Dimock.

Urbina’s response on FracFocus: The industry does not want to be forced to list them. So they reveal broad categories of what they use. My question to them is what’s the formula or recipe how much of what. This is not useful transparency and in no way where it should be.

If I could have asked a follow-up, I would have asked him why he chose not to mention it at all, if it’s a step in the right direction, even if it’s one he doesn’t believe has gone far enough.

Urbina’s response to Dimock: It’s like you’re living somewhere and someone uses a test to see what’s in your water, they are attempting to assess if it is drinkable.  Your test is of a limited set of variables and you are only testing for certain contaminations.  Now this is all a hypothetical situation.  You tell the landowner to turn on their tap and if it is still murky and it still smells the average person is not going to want to drink that water.  Now it may be safe to drink water with sediment in it, but you as a homeowner are going to be reluctant to drink it. In terms of methane in water I don’t know whether the gas came from the well or it was released indirectly.  Still there is methane in my water, so who helps me?   Water may be tested and proved to be safe but because of the way it looks they might still not want to drink it.

Well, thanks for answering that question, Ian.  What I think he fails to understand is that much of Pennsylvania’s water has always been bad.  Methane has been occurring in private water sources for a long time because of the geology of the area, something I thought an investigative journalist would know about.

Again, this was similar to someone trying to sell you on the idea of a SONY Walkman here in 2012.  Thanks, but no thanks, Ian, I’ll stick to the facts.  The industry is always changing the practices they use to make them more environmentally friendly and through the development of new technology, the processes will only continue to improve.  And, about that Frac Focus; maybe you should actually check it out.  You find a lot more disclosure there than in your discussion of Drilling Down.


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