Muckraking in the Gaslands: The New York Times Hits Dirt in Its Investigation of Fracking

February 28 2011, 12:00 PM

Since last year's release of the documentary Gasland, which was nominated for an Academy Award last night, natural-gas proponents have refuted much of its content. Less than a month ago, Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll defended the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's "Gasland Correction Document," claiming hydraulic fracturing does not harm the state's groundwater. But don't tell that to the New York Times, whose hard-hitting investigation finds the gas-extraction process, better known as "fracking," to be quite dirty: A single well can create over one million gallons of wastewater laced with carcinogens like benzene and radioactive radium.

A confidential study by the drilling industry concludes radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in waterways, yet thousands of internal and state regulatory documents from the Environmental Protection Agency note that wastewater is not always hauled to appropriate sewage plants before being discharged into rivers that feed drinking-water supplies. Despite its knowledge of the health risks and recommendations by Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, the EPA has not intervened.