One would think that a newspaper which in its view has largely made its reputation on publishing leaked government documents and revealing government secrets would have been a bit more excited about being the sole receipient of a report from the State of New York indicating that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is safe. The State had already sat on the report for a year.
The Times published the story on January 3, but on Page A19, while changing its original strong title (“Hydrofracking Safe, Says N.Y. Health Dept. Analysis” — seen in the browser window) to a less descriptive, boring, and somewhat deceptive “Gas Drilling Is Called Safe in New York.”
Even if one might argue that the news is a New York-only story — an argument I find weak, given the importance of national energy independence — the Times’s rundown of stories on Page A19 in its “New York” section lists the fracking story third behind a writeup about how taxicab customers’ tips are declining and about how the Journal News, which published an interactive gun permit map for two New York counties two weeks ago, has hired armed guards.
Here are a few paragraphs from Danny Hakim’s story (bolds are mine)
The state’s Health Department found in an analysis it prepared early last year that the much-debated drilling technology known as hydrofracking could be conducted safely in New York, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.
The analysis and other health assessments have been closely guarded by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration as the governor weighs whether to approve fracking. Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has long delayed making a decision, unnerved in part by strident opposition on his party’s left. A plan to allow a limited amount of fracking in the state’s Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border is still seen as the most likely outcome, should the drilling process receive final approval.
The eight-page analysis is a summary of previous research by the state and others, and concludes that fracking can be done safely. It delves into the potential impact of fracking on water resources, on naturally occurring radiological material found in the ground, on air emissions and on “potential socioeconomic and quality-of-life impacts.”
But it remains difficult to discern how much original research the state has done on potential health impacts, and environmentalists worry that the administration’s lack of transparency is hiding a lack of rigor in its assessment of public health risks. At the same time, the drilling industry, and landowners who have leased their land in the Southern Tier, have grown increasingly frustrated with delays by the Cuomo administration to announce a final plan. State regulators have now been studying the issue of fracking for about four years.
Hasn’t fracking been doing just fine in Pennsylvania for at least four years? Why yes, it has, for five years, the first three of them under Democratic Governor Ed Rendell.
If one of the goals at the Times was to keep the news from becoming prominent, it succeeded — for a while. Searches at the Associated Press’s national site this afternoon on various strings which would be expected to surface a story related to the leaked report came up empty.
If fracking really is safe — and no one, including Matt Damon, has ever credibly demonstrated that it isn’t, despite fervidly trying — why would Empire State Governor Andrew Cuomo want to hold back jobs and economic growth when his citizens have been suffering from an unemployment rate of over 8 percent since April 2009 (it was over 9 percent just a few months ago; in November, it was 8.3 percent)? Is pleasing envirozealots at any cost really that important to his political career?
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.