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NY Times Takes Shellacking Over Recent Fracking Article

The New York Times is being called out by energy writers for a series of articles that advanced the paper’s alleged bias against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by relying on political activists as key sources throughout the series.

“The fact that the New York Times relied almost exclusively on these politically motivated sources strikes at the heart of its credibility,” writes Pablo Zarate, an energy writer with the oil and gas industry-backed Energy In Depth.

Last year, The New York Times ran a series of articles on the “downside of the boom” in oil and natural gas going on in North Dakota. The stories highlighted the ills of the state’s hydraulic fracturing boom, claiming that oil spills were up, state regulators were lax and oil companies run amok.

Besides the critiques of fracking, the Times relied on activists opposed to fracking as sources in the stories. Times reporters also relied on political opponents to current North Dakota elected officials as sources, most of whom had ties to former State Sen. Ryan Taylor who lost a 2012 election to current Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

“Rather than taking an unbiased look at a state that is tackling challenges during an incredible economic boom, the Times sloppily strings together a series that activists likely had served up for them,” writes Zarate.

But Zarate is not the only one to criticize the articles. Reuters market analyst Jack Kemp wrote that the “whole article is well worth reading but it tells only part of the story and ultimately fails to present a balanced picture of the costs and benefits associated with oil production.”

A nationally recognized North Dakota blogger said the Times piece was “an act of journalistic malpractice.”

So who did the Times rely on as sources? The Times relied on quotes from David Schwalbe and Ellen Chaffee, who the article says are a retired rancher and a former university president.

The article says that Schwalbe had evidence that Dalrymple had a “corrupt relationship with the oil industry.” But the Times only reveals 57 paragraphs later that Chaffee, Schwalbe’s wife, ran for lieutenant governor on the ticket against Dalrymple’s administration. The Times article also mentions that Schwalbe filed a grand jury petition against Dalrymple in 2013.

The Times also quotes David Thompson, a “lawyer in Grand Forks.” But the Times doesn’t mention that Thompson is a Democratic activist and was actually approached by Schwalbe at a campaign event to discuss corruption charges against Dalrymple. Thompson also did pro-bono work on a report targeting the governor.

The Times also relied on quotes from a politically connected law firm and an activist Democratic U.S. attorney.

The Times did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment. The paper did, however, respond to a story written by the North Dakota blogger by saying the “report was nine months in the making, based on rigorous reporting, data and dozens of interviews.”

North Dakota is in the midst of an oil boom that has brought unemployment levels in the state to 2.8 percent — the lowest in the nation. In a few short years, North Dakota has surpassed California and even Alaska in oil production to become the second-largest oil-producing state in the country.

The state’s energy boom is thanks to fracking — a well-stimulation technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected deep underground to break up shale formations and release oil and natural gas.

Environmentalists have been working to ban the practice in states and localities across the country, claiming it harms air and water quality. But so far, their claims of environmental degradation have been largely unproven.

The Obama administration has proposed regulations for fracking on public lands that expected to be finalized in the coming weeks. The White House has also released a plan to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations as part of their efforts to fight global warming.

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