Drilling Down

The New York Times Drilling Down Series

On February 27, 2011 the New York Times started publishing an occasional series called “Drilling Down”. The series focuses on the risks of natural-gas drilling and efforts to regulate this rapidly industry. This series, and the videos and leaked documents that accompany it, promise to be a huge resource for those seeking to expose the truth about drilling. This series is also a reminder of how openness and professional journalism are essential for democracy.

United for Action has in addition obtained PDF versions of documents related to the New York Times articles. These PDFs do not contain the New York Times annotations, but they are provided here for those who wish to download them for offline analysis.

Most of these documents are images that have been scanned to generate text, using a machine process known as OCR (optical character recognition). scanning allows for searching and rudimentary select-copy-past capabilities. However, the OCR process is imperfect. Depending on the quality of the underlying image, there will be a small or high error rate in the OCR-generated text. So please be aware that search results will be imperfect (content will be missed) and any copy-pasted text will require inspection for errors.

Here, in reverse chronological order, are the articles in the Drilling Down series.

Seventh Installment: Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts With Mortgages

Worried about property values, and landowners signing drilling leases without clearance, lenders are trying to reinforce restrictions.  Bankers and real estate executives are raising provocative questions, such as: What happens if they lend money for a piece of land that ends up storing the equivalent of an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with toxic wastewater from drilling?…


Sixth Installment: A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More

Industry executives as well as regulators have said that fracking has never contaminated underground drinking water. But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.


Related Story: S.E.C. Shift Leads to Worries of Overestimation of Reserves

A rule change intended to modernize how energy companies report their gas reserves has led to concerns about the overstatement of reserves, internal e-mails and documents show.…As part of that change, the commission acquiesced to industry pressure by giving these companies greater latitude in how they estimated reserves in areas that were not yet drilled.…

The new rules, which were several years in the making, were officially adopted only weeks before the S.E.C. chairman under President George W. Bush, Christopher Cox, stepped down.…However, in internal e-mails and documents, many industry executives and federal officials have questioned whether some companies are overstating, perhaps intentionally, the amount of gas they can economically produce in a given period. This practice, known as overbooking, is illegal because it misleads investors trying to assess a company’s strength and banks that use reserves as collateral for loans.…


Fifth installment: Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas

Energy companies have worked hard to promote the idea that natural gas is the fossil fuel of tomorrow, and they have found reliable allies among policy makers in Washington.

“The potential for natural gas is enormous,” President Obama said in a speech this year, having cited it as an issue on which Democrats and Republicans can agree.

The Department of Energy boasts in news releases about helping jump-start the boom in drilling by financing some research that made it possible to tap the gas trapped in shale formations deep underground.

In its annual forecasting reports, the United States Energy Information Administration, a division of the Energy Department, has steadily increased its estimates of domestic supplies of natural gas, and investors and the oil and gas industry have repeated them widely to make their case about a prosperous future.

But not everyone in the Energy Information Administration agrees. In scores of internal e-mails and documents, officials within the Energy Information Administration, or E.I.A., voice skepticism about the shale gas industry.…READ FULL STORY

Fourth installment: Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush

Natural gas companies have been placing enormous bets on the wells they are drilling, saying they will deliver big profits and provide a vast new source of energy for the United States.

But the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells.

In the e-mails, energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts voice skepticism about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves. Many of these e-mails also suggest a view that is in stark contrast to more bullish public comments made by the industry, in much the same way that insiders have raised doubts about previous financial bubbles.…READ THE FULL STORY

The third installment: Politics Seen to Limit E.P.A. as It Sets Rules for Natural Gas

When Congress considered whether to regulate more closely the handling of wastes from oil and gas drilling in the 1980s, it turned to the Environmental Protection Agency to research the matter. E.P.A. researchers concluded that some of the drillers’ waste was hazardous and should be tightly controlled. But that is not what Congress heard. Some of the recommendations concerning oil and gas waste were eliminated in the final report handed to lawmakers in 1987.…

More than a quarter century of efforts by some lawmakers and regulators to force the federal government to police the industry better have been thwarted, as E.P.A. studies have been repeatedly narrowed in scope, and important findings have been removed. or example, the agency had planned to call last year for a moratorium on the gas-drilling technique known as hydrofracking in the New York City watershed, according to internal documents, but the advice was removed from the publicly released letter sent to New York. Now some scientists and lawyers at the E.P.A. are wondering whether history is about to repeat itself, as the agency undertakes a broad new study of natural gas drilling and its potential risks, with preliminary results scheduled to be delivered next year.… READ FULL STORY


  • EPA Chief Grilled on Safety of Hydraulic Fracturing “”What we see here are deliberate attempts to shield from the public additional concerns expressed by EPA scientists,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D., N.Y.) said at a congressional hearing on EPA’s budget.”
  • Federal Officials Say They’ll Examine Fracking Practices. Testifying before Congress on Thursday, Obama administration officials said they planned to scrutinize the waste disposal practices of natural gas producers after reports that drilling wastewater containing radioactive material was being dumped in public waters without proper monitoring or treatment.
  • E.P.A. Steps Up Scrutiny of Pollution in Pennsylvania Rivers. Radioactivity levels are “at or below” safe levels in Pennsylvania rivers, state regulators said on Monday, based on water samples taken last November and December from seven rivers.…[But] The Times found that samples taken by the state in the Monongahela River — a source of drinking water for parts of Pittsburgh — came from a point upstream from the two sewage treatment plants on that river. The state has said those plants are still accepting significant quantities of drilling waste. Because that sampling site is upstream, the discharges from those two plants are not captured by the state’s monitoring plans.
  • Former Bush EPA Official Says Fracking Exemption Went Too Far; Congress Should Revisit. In two interviews with ProPublica — the first on June 29, 2009, soon after he left the EPA, and the second on March 5, 2011 — Grumbles ponders the criticism leveled at the 2004 study and suggests that it’s now time for Congress and the EPA to take another look at hydraulic fracturing.

Leaked and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents that you can download

Here is a list of the documents that accompanied the New York Times article. Click here to open an online folder, so that you can view or download the individual documents

  • 041 E-mail from State Checking with Industry on Press Release.pdf
  • 042 EPA Scientists’ Study Ideas.pdf
  • 043 Proposed National Hydrofracking Study Presentation.pdf
  • 044 Presentation on Hydrofracking and Drinking Water.pdf
  • 045 Research Needs for Addressing Marcellus Shale Gas Activity.pdf
  • 046 Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resource Study Plan – June 15, 2010 Draft.pdf
  • 047 Study Plan – September 2010 Draft.pdf
  • 048 Study Plan – Feb 8, 2011 Public Draft.pdf
  • 049 Study Plan – Jan 4, 2011 Internal Draft.pdf
  • 050 Congressional Exchanges on Hydrofracking Study Review Panel.pdf
  • 051 Political Pressure – Inhofe Letter.pdf
  • 052 EPA Response to Inhofe Letter.pdf
  • 053 Political Pressure – Coburn Letter.pdf
  • 054 Industry Feedback – Halliburton.pdf
  • 055 Industry Feedback – Chesapeake Energy.pdf
  • 056 Environmentalist Feedback – Sierra Club.pdf
  • 057 EPA Cautionary E-mail.pdf
  • 058 Dealing with Research Limits.pdf
  • 059 Regional Action – Marcellus Shale Science Plan.pdf
  • 060 Regional Action – New York Moratorium Proposal.pdf
  • 061 New York – Radioactivity Concerns.pdf
  • 062 New York – Official Comments Override Recommendations.pdf
  • 063 List of Potential Problem Areas.pdf
  • 064 Early Wastewater Concerns.pdf

The second installment: Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas Process

This article focuses on the limitations of fracked well wastewater recycling, and how the lack of controls on wastewater results in toxic waste being spread back into the environment.


  • Officials call for water testing after report details radioactive shale waste. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey joined a chorus of lawmakers on Tuesday seeking additional testing of public water supplies following a report that the wastewater produced from Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania contains higher levels of radioactive materials than was previously disclosed.… READ MORE
  • Top Dem seeks EPA studies on possible toxic shale wastewater. WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee is asking the Environmental Protection Agency for a slew of documents related to natural gas hydraulic fracturing. Responding to an investigative piece published over the weekend in the New York Times, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson asking for responses to various reports in the Times story regarding toxic wastewater from fracking.…READ MORE
  • Reps. Maloney, Hinchey and Nadler call for hearings on effects of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas. “We hope that both Committees will hold hearings to determine whether our drinking water is safe. If federal and state regulations have not kept pace with this growing industry, we need to know before it creates a public health concern. As Representatives from New York, we are especially concerned given that some of the wastewater from hydrofracking is being transported to public sewage plants in our state. By holding hearings, Congress, the industry, and the public would have a better understanding of wastewater treatment and what further Congressional action is needed.” READ FULL LETTER

Companion Pieces

Leaked and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents that you can download

Here is a list of the documents that accompanied the New York Times article. Click here to open an online folder, so that you can view or download the individual documents.

  • 030 New Regulations on Wastewater.pdf
  • 031 Marcellus Shale Development in Pennsylvania.pdf
  • 032 Report on Radioactivity in Marcellus Shale.pdf
  • 033 Natural Gas Wastewater Used to Suppress Dust.pdf
  • 034 E-mail Exchange on Exemptions from Federal Law.pdf
  • 035 Marcellus Shale Coalition Letter to State about New Regulations.pdf
  • 036 E-mail from Industry to Governor’s Staff.pdf
  • 037 Conference Call between Industry Officials and State Regulators.pdf
  • 038 Industry E-mail Pressuring State Against Regulations.pdf
  • 039 Meeting on State Regulations.pdf
  • 040 Resisting new State Standards on Contaminants.pdf
  • 041 E-mail from State Checking with Industry on Press Release.pdf

The first installment: Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers

In this first installment in the series, the New York Times exposes the extent that toxic and radioactive drilling wastewater is contaminating rivers and water supplies at an alarming level.


Companion pieces

Accompanying the New York Times article are

Leaked and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents that you can download

Here is a list of the documents that accompanied the New York Times article. Click here to open an online folder, so that you can view or download the individual documents.

  • 001 Confidential EPA draft document – National Enforcement and Compliance Strategy, 2010.pdf
  • 002 EPA Briefing on Hydrofracking.pdf
  • 003 EPA draft document for New York State.pdf
  • 004 Federal Natural Gas Drilling Tripline (no OCR).pdf
  • 005 EPA Report on Borough of Jersey Shore Sewage Treatment Plan.pdf
  • 006 Pennsylvania Fines Jersey Shore $75,000 for Sewage Violations.pdf
  • 007 Marcellus Shale Well Development in Pennsylvania.pdf
  • 008 Internal EPA presentation – Natural Gas Plas in Marcellus Shale.pdf
  • 009 Pennsylvania presentation – Water in the Oil and Gas Industry.pdf
  • 010 Pennsylvania survey – South Fork Tenmile Creek.pdf
  • 011 Letter from West Virginia to Clarksburg Sanitary Board.pdf
  • 012 Conference Call between State and Federal Regulators on Marcellus Shale, 2008.pdf
  • 013 EPA Scientists Discusses Radioactivity in Waste.pdf
  • 014 EPA Presentation on Shale Gas Extraction.pdf
  • 015 Pennsylvania Field Survey of Radioactivity at Marcellus Shale Wells.pdf
  • 016 Spreadsheet of Tests at Pennsylvania Brine Treatment Plan.pdf
  • 017 Study on Radiation in Aquatic Systems (no OCR).pdf
  • 018 EPA Powerpoint Presentation on Marcellus Shale Wastewater.pdf
  • 019 Tracking Document for Gas Industry Wastewater.pdf
  • 020 Documents on November 2009 Spill in Clinton County, Penn.pdf
  • 021 Summary of Surveys of Radioactive Material, 1995.pdf
  • 022 Pennsylvania Requirements for Spill Plans, 2005.pdf
  • 023 Cabot Oil and Gas’s Report on Spills, 2009.pdf
  • 024 Cabot Oil and Gas’s Spill Plan.pdf
  • 025 Cabot Oil and Gas’s Revised Spill Plan.pdf
  • 026 EOG Resources’ spill plan.pdf
  • 027 Consent Order and Agreement Between EOG Resources and Pennsylvania.pdf
  • 028 E-mail on Suspected Illegal Dumping into Mine Void.pdf
  • 029 E-mails on South Fork Tenmile Creek Drilling Contamination.pdf