Last week an oil and gas industry public relations front group called Energy in Depth published a lengthy criticism of InsideClimate News and our partner for the past year, the Center for Public Integrity, of stories we've been publishing together about toxic air emissions from unconventional gas and oil production in Texas.
We believe we've aroused the group's displeasure because our work shines an unwelcome spotlight on these toxic air emissions and the manner in which they are released, with little regulation or regard for neighboring homes and communities. As our stories point out, regulators in Texas claim that the emissions are within safe levels, even though they don't have enough data to make that assertion. Our investigations have also shown that people who believe they have been sickened by the nearby emissions are left to fend for themselves.
Energy in Depth did not dispute the evidence we presented. Instead, it published a litany of allegations charging journalistic malfeasance. Not one of the allegations touched on the substance of our reporting, which is based on interviews with more than 30 scientists and technical experts, including some who work for the industry.
Had we gotten anything wrong? No.
Did we refuse to correct any mistakes? No.
Did we in any way falsify the words or images of Steve Everley of Energy in Depth, the author of the criticisms? No.
In fact, Mr. Everley was given full and fair opportunity to express his industry's point of view, both in the text of our articles (read them here) and in the video documentary we co-produced with The Weather Channel (watch it here).
It is not unusual for powerful industries to go on the attack to undermine unfavorable news reports. Even though Mr. Everley speaks as if he is protecting the public from misrepresentations by media with an agenda, in fact he is protecting the bottom line of the oil and gas industry, which pays his salary.
In a letter to his colleagues in 2009, the president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America said Energy in Depth was founded in order "to combat new environmental regulations, especially with regard to hydraulic fracturing. And we're seeing some outstanding results." The announcement lists the original funders—the Independent Petroleum Association of America, BP, Anadarko, Marathon, EnCana, Chevron, Talisman, Shell, American Petroleum Institute, Halliburton, Schlumberger, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, El Paso Corporation, XTO Energy, and Occidental Petroleum—and asks other IPAA members for support because "the battle is just beginning."
Now, five years later, Energy in Depth has gone to great lengths to assert that InsideClimate News is part of what Mr. Everley calls an "anti-fracking industry." He asserts that ICN's reporters—like anyone else who might show concern for the air, the water, the Earth or its climate—are all part of the same secret conspiracy, are in it for the money, and get that money from the same nefarious places.
But no such thing as an "anti-fracking industry" exists, and Everley provides no evidence that would pass muster in an honest newsroom that it does. Instead, he manufactures an imaginary public enemy, a rival "industry," no less, that is out to do harm.
Changing the subject through the production of distractions is a kind of sleight of hand that is the specialty of well-trained public relations professionals, who in America now outnumber journalists four to one. Many are paid to protect their clients from transparent public accounting with tricks like this one.
Still, two of Mr. Everley's accusations deserve response, because they question our ethics and our integrity, and it is bad practice to leave such charges unanswered in the digital arena.
Our reporters do not conceal their identities, nor do they employ other questionable reporting techniques, and no credible evidence exists to the contrary.
InsideClimate News does not "share" any funding with special interests, and there is no evidence that we do.
We apply for our own funding from a wide variety of sources. Our donors, listed on our website, play absolutely no role in our editorial decisions.
This is the way non-profit journalism works, not just at InsideClimate News but all across the country. The sector has grown in recent years as a result of the financial disruptions afflicting traditional journalism. Support for environmental reporting, on life-support at most newspapers and broadcast outlets, is an especially important contribution philanthropy is making to the nation's civic health.
The best way for readers to judge our journalistic integrity and independence is to read the work we produce and examine it themselves. And the best place to start would be this page. Here readers will find the first stories in the groundbreaking investigation we're conducting in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel on the dangers posed by toxic air emissions from unconventional oil and gas production.