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The fight between The New York Times and the natural gas industry is going nuclear.

A series of critical articles in the paper of record has the natural gas industry fuming as it struggles to persuade the public that hydraulic fracturing is a safe, clean, inexpensive and reliable way of securing the nation’s energy supply for decades to come.

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The stories from reporter Ian Urbina have spurred federal investigators and caused falling stock prices. They’ve questioned the environmental impacts of gas drilling on drinking water as well as the economic health of the industry, casting doubt on rosy federal projections of gas’s future and using anonymous quotes to compare the shale gas boom to Enron and the dot-com stock bubble.

The gas industry isn’t taking this lying down. It’s also gained a prominent ally in Times public editor Arthur Brisbane, who twice in three weeks last month used his Sunday column to criticize Urbina’s use of redacted emails, anonymous quotes and references to an Energy Department intern as an “official.”

“The Times story was obviously motivated by an anti-natural gas agenda,” Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, said in an email to employees after Urbina’s “Ponzi scheme” article appeared in June. “It is telling that the reporter chose not to interview a single reliable source and instead selectively quoted emails from unnamed sources or well-known industry critics dating back to as early as 2007 to invent a series of inaccurate and misleading allegations.”

Urbina isn’t backing down, though. Last Wednesday, the Times posted a potential blockbuster — a story outlining a recently unearthed EPA report from 1987 that found that hydraulic fracturing gel from a shale gas well in West Virginia had contaminated a family’s drinking water well. That would puncture a long-crafted talking point for the industry, which says critics have never proven a single case in which fracking materials have contaminated an underground water supply.

But that story didn’t make the front page of Thursday’s print edition. Adam Bryant, the Times’s deputy national editor, said it was simply a matter of other stories being chosen. “The story was displayed prominently on our website all day, where it garnered hundreds of reader comments, and we showcased it on our nation page,” he told POLITICO.

Bryant said the industry criticism hasn’t stopped government bodies like the EPA, the Energy Department and the Government Accountability Office from “taking action” based on the Times’s reporting.

“Because of Ian Urbina’s deep and careful reporting, every point of fact and analysis in our series has held up,” Bryant said. “And so the industry is trying distract people from the actual content of the articles by raising questions about Ian, his sources, and some hidden ‘agenda’ of the Times.”

On Sunday, Brisbane turned his entire column over to reader letters about his previous criticism of the natural gas stories, but didn’t address Urbina’s latest effort.

The Times’s series comes at an important juncture for the industry: Shale gas is huge, it’s threatening to supplant other fuels like coal, and President Barack Obama has declared it an important part of America’s energy mix. But the increasing use of fracking and horizontal drilling to get to major plays like the Marcellus Shale has brought new environmental fears.

The industry and its defenders in Washington have been sensitive to any suggestion that fracking harms the environment, as seen by their campaign opposing an Oscar for the documentary “Gasland” — the movie lost —and their rebuttals to anti-fracking celebrities like Olivia Newton-John and Mark Ruffalo.

Kathryn Klaber, president of the Pennsylvania-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, complained that the Times is on a “witch hunt.”

“In what seems to be a campaign to malign the modern-day shale gas revolution under way in America, this latest attempt to discount hydraulic fracturing’s long and clear record of environmental safety relies on vague and disputed information about an incident that occurred nearly 30 years ago,” Klaber said of Wednesday’s story.

John Hanger, a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, compared Urbina to two infamous Times ethics cases from the previous decade.

“This is not their first rogue reporter: Judith Miller, Jayson Blair, the list could go on,” said Hanger, who has complained about the way Urbina quoted him in a gas article in February.

Hanger said he was disappointed that the Times hasn’t taken any action in response to Brisbane’s criticisms.

“What this gas reporter has now is two extraordinary public reprimands,” Hanger added. “He has been censured by one of his own. It shows that the New York Times management with hiring and firing authority is unwilling to protect the credibility of the paper as a whole.”

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