From New York to Nkandla shale gas is a ‘game-changer’

This article first published July 15 in Daily Maverick – South Africa’s leading online publication


15 JULY 2014 07:58 (SOUTH AFRICA)

From New York to Nkandla, shale gas is indeed a game-changer

Shale gas has been hailed as a game changer worldwide, but many of the numbers being crunched are outdated – and the reality is a little more sobering. It’s worth picking up on US shale gas hype and bringing it down to earth in the Karoo.
Since 2011, there have been some incredible statements from oil and gas executives, but the uncontested winner must come from Chris Faulkner: “There is enough oil and gas underground (in America) to supply America for an almost endless amount of time.”

Oil industry mouthpiece, RIGZONE speculates on SA fracking

An online article July 8, by oil and gas industry mouthpiece RIGZONE proclaims “SOUTH AFRICA EDGES CLOSER TO KAROO SHALE GAS DEVELOPMENT” Peppered with inaccuracies, and drawing on phrases like ‘rolling blackouts in South Africa in May of this year’, the article regurgitates the industry speculation that we have heard in this country since January 2011. Here is the article. My reply to RIGZONE on their own online comment section may not be published, and is set out underneath the RIGZONE article.

A Rigzone nonsense
















I believe that the article is poorly researched, and as one would expect biased towards the oil and gas industry that supports your publication. As proof, I mention just one point that jumps out of the text. ‘300 000 to 700 000 jobs over 25 years. (485tcf)’ Anyone who has done their homework knows that South African scientists long ago reduced that figure from 485 to 40tcf – so any estimates based on 485 are irrelevant – much like the industry hype and speculation over Monterey. No Sir, those backing shale mining in SA may feel that it is edging closer, but actually the news on shale gas globally is not good and is building a strong body of evidence against SA moving ahead under the current circumstances. Jonathan Deal, CEO, Treasure Karoo Action Group, South Africa.

B Rigzone nonsense-1

Cuadrilla’s consultant’s hype over California shale turns out to be hot air

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Write-down of two-thirds of US shale oil explodes fracking myth

Industry’s over-inflated reserve estimates are unravelling, and with it the ‘American dream’ of oil independence
An oil field over the Monterey shale formation in California

An oil field over the Monterey shale formation in California: 96% reserve downgrade undermines claims that fracking is solution to the world’s energy needs. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

Next month, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) will publish a new estimate of US shale deposits set to deal a death-blow to industry hype about a new golden era of US energy independence by fracking unconventional oil and gas.

EIA officials told the Los Angeles Times that previous estimates of recoverable oil in the Monterey shale reserves in California of about 15.4 billion barrels were vastly overstated. The revised estimate, they said, will slash this amount by 96% to a puny 600 million barrels of oil.

The Monterey formation, previously believed to contain more than double the amount of oil estimated at the Bakken shale in North Dakota, and five times larger than the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas, was slated to add up to 2.8 million jobs by 2020 and boost government tax revenues by $24.6 billion a year.

Industry lobbyists have for long highlighted the Monterey shale reserves as the big game-changer for US oil and gas production. Nick Grealy, who runs the consultancy No Hot Air which is funded by “gas and associated companies”, and includes the UK’s most high-profile shale gas fracker Cuadrilla among its clientspredicted last year that:

“… the star of the North American show is barely on most people’s radar screens. California shale will… reinvigorate the Golden State’s economy over the next two to three years.”

This sort of hype triggered “a speculation boom among oil companies” according to the LA Times. The EIA’s original survey for the US Department of Energy published in 2011 had been contracted out to Intek Inc. That report found that the Monterey shale constituted “64 percent of the total shale oil resources” in the US.

The EIA’s revised estimate was based partly on analysis of actual output from wells where new fracking techniques had been applied. According to EIA petroleum analyst John Staub:

“From the information we’ve been able to gather, we’ve not seen evidence that oil extraction in this area is very productive using techniques like fracking… Our oil production estimates combined with a dearth of knowledge about geological differences among the oil fields led to erroneous predictions and estimates.”

The Intek Inc study for the EIA had relied largely on oil industry claims, rather than proper data. Hitesh Mohan, who authored the Intek study for the EIA, reportedly conceded that “his figures were derived from technical reports and presentations from oil companies, including Occidental Petroleum, which owns the lion’s share of oil leases in the Monterey Shale, at 1.6 million acres.” Mohan had even lifted his original estimate for the EIA to 17 billion barrels.

Geoscientist David Hughes, who worked for the Geological Survey of Canada for 32 years, said:

“The oil had always been a statistical fantasy. Left out of all the hoopla was the fact that the EIA’s estimate was little more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation.”

Last year, the Post Carbon Institute (PCI) published Hughes’ study,Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale, which conducted an empirical analysis of oil production data using a widely used industry database also relied on by the EIA. The report concluded that the original EIA estimate was “highly overstated,” and unlikely to lead to a “statewide economic boom…. California should consider its economic and energy future in the absence of an oil production boom.”

A spokesman for the Institute, Tod Brilliant, told me:

“Given the incredible difference between initial projections of 15 billion barrels and revisions to 600 million, does this not call into account all such global projections for tight oil?”

As I’d reported earlier in June last year, a wider PCI study by Hughes had come to similar conclusions about bullish estimates of US shale oil and gas potential, concluding that “light tight oil production in the USA will peak between 2015 and 2017, followed by a steep decline”, while shale gas production would likely peak next year. In that post, I’d pointed out previous well-documented, and alarmingly common, cases of industry over-estimates of reserve sizes which later had been questioned.

Analysts like Jeremy Leggett have said, citing exaggerated oil industry estimates, that if reserve and production reality are indeed significantly lower than industry forecasts, we could be at risk of an oil shock as early as within the next five years.

The latest revelations follow a spate of bad news for industry reassurances about the fracking boom. New research published this month has found that measured methane leaks from fracking operations were three times larger than forecasted. The US Environment Protection Agency therefore “significantly underestimates” methane emissions from fracking, by as much as a 100 to a 1,000 times according to a new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study published in April.

The Associated Press also reported, citing a Government Accountability Office investigation, that the US Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management had failed to adequately inspect thousands of oil and gas wells that are potentially high risk for water and environmental damage.

Despite the mounting evidence that the shale gas boom is heading for a bust, both economically and environmentally, both governments and industry are together pouring their eggs into a rather flimsy basket.

According to a secret trade memo obtained by the Huffington Post, the Obama administration and the European Union are pushing ahead with efforts to “expand US fracking, offshore oil drilling and natural gas exploration”, as well as exports to the EU, under the prospective Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an international security journalist and academic. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It, and the forthcoming science fiction thriller, Zero Point. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @nafeezahmed.

While SA’s leaders spread ‘feel good’ job figures from FRACKING

State inflates fracking-related jobs numbers

Report shows decline in gas-drilling jobs and overstates the number of workers supporting natural gas industry.

New York State Mulls Limited Fracking In Southern TierHydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale for natural gas has boosted local economies in South Montrose, Susquehanna County, (pictured here) and across the state. (SPENCER PLATT, GETTY IMAGES / June 19, 2012)
By Steve Esack, Call Harrisburg Bureau9:24 p.m. EST, February 23, 2014

HARRISBURG — As executive director of the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Julie VanNess was front and center when energy companies descended on Tioga County to secure drilling leases on pristine land around Routes 6 and 660 through Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon.

“I don’t have a negative feeling for the industry,” VanNess said.

The industry was accommodating and respectful of the community’s needs and understood the importance of its tourism industry, VanNess said. It fixed long-neglected back roads to handle rigs, rerouted drivers away from Wellsboro’s tony downtown and kept trucks away from schools during class time, she said.

“You can’t tell they were even here,” VanNess said. “If you drive through the countryside you will not know something happened. Once the wells are drilled, capped and the pipelines in, you don’t notice them.”


That was about two years ago.

With leases signed and wells operating, the companies have pulled back resources amid what had been until recently a downturn in natural gas prices. Many of the out-of-town workers who filled hotels and restaurants in and around Wellsboro have left, too.

“Right now it’s on kind of a hiatus,” VanNess said. “It’s slowed down significantly here. I expect that will pick back up again. Right now you see very little activity.”

It’s the same story in many of the 32 other counties where drilling began in 2004 to extract natural gas trapped in the underground Marcellus and Utica Shale formations: Fewer jobs and less overall economic activity, despite a record amount of gas — 3.1 trillion cubic feet — produced in 2013.

The industry has declined, Williamsport Mayor Gabe Campana said, but it’s still alive. Without it, the unemployment rate in his third-class city of 35,000 would be 10 percent and he wouldn’t have four new hotels downtown.

“It’s made a difference in the overall economy,” Campana said. “But it has receded. Talk to the guys in the field and they’ll tell you there’s ebbs and flows. It has picked up in the past two, three months and we are encouraged by that.”

Gov. Tom Corbett praises the natural gas industry as a key cornerstone of the state’s economy.

“It’s lifting up entire communities, creating and supporting many thousands of jobs well beyond gas production,” Corbett said in his Feb. 4 budget address.

But state records show the gas industry has not created as many jobs as state officials have claimed. In addition, the state’s estimates of ancillary job growth have been inflated to include employment in places drilling isn’t even taking place, further skewing the impact the natural gas industry has had on employment.

The number of jobs directly associated with Marcellus Shale’s six “core industries,” including drilling, extraction and pipeline construction, declined by 29 percent to 29,926 between the fourth quarters of 2010 and 2013, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry’s January labor report. The report is based on employer surveys collected for federal unemployment data and has been produced using the same analysis since Gov. Ed Rendell‘s administration.

The number of core gas jobs accounts for less than 1 percent of the state’s nearly 5.8 million jobs.

Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni defended the administration’s record on jobs in the shale industry and its training efforts. He said the state and governor support all forms of industry equally, and has numerous programs to help train workers in the event of a downturn in the local economy or job sector.

“The commonwealth and the governor support local communities in not only the Marcellus industry but in all industry,” Pagni said in an email. “Activities abound in attracting new business to the state, ensuring that services are available to companies while they manufacture, produce, create, etc. and support the workforce through job training and retraining efforts should a company choose to leave.”

All industries go through a natural cycle, Pagni said. The workforce and activities associated change and adapt, he said.

“If a well is not being drilled, jobs continue to flourish in the trucking and transport because it is still producing,” Pagni said. “These activities will continue to provide economic benefit to communities as the industry moves from flow to ebb.”

While the core Marcellus Shale jobs are declining, the Labor Department claims the number of ancillary jobs indirectly tied to the natural gas industry has increased 8 percent to 212,000.

But that increase is not based solely on employment trends in the counties where more than 7,000 wells are permitted to be drilled.

The report includes statewide employment trends in trucking, engineering, highway construction and about two dozen other career sectors. So jobs in the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia and other areas where there are no wells have been counted as ancillary gas jobs.

Labor Department spokeswoman Sara Goulet defended the report, saying the data on core jobs show a concentration of drilling, extraction and construction jobs has increased in the state’s northern tier and southwest corner, where drilling is being done.

But trying to quantify the ancillary jobs data is hard, Goulet said, because the number of ancillary jobs has increased in the drilling regions, too. But since there is no way to determine if the jobs are tied to the gas industry, she said, it makes sense to list statewide employment numbers.

“Employers don’t state, ‘That’s a Marcellus Shale construction job’ in the employer survey that counts jobs,” Goulet said. “It is not a perfect science, but it does give a fair picture of those ancillary industries’ growth as it pertains to [Marcellus Shale] and the time period when those industries started to experience significant growth.”

The shale industry is creating support jobs statewide even if they are in Delaware County, said Kravis Windle, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group in Pittsburgh.

“As President Obama‘s energy secretary stated last week, responsible shale development is creating ‘economic prosperity’ across Pennsylvania and beyond,” Windle said in an email. “Not only are tens of thousands of good-paying jobs being created at well sites and pipeline construction projects across the commonwealth, but with Pennsylvania now the nation’s second largest shale-producing state — accounting for nearly 20 percent of all U.S. natural gas production — many other support industries are realizing these benefits.”

There is no question the drilling industry has had a positive impact in communities, said Mark Price, a labor economist with Keystone Research Center, an economic policy group with ties to several labor unions. The Labor Department report on core drilling jobs does a good job of capturing that impact through its employment report of the gas industry, he said.

But the ancillary report is bloated and useless, Price said. The shale industry has led to more engineering and trucking jobs, he said. But it’s hard to believe every engineer or trucker in the state is working in the gas industry as the Labor Department reports, he said.

“The ancillary is gobbledygoop,” he said.

The Labor Department cannot publish a county-level jobs report because of privacy issues, Price said. The report would be so narrow it would be easy to identify companies by name, which would violate private unemployment rights, he said. With that legal difficulty, Price said, the state should not publish a statewide ancillary report because it cannot accurately track which jobs support the shale industry.


Copyright © 2014, The Morning Call

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Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

A critical view on some of the issues surrounding shale gas in South Africa


First written for and published in DAILY MAVERICK February 14 2014 

A dilemma of extraordinary proportions confronts world leaders as they wrestle with ‘the fraternal twins[1] of peril and opportunity typically the choice between economic growth and sustainable progress. This article intends to make a case for cautious investigation (critical thought)– a science-based analysis of the actual experiences that must ultimately inform policy – it is not a blanket statement that proponents of shale gas mining are wrong or that the converse applies.

Spanning cultures and continents, shale gas is typified by a commonality of benefit and risk. Energy, jobs, revenue, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are four key areas that arrest the attention of any government. Stacked against the elephant in the room – the risk of environmental, and ultimately economic damage – these considerations project shale gas into a ranking as the most widely debated[2] fossil fuel in more than two hundred years. Four primary areas define the broad environment in which we approach a discussion on shale gas: community, environment, development and sustainability. Interdependent and universal, each is of itself and in relation to its counterparts, undeniably central to the survival of humanity.

It follows logically that a review of shale gas mining commences with acknowledgement of the dynamics driving its development.  Barely ten years ago shale gas was unknown in the realm of many governments and in the minds of a majority of people – speculation over Peak Oil and the end of the fossil fuel age was endemic, and Oil & Gas companies were turning to ever more expensive and risky sources of carbon – colloquially labeled extreme energy.

Economics, climate change, science, politics and corporate goals

Author and expert on natural resource issues, Michael T. Klare[3] puts it thus: “The pursuit of untapped oil and mineral reserves in remote and hazardous locations, is part of a larger, more significant phenomenon: a concerted drive by governments and resource firms to gain control over whatever remains of the world’s resource base.”

If economics informs government opinion, the touchstone of the ‘prosperity’ argument is development, with the measure of GDP naturally pegged as the definitive gauge of the health and wealth of a people. Economists predominantly calculate growth projections on what has been, and remarkably – even in the face of the global resource debate – still produce reports that refuse to even acknowledge the environmental and social costs of specific developments. Despite the advent of environmental economics based theory and supporting documents penned from within the economist community, modern economics in practice appear to have had little effect in modifying the GDP[4]-based clarion call of ‘upward and onward.’ A 2009 report from Boston University, states: “GDP is dangerously inadequate as a measure of quality of life,” yet within the context of shale gas in South Africa it is largely the anticipated contribution of shale gas mining to GDP that has elected officials already revising GNP, jobs and economic growth forecasts. Vast numbers (R80-R200 billion) and substantial percentages 3.3%-9.6% of GDP abound. Unsurprisingly the government appears to accept, apparently at face value, the predictions of economists paid by Oil & Gas multinationals. Meagre attention seems to have been expended on the base model applied to develop such numbers, and divergent opinions generated by well-published economists are greeted with silence.

The notion that exponential global growth, fueled by traditional energy sources will meet the needs of humanity is ingrained and commonly accepted to the extent that it is claimed by some that the world is not running out of resources.

A malady of pessimism, as undesirable as such may be, should not be countered with unrestrained optimism. Gore[5] writes “Our natural and healthy preference for optimism about the future is difficult to reconcile with the gnawing concerns expressed by many that all is not well, and that left to its own devices the future may be unfolding in ways that threaten some of the human values we most cherish.”

Climate change

One of the key arguments promoted by environmentalists is anthropogenic climate change[6]. Whether or not human activities cause or affect climate change is probably the most central issue in the debate, which itself, (climate change) is underwritten by hundreds of thousands of articles and studies. The climate change debate is relevant to shale mining inasmuch as it is claimed by big Oil & Gas that a change from coal to shale gas will deliver a great reduction in carbon emissions. Avoiding a discussion around the merits of shutting down a global coal industry and the naïve assumption that unburned and accessible coal will be left in the ground, and referencing again the claim of cleaner burning shale gas lowering overall emissions, consider this report by the Guardian quoting BP chief economist, Christof Ruehl – “Shale gas – previously inaccessible because the exploitation of these resources requires technology only recently perfected (sic)– will account for a rising proportion of the growth in energy in the years to 2035, but its use will not cause a decline in greenhouse gases.” Prefacing the report is the astonishing strapline; “BP study predicts greenhouse emissions will rise by almost a third in 20 years – Energy firm’s analysis finds switch to other fuels like shale gas will do little to cut carbon emissions.”

Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Ian Rutherford Plimer credits the greatest carbon emissions as emanating from Australian brush fires and active volcanoes. Denouncing efforts to address anthropogenic causes of global warming – and in fact the holistic concept, Plimer gives the idea that there is little that we can do except sit back and enjoy the ride.  ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is ostensibly of the same mind about the outcome in his statement, “What good does it do to save the planet if humanity suffers?”  Tillerson is reported to have saidWe can’t pull up, we’re going in, brace for impact” – an analogy of the language that would be used by the captain of an airliner in a terminal dive. Making Tillerson’s statement even more baffling are reports that ExxonMobil as an organisation has invested heavily in climate change denial. Asserting that nine out of ten ‘top[7]’ climate change deniers are or alleged to be linked to ExxonMobil, the report reviews the efforts of big industry, including the Koch Brothers to cement climate change denial.

Pointing to 938 papers cited in an article by Carbon Brief [8], the text reveals that 186 of the articles were written by only ten men, and foremost among them was Dr Sherwood B Idso, who personally authored 67 of the articles. Idso is the president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, an ExxonMobil funded think tank. The second most prolific was Dr Patrick J Michaels, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who receives roughly 40% of his funding from the oil industry.

Whatever the ultimate conclusion of the climate change discussion, two facts are undeniable – one – climate change is a convenient issue for both sides of the shale gas debate to use to their advantage; and two – big industry can throw tens of millions of dollars at it as long as it suits them to do so.


Granting the last two points, (economics and climate change) are grounded in science, it is necessary to examine the term ‘science’ holistically, and with specific reference to shale gas in South Africa. An assessment of the shale gas debate in South African media will establish that both sides make use of ‘scientific’ reports that suit their viewpoint. Plato, in Republic wrote, “When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions.” The nexus with shale gas in South Africa is evident: the world’s scientific community cannot reach consensus on the claims raised by both sides of the shale gas argument. A Green Paper on the importance of “scientific evidence-based policy-making” published by Janez Potočnik; Commissioner for Science and Research at the United Nations describes a resilient method for approaching policy decisions, especially on large scale. Potočnik writes “… ’Bridging the gap’ between science and policy is not a technical issue. It is a political, economic, social and cultural issue. It is about an encounter between politicians and scientists, often with the necessary help of citizens themselves.” The United States Environmental Protection Agency affords scientific policy appropriate gravity in its own Scientific Integrity Policy affirming, “Science is the backbone of the EPA’s decision-making.” The EPA also describes ‘science’ as an expansive term that references the full spectrum of scientific endeavors – basic science, applied science, engineering, technology, economics, social sciences, and statistics.

I don’t believe that South Africans can, at this juncture be shown that the Government policy on shale gas has been scientifically informed to the extent that a decision on a technology of the scope and scale of shale gas ought to be. Writing on the claims of climate change believers, a local journalist pronounces “This is simply bad science, conducted by scientists whose careers are on the line, paid for by investors with a stake in the outcome and politicians who want the moral cloak of playing saviour in a crisis. Clinging to received (sic) dogma, by repeating hoary arguments unilluminated by new facts demonstrates an abdication of critical thought that is not conducive to credible science.” On the basis that this statement applies equally to climate change deniers and their allies in governments – I agree wholeheartedly.

Politics and corporate goals

Gore[9] in his book The Future writes “The idea of making truly meaningful collective decisions in democracy … is naïve, even silly, according to those who have long since placed their faith in the future not in human hands, but in the invisible hand of the marketplace.” He continues “By tolerating the routine use of wealth to distort, degrade, and corrupt the process of democracy, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to use the ‘last best hope’ to find a sustainable path for humanity through the most disruptive and chaotic changes civilization has ever confronted.” Of the US Congress, he says, “its members are still ‘representatives’ but the vast majority of them now represent the people and corporations who donate money, not the people who vote in their congressional districts.”

According to the SA government, shale gas extraction can be done safely and economically, will bring great riches and prosperity to South Africans, and concurrently solve our energy and carbon emission challenges. I don’t believe that our leaders have properly discharged their duty to the citizens of this country in arriving at their public decision on shale gas – and I submit that in election year it is time for you to think critically about whether to pick more fruit off the poisoned tree – or stop watering it.

[1]   Gore, Al.  The Future, 1st ed., Random House Publishing Group, New York. (2013).

[2] Having regard for the relatively brief period in which shale gas has been debated when compared to other energy sources

[3]  Klare, Michael T.  The Race for What’s Left, 1st ed., Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC New York, New York 10010 (2012), 996. (Pages 12, 13)

[4] Stiglitz, J. E., Sen, A. & Fitoussi, J.-P. Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress Vol. 12 (Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, 2009). Also Costanza, R., Hart, M., Posner, S. & Talberth, J. Beyond GDP: The Need for New Measures of Progress (Boston University, 2009).

[5] Ibid

[7] A label ascribed, within the context of the report, to the most prolific writers supporting climate change skepticism.

[9] Ibid

FRACKNATION co-director exposed by anti-fracking lobby group

Phelim McAleer, co-director of pro-fracking film, FrackNation published an article of what, in his view, constitute the ten biggest lies about fracking. Not one to mince his words, McAleer, drawing on his personal experience of fracking during the production of FrackNation pointed at those opposed to fracking as liars.

His viewpoint was quickly endorsed by some, including local Opinionista Ivo Vegter, who had the following to say on Twitter about McAleer’s article:

Vegter McAleer alliance

Treasure Karoo Action Group has responded to McAleer’s article and by default to Mr Vegter’s assertion that the article contains ‘substantive points that the TKAG can’t answer‘. We assert that McAleer himself is either a poorly informed filmmaker, who may have followed an industry-created script or a liar. We assert too that any person, having sufficient knowledge of shale gas mining to write and debate on the topic, who aligns themselves with McAleer’s article is either misinformed, or also a liar. We assert finally, that the TEN BIG FAT LIES published by McAleer have been answered.
In closing, we share a Tweet by McAleer on December 6 2013.

McAleer Mandela Joke





Click on the link below to read McAleer’s lies and TKAG’s response.

Co-director of FrackNation caught lying about fracking

Ten big fat lies about fracking



The director of FrackNation explodes the myths put about by fracktivists.

Phelim McAleer, an Irish filmmaker based in America whose pro-fracking movieFrackNation is described by the New York Times as ‘meticulously researched and provocative’, has had his fair share of run-ins with ‘fracktivists’. Here, he picks apart the 10 biggest lies told by the anti-fracking lobby.

1) Anti-fracking activists are nice people who love debate

Actually, far from being liberal, open-minded souls bringing truth to power in a kinder, gentler way, anti-fracking activists have chosen a new disposition: angry! I guess no one told the fracktivists that just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean we can’t get along. Watch Vera Scroggins, for example.

Vera, an anti-fracking, Sierra Club-endorsed activist from Pennsylvania, adds to the ‘dialogue’ with such constructive comments as:

‘You’re a freak.’
‘You’re a male prostitute.’
‘You’re an Irish freak. Go drink some alcohol.’
‘Go get drunk and be a drunken Irish freak.’
‘You’re an alien. You look like a f***ing alien.’

Or take actor and activist Alec Baldwin. In the run-up to a debate about fracking in the Hamptons that he was taking part in, following a screening of the anti-fracking movie Gasland, Baldwin approached the New York Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) to see if it could suggest a speaker who was not as anti-fracking as the other speakers on the panel. IOGA suggested me as an independent voice, a journalist with an international perspective who has researched fracking for over two years in two continents. But suddenly Baldwin was no longer interested in debate or diversity of opinion, and he vetoed me from the panel. Then, a few hours later, he popped up on Twitter and posted the following:

@phelimmcaleer Come debate me, Phelim, you lumpy old gas whore. Who’s paying you?
— ABFoundation, 1 June 2013

@phelimmcaleer Phelim, you are a dreadful filmmaker. But come debate me, you tired old bullshitter.
— @ABFalecbaldwin, 1 June 2013

Sean Lennon – son of peace activists John Lennon and Yoko Ono – thought that someone who disagreed with him on fracking was a good ‘argument for abortion’.

Or, if you’re still not convinced, just peruse the comments on my movie’sFacebook page left by anti-fracking activists. Such pleasant people!

2) Everyone hates fracking

From news coverage, you would think that everyone in America hates fracking. Even the name sounds awful. Who could support such a terrible practice?

Well, it turns out that just about everyone who lives with it loves it.

Dimock, Pennsylvania is one place where all journalists reported that everyone hates fracking. Yes, there were 11 families in the village involved in a very lucrative lawsuit with an oil-and-gas company, and the journalists always interviewed them. But they completely ignored a petition signed by 1,500 people in the community who said their water was fine and had not been affected by fracking. What is 11 out of 1,500? Less than 1%. It’s the 99% who support fracking.

There is one other group that is opposed to fracking in Pennsylvania – the New York elite. This coalition of grumpy hipsters and celebrities have holiday homes in Pennsylvania, or they’re concerned that if a new industry brings wealth and progress to PA then the ‘traditional’ (read poor) way of life there will be destroyed.

So once or twice a year, the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon and Yoko Ono get bussed in from the city to meet disgruntled locals, and then are chauffeured back to their gas-heated homes after another day of successfully blocking natural-gas development.

If you want proof positive that communities love fracking, look no further than the ballot box. Consider this US Businessweek report on the 2012 election: ‘Anti-fracking candidates in the Southern Tier [New York] were beaten up and down the ballot after intense campaigns, some of which were framed as referendums on shale-gas development.’

At least 20 anti-fracking candidates were rejected by New York voters (New York is supposed to be the heartland of anti-fracking sentiment). But hey, keep protesting, fracktivists – after all, democracy is for the little people, and you can walk all over them on your way to your next starry TV interview about the ‘evils’ of fracking.

3) Fracking is brand new and untested

Pop quiz: how long has fracking been around? Here are your choices:

a) Since 2010
b) Since 1990
c) Since 1975
d) Since 1960

Sorry, you’re wrong. Trick question. The first fracked well was in 1947! And more than one million wells have been fracked in the US since then (2.5million worldwide). In terms of industrial processes, it doesn’t get much older or more thoroughly tested than fracking.

4) Fracking makes your water flammable

No lie about fracking is more widely believed than this old canard. It was popularised by Josh Fox in his HBO-funded documentary, Gasland. In it he shows a man who can light his tap water on fire, supposedly because of fracking.

I asked Josh about reports that some people could light their water before fracking occurred. He didn’t like this question.

He eventually admitted that he knew people could light their tap water on fire decades before fracking ever started but chose not to include this fact in his documentary because ‘it wasn’t relevant’.

There are three places in the US called Burning Springs, and there are historical records of people lighting their water since the 1600s.

5) Fracking contaminates drinking water

If fracking doesn’t make your water flammable, it must at least contaminate it with dangerous chemicals, right?

Not according to Lisa Jackson, the former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and no friend to big business. She testified before Congress that there have been zero proven cases of water contamination due to fracking.

That’s right – one million fracked wells later, there are no examples of contaminated water anywhere. Zero. This is the anti-fracking playbook. Scare people, get media attention. And when the science comes in debunking the scare story, move on to the next scare story.

6) Fracking uses a lot of dangerous chemicals

Fracking fluid is 98.5% water, 1% sand, and 0.5% chemical additives. Some of these additives are also used in making ice cream! Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, drank fracking fluid to prove its safety to his local residents.

But these are still chemicals and we should be scared of them – that is the cry of the fracktivists. But water is a chemical. Coffee has a whole bunch of chemicals in it. Everything is a chemical. Don’t be duped by bad science (like the people these American comedians convinced to ban the scary sounding ‘dihydrogen monoxide’).

7) Fracking causes breast cancer

In his short film, The Sky is Pink, Josh Fox claimed that a spike in breast cancer in Texas was a result of fracking. Turns out he was wrong. Again. (Seems like a theme for Josh.)

The Associated Press interviewed leading cancer researchers who all concluded: there was no spike.

Did Fox apologise for scaring women and families? No. He’s an environmental activist. The media don’t ask him difficult questions or demand that he clears the record. Less than a year later, HBO released Gasland Part 2, Fox’s sequel about the dangers of fracking. There was no mention of breast cancer in it, and he has never withdrawn his original claim. This is the anti-fracking playbook. Scare people, get media attention. And when the science comes in debunking the scare story, move on to the next scare story.

8) Fracking uses a ton of water

Even fracking fans have a hard time swallowing the water stats for fracked wells: the EPA estimates that fracking used between 70 and 140 billion gallons of water in 2011. That sounds like a lot of H2O. Unless you have a lawn.

Americans use 20 times more water on their lawns than they do on fracking.

9) Fracking should be banned because it causes earthquakes

One of the scarier arguments against fracking is that it causes earthquakes, especially if you live in a tectonically charged US state, like I do. Yet all activity under the ground affects the earth, and if you don’t like this fact then you should also campaign to ban supposedly eco-friendly hydro-power, which actually hascaused earthquakes (but they only affected Indians, so environmentalists don’t care – just so long as the energy created was ‘sustainable’).

But the biggest cause of man-made earthquakes is the environmentalists’ favourite power source: geo-thermal. It seems that some earthquakes are more equal than others.

10) Fracking destroys the landscape and disturbs bucolic rural America

The process of fracking (which is separate from drilling) is noisy and looks messy – for a few days. Then the land is reclaimed and the industry moves on to the next area. All the scary photos of huge machinery and big trucks are taken during this initial process. Which is a bit like photographing the building site of a half-built house and saying all house-building should be banned. As a filmmaker, my biggest problem was trying to film working gas wells in a way that would look interesting. They are tiny and often hidden behind hills or behind bushes and trees.

Oh, and fracking does create traffic. That claim is true. Locals call this ‘jobs’. They generally like it. They may complain sometimes but they know that the only thing worse than traffic in rural America is no traffic.

Phelim McAleer is co-director of FrackNation.

Coming out clearly and unsurprisingly, on the side of the pro-fracking lobby, McAleer, proclaims ten ‘big fat lies’ that in his view are propagated by anti-fracking activists.

This critical review of his claims is intended as a factual evaluation.

Lie No. 1 Anti-fracking activists are nice people who love debate

I’m not sure that the adjective ‘nice’ is relevant to a debate on any subject, nor whether it is incumbent on debaters to ‘love’ debating. Having led an anti-fracking campaign in South Africa for three years, it is not my experience that any serious environmentalist, or debater for that matter, relies on being ‘nice’ to score rhetorical or actual victories.

Nevertheless, accepting, for the time being, McAleer’s application of ‘nice and ‘love’’ and the supposed claim thereof by the anti-fracking camp, prompts me to share just one of my own experiences with you.

The following Tweets about me were posted (by a pro-fracker) around April 15th, when I was in San Francisco to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa. They were posted by Nick Grealy, aka @shalegasexpert, who hails from London and professes to ‘working to de-risk the aboveground in shale energy.’

Grealy, at the time of these tweets proclaimed on his Twitter profile that ‘Shale gas is far too important to be politicised’. It is relevant that Grealy had never met or spoken to me personally and so had no personal knowledge of me, or of my political persuasion.  I quote the Tweet and then explain what material (if any accompanied it).

Tweet 1: “Saw this and thought of @timelesskaroo” (The published picture was a signboard from decades ago in South Africa, posted at public facilities, and saying (reserved for white people).

Tweet 2: “Bury gas and bury black people, the @timelesskaroo way”.  (the link is to a video in which I was interviewed by BBC London).

Tweet 3: “Part of the Karoo that J Deal wants to keep timeless. And reserved for the those (sic) with more interest in the earth. (The picture is of a slum dwelling in SA)”

Tweet 4: “The $150,000 prize for @timelesskaroo is dedicated to preserving the earth. Especially this part of it? (Another picture of a slum dwelling)”

Tweet 5: “The new apartheid: Greens v everyone else … “(Same link to the BBC interview, now using Apartheid)”

Tweet 6: “The Truth behind @tonybosworth South African pals (link not working). …”

Tweet 7: “@goldmanprize The majority view from South Africa on your sickening support for Jonathan Deal. (Link no longer available, but appears to have been about the pro-fracking group – Karoo Shale Gas Forum.)

Tweet 8:“Thanks to Street View we can [sic] what @goldmanprize is preserving in Graaf-Reinet via a $150K prize to @TimelessKaroo” (Another view of a street in a poor area).

Tweet 9: “SA fracking warrior is the Green de Klerk, not Mandela @goldmanprize @RHarrabin @tonybosworth … “(Another link to the BBC video, this time juxtaposing me as De Klerck with President Mandela.)

Tweet 10: “@tonybosworth Torturing is what your mates in South Africa do to keep people in poverty.”

The point here is to reveal that in every individual or collective ego, one may identify and expose aspects that are not ‘nice’, and of course to dispense with McAleer’s absurd statement by saying that – for every Baldwin he can find, I can find a Grealy. And that’s no lie.

Lie No. 2 Everyone hates fracking

McAleer doesn’t offer a source for this statement. But let’s accept that he heard it or read it (and can provide the source). I have never, and would never rely on such an obscure statement to support my view on fracking. What does interestingly emerge from McAleer’s views on ‘lie No 2’ is that he may unwittingly or knowingly have propagated a lie of his own. I quote: “Well, it turns out that just about everyone who lives with it loves it,” claims McAleer. Using the town of Dimmock, PA, some NYS election results and a sweeping statement of his own about grumpy hipsters and celebrities against fracking, McAleer conveniently ignores the more than 210 current (and growing) bans, restrictions or moratoria in various countries around the world, on fracking or parts of the shale gas mining process.

McAleer, would do well to substantiate his allegation in defense of ‘lie No2’ by telling readers within the context of his statement what he means by “just about everyone.” Is that 99 out of 100, 500 out of a 1000, 3 out of ten, all the people in one street? No Mr. McAleer, I don’t believe your claim, or the claim that everyone hates fracking. I wonder if this factual void is a benchmark for the truthfulness of your film?

Lie No. 3 Fracking is brand new and untested

Once again, we’ve never used that line in the way that you present it, and although I have heard it used, it certainly does not represent the mainstream and informed anti-fracking view. Your ‘quiz’ just went ‘pop.’ Why? Simply because you disingenuously seek to do exactly what the real liars (the oil and gas industry do), when referring to fracking. Simply put, a ‘good ole boy’ wildcatter in Texas in 1947, using dynamite to frack a well is a long stretch from high-volume, horizontal, slickwater fracking that has been commercially practiced for less than 15 years. McAleer also claims 2.5 million fracks (1.5 million outside of the US) – proof please?

Here, in the interests of sparing you further embarrassment, should you choose to repeat this tripe, are some facts, with the sources:

Plain, early and rudimentary fraccing

Hydraulic fracturing was introduced in the United States in 1949 by Stanolind Oil. Carl T. Montgomery and Michael B. Smith, NSI Technologies[1] in ‘Hydraulic fracturing – History of an Enduring Technology’, write: “Fracturing can be traced to
the 1860s, when liquid (and later, solidified) nitroglycerin (NG) was used to stimulate shallow, hard
rock wells in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Although extremely hazardous, 
and often used illegally, NG was spectacularly successful for oil well “shooting.” The object of shooting a well was to break up, or rubblize, [sic] the oil-bearing formation to increase both initial flow and ultimate recovery of oil. This same fracturing principle was soon applied with equal effectiveness to water and gas wells.”

“In the 1930s, the idea of injecting a non-explosive [sic] fluid (acid) into the ground to stimulate a well began
to be [sic] tried. … [B]ut it was not until Floyd Farris of Stanolind Oil and Gas Corporation (Amoco) performed an in-depth study to establish a relationship between observed well performance and treatment pressures that “formation breakdown” … became better understood. From this work, Farris conceived the idea of hydraulically fracturing a formation to enhance production from oil and gas wells.”

“The first experimental treatment to ‘Hydrafrac’ a well for stimulation was performed in the Hugoton gas field in Grant County, Kansas, in 1947 by Stanolind Oil. … [D]eliverability of the well did not change appreciably, but it was a start. In 1948, the Hydrafrac process was introduced more widely to the industry in a paper written by J.B. Clark of Stanolind Oil. A patent was issued in 1949, with an exclusive license granted to the Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company (Howco) to pump the new Hydrafrac process.”

“Howco performed the first two commercial fracturing treatments— … in Archer County, Texas—on March 17, 1949. In the first year, 332 wells were treated. Treatments reached more than 3,000 wells a month for stretches during the mid-1950s. The first one-half- million-pound fracturing job in the free world was performed in October 1968, by Pan American Petroleum Corporation (later Amoco, now BP) in Stephens County, Oklahoma. In 2008, more than 50,000 frac stages were completed worldwide at a
cost of anywhere between USD 10,000 and USD 6 million. It is now common to have from eight to as many as 40 frac stages in a single well.”

The chronology of high-volume, horizontal, slickwater fracturing

It is accurate to say that hydro-fracking has been done for over sixty years[2]in the United States. It is inaccurate to infer that the relatively new process of high-volume, horizontal, slickwater fraccing has been practiced for over 60 years. There is ample evidence to prove that the advent of modern-day ‘fraccing’ in the United States is recorded as coming into commercial production during the 1990’s. “The first horizontal shale gas well was drilled in 1991; the first slick water fracture took place in 1996; and the use of cluster drilling from one pad in 2007.”[3]

SourceWatch[4] confirms:

“According to Slate, the US DOE subsidized George P. Mitchell’s Mitchell Energy “to drill its first horizontal wells, covering any costs beyond a typical vertical well, and the federal government provided unconventional gas tax credits. The Bureau of Economic Geology created high-resolution images of rock surfaces that yielded information about their porosity. Union Pacific Resources, the Fort Worth-based exploration and Production Company, shared its superior method for hydraulic fracturing. DOE’s Sandia Labs contributed micro seismic fracture mapping software that helped the operator make adjustments to improve the flow of gas. Mitchell put it all together, and by the time he sold his company to Devon Energy in 2002, the idea of extracting natural gas from shale was about to turn from technological pipe dream to very real economic powerhouse.”

[SourceWatch quotes]: “According to Cornell University engineer Anthony Ingraffea, only in the last two decades have four different technologies made it possible to fracture deep shale rock formations one to two kilometers underground. They include directional drilling (wells that go down a kilometer and then extend horizontally for another kilometer): the use of millions of litres of fracturing fluids including sand, water and toxic chemicals; slick water (the use of gels and high fluid volumes at 100 barrels a minute) and multi-well pad and cluster drilling (the drilling of six to nine wells from one industrial platform).”

McAleer’s lie No. 3 about lie No. 3 dispensed with.

Lie No. 4 Fracking makes your water flammable

McAleer rightfully points out this highly contested issue. There is no doubt that methane has and does occur naturally in water aquifers in many countries around the world. Shrewdly, McAleer focuses on instances relating to Josh Fox’s controversial film, but chooses to ignore evidence from independent tests that show increased methane levels in areas where natural gas drilling has taken place. I don’t forward this observation as defense of the statement that ‘Fracking makes your water flammable’ as there are most certainly places where drilling has taken place where people are not lighting their water on fire. However, the opposite (as McAleer seems to suggest by labeling this statement a lie) i.e. Fracking does not make your water flammable is similarly untrue.

McAleer’s lie No 4. About methane in water up in hot air.

Lie No. 5 Fracking contaminates drinking water

Assuming that he has banked the last point, (on flammable water) McAleer, points those opposed to fracking as desperately seeking proof of some other nefarious side effect of fracking. “If fracking doesn’t make your water flammable, it must at least contaminate it with dangerous chemicals, right?” McAleer quotes Lisa Jackson from the EPA, but conveniently fails to place in context for the reader, the many non-disclosure agreements signed between gas drillers and people who have left the homes that they used to live in. Some of the homes within 30 minutes drive from the where the star of Fracknation lives.

But the self-administered coup de grace in connection with this ‘Lie number 5’ is this statement from McAleer’s own pen: ‘That’s right – one million fracked wells later, there are no examples of contaminated water anywhere. Zero.’ Rewind. Did you write one million fracked wells? What happened to 2.5 million?  

McAleer sets the scene for his next exposē by suggesting that science has debunked the ‘scare story’ and so anti-frackers, ‘move on to the next scare story’.

6) Fracking uses a lot of dangerous chemicals

McAleer faithfully repeats the proportions of water, proppants and chemicals quoted by the gas drillers. Linking the word ‘chemical’ with such acceptable substances as coffee, toothpaste and ice-cream, McAleer quotes Governor Hickenlooper (whose state is currently facing a plethora of fracking bans – from all those people ‘who live with fracking and love it’) as having consumed fracking water on TV. Now, sure as God made little apples, McAleer, Hickenlooper and anyone possessed of basic skills of deduction and reasoning know full well that if three samples of fracking flowback water are selected from three different states in an independent, random and scientifically-monitored selection process, neither Hickenlooper, nor McAleer, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger would chug it down. And that’s the truth! McAleer neglects to point out that .5% by volume in a 5 million gallon (20 million liter frack job) will be around 25 to 30 tons of liquid and solid chemicals. That’s an awful lot of toothpaste, coffee and ice cream Phelim.

Lie No. 7 Fracking causes breast cancer

Well, perhaps the lie could be rephrased to say, “If you are exposed to sufficient dosages of fracking related chemicals via air, water, direct, or secondary contact, it may result in breast or other cancers.”

Dr. Theo Colborn, (who surely must be known to one able to write so authoritatively on fracking as McAleer does) has written and lectured widely on the human health and environmental threat posed by endocrine disruptors and other industrially produced chemicals at low concentrations in the environment.

Dr. Colborn serves as the President of TEDX and holds the academic rank of Professor Emeritus, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. TEDX’s programs and finances are overseen by a Board of Directors, whose specialties include public health service, environmental policy development and analysis, environmental advocacy, medical ethics, philosophy and children’s environmental health.

In the experience of Treasure Karoo Action Group, TEDX[5] reports are peer-reviewed.

Perhaps the so-called lie should be turned around – seeing as it is framed as a lie: ‘fracking doesn’t cause breast cancer’? Who would be lying then?

Lie number 8 Fracking uses a ton of water

Oh, my word! Is McAleer writing for primary school children? Even people that live in other countries can do the math on that one. The documented issues surrounding water and fracking, wherever the technology is taking place, are well known, and by attempting to sweep them under the carpet with such a meaningless comparison, McAleer exposes himself as an inexpert liar.

Lie No. 9 Fracking should be banned because it causes earthquakes

No lie. But that’s not the only reason that fracking should be banned. Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas have their own case studies by scientists from both sides of the debate. The link between fracking and earthquakes under certain circumstances and parameters is conclusive. It does not automatically follow that seismic activity is a reason for a blanket global ban on fracking. In areas where additional man-induced seismic activity could result in earthquakes that may damage property, aquifers or endanger human life, there is a good reason to ban it in that location. Not clever to hang the whole point on an extreme, Phelim.

Lie No. 10 Fracking destroys the landscape and disturbs bucolic rural [sic] America.

One statement (excluding the tautology) that I am prepared to support, with a proviso. Fracking destroys the landscape where it takes place and disturbs ‘bucolic’ rural America.

McAleer endeavours to skillfully dismember fracking from shale gas mining by writing: ‘the process of fracking (which is separate from drilling) is noisy and looks messy – for a few days…’ He goes so far as to write that ‘working gas wells’ are ‘tiny and often hidden behind hills or behind bushes and trees’.

Perhaps I could make use of this opportunity to supplement the No. 10 lie with one that McAleer, based on his text, appears to suggest: “You don’t need any part of the shale gas mining process to frack – you just arrive with a big pipe, frack the ground, take the gas and go.”

Enough already. If any serious pro-gas adult is prepared to align themselves with the TEN BIG FAT LIES of McAleer, they deserve to be treated with the same derision and amusement afforded the stars of Dumb and Dumber and Beavis and Butthead.

It is remarkable that the director of a film so enthusiastically endorsed by oil & gas and Opportunista’s would place his supporters in the position of defending his (may I use the word again) tripe. Anyone with experience in the issues of the global shale gas debate that is prepared to endorse and propagate what McAleer has written here is either stupid or a big fat liar.

[1] Montgomery, Carl T and Smith, Michael B.

[2] Shell South Africa Country Chairman, Bonang Mohale, on behalf of Royal Dutch Shell in SA 2011. Claim repeated frequently by Shell executives in South Africa.

[3] Andrew Nikiforuk, “Shale Gas: Myth and Realities,” The Tyee, Jan 7, 2013.

[4] SourceWatch is a publication distributed by the The Center for Media and Democracy.

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In an unsurprising role reversal, a pro-fracker has weighed in to my review of Phelim McAleer’s article. It appears that it’s not only anti-frackers who are angry. In one fell swoop @informedblackmn has demonstrated that McAleer’s first point (Lie No. 1) is as believable as his claim that he is ‘an independent voice, a journalist with an international perspective who has researched fracking for over two years in two continents’. Read on to follow the whole story.

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