Colorado River shrinks in 14 year drought while Fracker’s play on its banks

A recent article by the exposed director of Fracknation in which he made a mockery of anti-fracking claims about the amount of water used in fracking, flies in the face of fact in more than one way. While he jests about water and fracking, communities in the South West may be bracing for a shortage of water for basic living.


Phelim McAleer posted a story ( exposing what he claimed are the ten biggest lies told by the anti-fracking lobby. Here is what he said about the supposed lie that fracking uses a lot of water:
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.

Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States

To help the Colorado, federal authorities this year will for the first time reduce the water flow into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, created by Hoover Dam. JIM WILSON / THE NEW YORK TIMES
January 5, 2014

LAKE MEAD, Nev. — The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.

The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads.

But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished.

Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland.

A connector will link the existing water infrastructure to a tunnel being built under Lake Mead.


Reclamation officials say there is a 50-50 chance that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed to states downstream. That, too, has never happened before.

“If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000” — 1,000 feet above sea level — “we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada,” said John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Since 2008, Mr. Entsminger’s agency has been drilling an $817 million tunnel under Lake Mead — a third attempt to capture more water as two higher tunnels have become threatened by the lake’s falling level. In September, faced with the prospect that one of the tunnels could run dry before the third one was completed, the authority took emergency measures: still another tunnel, this one to stretch the life of the most threatened intake until construction of the third one is finished.

These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly.

The labyrinthine rules by which the seven Colorado states share the river’s water are rife with potential points of conflict. And while some states have made huge strides in conserving water — and even reducing the amount they consume — they have yet to chart a united path through shortages that could last years or even decades.

“There is no planning for a continuation of the drought we’ve had,” said one expert on the Colorado’s woes, who asked not to be identified to preserve his relationship with state officials. “There’s always been within the current planning an embedded hope that somehow, things would return to something more like normal.”

Unfortunately, the Colorado during most of Lake Mead’s 78-year history was not normal at all.

Studies now show that the 20th century was one of the three wettest of the last 13 centuries in the Colorado basin. On average, the Colorado’s flow over that period was actually 15 percent lower than in the 1900s. And most experts agree that the basin will get even drier: A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same — and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish.

Already, the drought is upending many of the assumptions on which water barons relied when they tamed the Colorado in the 1900s.

The Colorado basin states tried in the 1920s to stave off future fights over water by splitting it, 50-50, between the upper-basin states of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming and the lower-basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California.

In fact, the deal underestimated how much water the fast-growing lower-basin states would need. During most of the wet 20th century, however, the river usually produced more than enough water to offset any shortage.

Now, the gap between need and supply is becoming untenable.

Lake Mead currently stands about 1,106 feet above sea level, and is expected to drop 20 feet in 2014. A continued decline would introduce a new set of problems: At 1,075 feet, rationing begins; at 1,050 feet, a more drastic rationing regime kicks in, and the uppermost water intake for Las Vegas shuts down. At 1,025 feet, rationing grows more draconian; at 1,000 feet, a second Las Vegas intake runs dry.

Lake Powell is another story. There, a 100-foot drop would shut down generators that supply enough electricity to power 350,000 homes.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month forecasts of water levels at Powell and Mead do not contemplate such steep declines. But neither did they foresee the current drought.

“We can’t depend on history to project the future anymore,” Carly Jerla, a geological hydrologist and the reclamation bureau’s Colorado River expert, said in an interview. The drought could end tomorrow, she said — or it could drag on for seven more years.

That raises questions that the states are just beginning to sort out.

The river’s upper-basin states are worried that they might have to curb their consumption to meet their obligations downstream. But the thorniest problems are in the lower basin, where a thicket of political and legal deals has left Arizona holding the bag should the Colorado River continue to diminish.

In the 1960s, California’s legislators demanded first dibs on lower-basin water as a condition of supporting federal legislation to build the Central Arizona Project, a vast web of canals irrigating that state’s farms and cities. Should rationing begin in 2015, Arizona would sacrifice a comparatively small fraction of its Colorado River allotment, while California’s supply would remain intact.

Painful as that would be, though, it could get worse: Should Mead continue to fall, Arizona would lose more than half of its Colorado River water before California lost so much as a drop.

That would have a cascading effect. The Central Arizona Project would lose revenue it gets from selling water, which would raise the price of water to remaining customers, leading farmers to return to pumping groundwater for irrigation — exactly what the Central Arizona Project was supposed to prevent.

“By going back to the pumps, you’ll have made the decision that agriculture will no longer be an industry in central Arizona,” David Modeer, the project’s general manager, said in an interview.

Even Californians doubt Arizona would stand for that, but no successor to the 1960s agreement is in place. And California has a vital interest in holding on to its full allotment of water. The Southern California region using Colorado water is expected to add six million people to the existing 19 million in the next 45 years, and its other water source — the Sierra Nevada to the north — is suffering the same drought and climate problems as the Colorado basin.

“The basic blueprint of our plan calls for a reliable foundation that we then build upon, and that reliable foundation is the Colorado River and Northern California water,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “To the extent we lose one of those supplies, I don’t know that there is enough technology and new supplies to replace them.”

There may be ways to live with a permanently drier Colorado, but none of them are easy. Finding more water is possible — San Diego is already building a desalination plant on the Pacific shore — but there are too few sources to make a serious dent in a shortage.

That leaves conservation, a tack the lower-basin states already are pursuing. Arizona farmers reduce runoff, for example, by using laser technology to ensure that their fields are table flat. The state consumes essentially as much water today as in 1955, even as its population has grown nearly twelvefold.

Working to reduce water consumption by 20 percent per person from 2010 to 2020, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District is recycling sewage effluent, giving away high-efficiency water nozzles and subsidizing items like artificial turf and zero-water urinals.

Southern Nevada’s water-saving measures are in some ways most impressive of all: Virtually all water used indoors, from home dishwashers to the toilets and bathtubs used by the 40 million tourists who visit Las Vegas each year, is treated and returned to Lake Mead. Officials here boast that everyone could take a 20-minute shower every day without increasing the city’s water consumption by a drop.

Moreover, an intensive conservation program slashed the region’s water consumption from 2002 to 2012, even as the area added 400,000 residents.

Even after those measures, federal officials say, much greater conservation is possible. Local officials say they have little choice.

“The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end,” said Mr. Entsminger, the southern Nevada water official. “It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.”

Contaminated controversies attack Opportunistic claims

It has been stated that ‘one by one’ the major claims of anti-frackers have all fallen apart. Here is an article by Associated Press concerning water contamination from gas drilling activities in four American States.

Now of course, the pro-fracking lobby (if indeed, any of this is true) will adroitly retreat behind their hackneyed distinction “But we weren’t fracking at the time”. As if it makes any difference at all at which point of the entire process of shale gas extraction the (alleged) contamination occurred. Bear in mind that the pro-fracking lobby, including international companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and the director of the film Fracknation publicly claim that they are unaware of even 1 case of water contamination in 1 million (Shell) and 2.5 million (McAleer) fracked wells.

So where does that leave us? Well, I have no intention of holding this article by Associated Press up as proof of water contamination. All that I am doing is asking: “In the light of this report, is it factually correct to say that ‘the major claims of anti-frackers have all fallen apart, one by one?” and to further claim that there is ‘no evidence of water contamination from fracking?”

So this is not a ‘loony green’ position, simply a question based on what has been stated and on what is reported by the Associated Press. Perhaps those who allege ‘no contamination’ and deride the claims of the anti-fracking lobby would care to weigh-in on this?

The Big Story


— Jan. 5, 2014 6:07 PM EST

PITTSBURGH (AP) — In at least four states that have nurtured the nation’s energy boom, hundreds of complaints have been made about well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling, and pollution was confirmed in a number of them, according to a review that casts doubt on industry suggestions that such problems rarely happen.

The Associated Press requested data on drilling-related complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas and found major differences in how the states report such problems. Texas provided the most detail, while the other states provided only general outlines. And while the confirmed problems represent only a tiny portion of the thousands of oil and gas wells drilled each year in the U.S., the lack of detail in some state reports could help fuel public confusion and mistrust.

The AP found that Pennsylvania received 398 complaints in 2013 alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells, compared with 499 in 2012. The Pennsylvania complaints can include allegations of short-term diminished water flow, as well as pollution from stray gas or other substances. More than 100 cases of pollution were confirmed over the past five years.

Just hearing the total number of complaints shocked Heather McMicken, an eastern Pennsylvania homeowner who complained about water-well contamination that state officials eventually confirmed.

“Wow, I’m very surprised,” said McMicken, recalling that she and her husband never knew how many other people made similar complaints, since the main source of information “was just through the grapevine.”

The McMickens were one of three families that eventually reached a $1.6 million settlement with a drilling company. Heather McMicken said the state should be forthcoming with details.

Over the past 10 years, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has led to a boom in oil and natural gas production around the nation. It has reduced imports and led to hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue for companies and landowners, but also created pollution fears.

Extracting fuel from shale formations requires pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas. Some of that water, along with large quantities of existing underground water, returns to the surface, and it can contain high levels of salt, drilling chemicals, heavy metals and naturally occurring low-level radiation.

But some conventional oil and gas wells are still drilled, so the complaints about water contamination can come from them, too. Experts say the most common type of pollution involves methane, not chemicals from the drilling process.

Some people who rely on well water near drilling operations have complained about pollution, but there’s been considerable confusion over how widespread such problems are. For example, starting in 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection aggressively fought efforts by the AP and other news organizations to obtain information about complaints related to drilling. The department has argued in court filings that it does not count how many contamination “determination letters” it issues or track where they are kept in its files.

Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the leading industry group in Pennsylvania, said in a statement that “transparency and making data available to the public is critical to getting this historic opportunity right and maintaining the public’s trust.”

When the state Environmental Department determines natural gas development has caused problems, Forde said, “our member companies work collaboratively with the homeowner and regulators to find a speedy resolution.”

Among the findings in the AP’s review:

— Pennsylvania has confirmed at least 106 water-well contamination cases since 2005, out of more than 5,000 new wells. There were five confirmed cases of water-well contamination in the first nine months of 2012, 18 in all of 2011 and 29 in 2010. The Environmental Department said more complete data may be available in several months.

— Ohio had 37 complaints in 2010 and no confirmed contamination of water supplies; 54 complaints in 2011 and two confirmed cases of contamination; 59 complaints in 2012 and two confirmed contaminations; and 40 complaints for the first 11 months of 2013, with two confirmed contaminations and 14 still under investigation, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce said in an email. None of the six confirmed cases of contamination was related to fracking, Bruce said.

— West Virginia has had about 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells over the past four years, and in four cases the evidence was strong enough that the driller agreed to take corrective action, officials said.

— A Texas spreadsheet contains more than 2,000 complaints, and 62 of those allege possible well-water contamination from oil and gas activity, said Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees drilling. Texas regulators haven’t confirmed a single case of drilling-related water-well contamination in the past 10 years, she said.

In Pennsylvania, the number of confirmed instances of water pollution in the eastern part of the state “dropped quite substantially” in 2013, compared with previous years, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz wrote in an email. Two instances of drilling affecting water wells were confirmed there last year, she said, and a final decision hasn’t been made in three other cases. But she couldn’t say how many of the other statewide complaints have been resolved or were found to be from natural causes.

Releasing comprehensive information about gas drilling problems is important because the debate is no longer about just science but trust, said Irina Feygina, a social psychologist who studies environmental policy issues. Losing public trust is “a surefire way to harm” the reputation of any business, Feygina said.

Experts and regulators agree that investigating complaints of water-well contamination is particularly difficult, in part because some regions also have natural methane gas pollution or other problems unrelated to drilling. A 2011 Penn State study found that about 40 percent of water wells tested prior to gas drilling failed at least one federal drinking water standard. Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that don’t have private water-well construction standards.

But other experts say people who are trying to understand the benefits and harms from the drilling boom need comprehensive details about complaints, even if some cases are from natural causes.

In Pennsylvania, the raw number of complaints “doesn’t tell you anything,” said Rob Jackson, a Duke University scientist who has studied gas drilling and water contamination issues. Jackson said he doesn’t think providing more details is asking for too much.

“Right or wrong, many people in the public feel like DEP is stonewalling some of these investigations,” Jackson said of the situation in Pennsylvania.

In contrast with the limited information provided by Pennsylvania, Texas officials supplied a detailed 94-page spreadsheet almost immediately, listing all types of oil and gas related complaints over much of the past two years. The Texas data include the date of the complaint, the landowner, the drilling company and a brief summary of the alleged problems. Many complaints involve other issues, such as odors or abandoned equipment.

Scott Anderson, an expert on oil and gas drilling with the Environmental Defense Fund, a national nonprofit based in Austin, notes that Texas regulators started keeping more data on complaints in the 1980s. New legislation in 2011 and 2013 led to more detailed reports and provided funds for a new information technology system, he said.

Anderson agreed that a lack of transparency fuels mistrust.

“If the industry has nothing to hide, then they should be willing to let the facts speaks for themselves,” he said. “The same goes for regulatory agencies.”



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.

[5] <


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.

Jimmy 2Jimmy 1

SA Shale Gas – a gamble on a house of cards

The latest instalment in a running online debate with @davidjohnson. My response, penned January 02 follows underneath.

Why gamble at all?

January 1, 2014

This is the fifth of five articles in a public debate with Jonathan Deal. The exchange began with my piece We can’t treasure only the Karoo, followed by Jonathan’s David Johnson gets his answer on fracking, my reply A response to Jonathan Deal and Jonathan’s most recent article Are the pro-frackers in SA ready to roll the dice?.

Jonathan has described the scene at a hypothetical casino, with environmentalist and developer players gambling on our planet’s future. There is one gamble which TKAG could help remove from this debate. If this exchange starts that process, it could be a very good thing indeed.

Jonathan referred to developers who “claim a loftier cause”. But when a company suggests it is part of some noble project, surely only the most naïve of people would think the claim anything but a marketing ploy. The game played by the oil and gas sector is financial; they seek loftier profits, not loftier causes. The rival players are other oil and gas companies, their gambles are where to invest to generate the greatest returns. We all know this. To the extent environmentalists feature in this imaginary game they are not competitors, but potential impediments to them.

The game of environmentalists, on the other hand, is an entirely different one. They seek to limit or prevent environmental harm, but they do not necessarily agree on how to do so. Many environmentalists are horrified by nuclear power, yet well respected environmental writers and activists like George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stephen Tindale support it. On both the nuclear and fracking questions the environmental movement does not possess a unified voice, there are rival players. No environmental interest group can honestly claim to represent “environmentalists” as a whole, on these topics.

Anti-fracking lobby groups, like TKAG, are therefore gambling that their view is the right one and that meeting our energy needs with shale gas would cause greater environmental harm than alternative methods. They are gambling because they lack a scientific analysis supporting their case.

Jonathan refers to the “absence of an open, agreed, inclusive strategic environmental assessment of the real contribution to be expected from the exploitation of South African shale gas for the South African economy, under South African conditions”. I doubt he would trust an assessment prepared by the government or industry, with good reason, so why doesn’t TKAG commission one?

If a diverse panel, not weighted in favour of any particular interest group, agreed terms of reference for experts to undertake a scientific study of our energy options, their full array of lifetime impacts (at home and abroad) and conclude with a hierarchy of the least environmentally damaging actions, there would be the foundation of a far more powerful and rational environmental argument. Maybe the report would support a total ban on fracking, maybe not, we would have to wait to read it.

If this report supported TKAG’s view their case would be strengthened, they would be gambling no longer and many of my criticisms of TKAG’s approach would be wrong. Alternatively, if the report found different conclusions, TKAG would either have to change its focus or admit to having only localised concerns which did not benefit environmentalism on a greater scale.

Commissioning such a project would be time consuming and expensive but would provide a far more persuasive environmental case than is possible at present. If it leads to a stronger environmental argument it doesn’t matter if either my or Jonathan’s views are wrong, the prize of better serving the environment would surely be worth any personal embarrassment. Why gamble on the correct environmental approach? So, Jonathan, I’ll throw the dice if you will. How about we try it?

Jonathan’s response

Gamble (noun) lose or risk losing something, endanger something, risky action

As it turns out, the theme of gambling, with reference to the debate on shale gas mining in South Africa, dovetails perfectly with the approach of our government to this vast and complex issue. And it is appropriate that on behalf of TKAG and those opposed to shale gas mining in South Africa, I embrace this opportunity to play open cards.

As a point of departure, it will be useful to understand the other players and their positions. Minister Shabangu, who by virtue of South African taxpayer’s money has a free seat at the table, wields a special dispensation to break the rules at any time. Arriving late for the game, she grabbed a handful of cards out of the pack, and to date refuses to show her hand. Every now and then, she tosses out a card to show that she is still in the game, and proclaims loudly to the table that she has the money and authority to see this game to the bitter end. Of course, the consequences of a loss for her are of no real consequence, because the taxpayer will pick up the bill.

Shell, who started the game, play with a flamboyant style. Cleverly, they seek to bluff the other players by appearing to have the interests of the game at heart. In truth, their sleeve is well stacked with hidden aces – friends in high places[1] all around the world. Naïve as it may seem, the other players believe Shell when they claim to be in the game for the good of South Africa. If we win this game, they promise, the 9 million South Africans who use dung and candles for energy will all have electricity. The electricity will be cheaper, and between 300 000 and 700 000 unemployed South Africans will have permanent jobs. All you need to do is kick those who would deny all of these benefits that our hand will deliver, out of the game. Trust us, we have honest faces.

Uncle Jacob, just like Uncle Sam, is also in the game. He plays a powerful hand because he can start and stop the game at will. But right now he is enchanted with the shining promises of Shell. Shell has a pot of money that appears to have no bottom, and uncle Jacob, needs money to make good on the promises he made to all the people who paid for his place at the table. Uncle Jacob has many assistants to carry his cards to and from the table – and he brooks no dissent – if you don’t carry the right card, you’re out – and he will replace you with someone who does things his way.

Big business, the Corporatocracy[2], is represented by people who will stand to gain much in the short term. They’ll sell trucks, earthmoving machines, tankers, tyres, diesel, wire, steel, glass, clothing and lots of other materiel. Their role in the game is to nudge Uncle Jacob and his card carriers. Every time it looks as if the spoilsport Enviroplayer has strengthened his hand, they call a private meeting away from the table where they can talk about jobs and money, energy and well, other stuff.

Enviroplayer is, of course out of his depth. He barely has the money for such a high-stakes game. Minister Shabangu, Shell, Uncle Jacob and the Corporatocrat all want him gone. But like a tick he clings to their soft, corpulent underbellies.

So, as for gambling, TKAG is an unwilling participant. The very word, gamble, implies that if the gambler wins, there is some reward. But for TKAG, there is no reward. No money. No riches. Just the knowledge that years of unfunded, unpaid work has been expended to protect something for unborn Africans.

Nobody, of course asked TKAG to take up the cudgels. The other environmentalists to whom David refers, whilst deploring the idea of fracking, may in fact receive much of their salary, car allowances, fancy office rents and Christmas bonuses, from some of the very Corporatocrats who want fracking to go ahead. Little wonder they are too scared to take a seat at the table.

TKAG, far from ‘gambling’ on emotion and supposition actually base their position on the research of scientists[3] who have taken no money from the Corporatocrat’s, and on the research[4]of credible government departments. TKAG has been to the US for 5 weeks, to meet these scientists in their homeland and taken time to observe and record the scope and scale of real fracking operations. TKAG’s stance is not based on supposition or emotion and is not a gamble.

One of Uncle Jacob’s senior card carriers, though, may well be part of the state-funded gamble. Minister Peter’s, at the time, head of Energy for South Africa, visited America[5] to investigate fracking. The Minister’s report-back subsequent to the remarkable 4-day journey, informed South African media that she had not ‘witnessed anything that turned her off the extraction process’. The arduous trip evidently so confused the Minister that she couldn’t remember which small town she had visited “on the coast”, but she did remember that the whole operation was run by a woman. So detailed was the Minister’s briefing to her staff that one of her sidekicks reported to the press that the town was Marcellus. Go figure. During the whirlwind tour to investigate fracking, Peters was the guest of the state government but also met industry representatives, including Shell and participated in the Group of Friends on Sustainable Energy for All discussion at the UN as well as attending the Bloomberg New Energy Finance 2013 Summit in New York City.

Now David, this is the story of how a senior Cabinet Minister who advises Uncle Jacob investigates fracking for South Africa. All this in 4 days and a fracking investigation too? Just who is gambling here?

With reference to a SEA for South Africa, we have long called for such a move. And it was in November in KZN that the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs announced the formation of just such a forum. TKAG was formally invited to participate in the SEA, which included international scientists. The unfortunate passing of Mr. Mandela resulted in the cancellation of the event, which we expect to be re-scheduled for early 2014. So in fact, TKAG has committed to being involved and playing a constructive role. Far from a gamble.

An overarching investigation of all of the elements of a SEA, as described in my last piece, would, according to the academics that have been approached by TKAG, cost between R7 and R10 million. Little more than 50% of the R16 million rand that has been allocated to the Eastern Cape government to prepare that province for fracking. In the absence of a national approach to this scientific debate, does that not constitute a gamble? And how is TKAG (as the poorest and weakest player at the table) expected to fix it?

Meanwhile, Shell, with the hundreds of millions of rands in their publicly touted budget, have commissioned and released two reports – one from Markinor, which proclaimed that 75% of South African’s were in favour of shale gas exploration (really?); and another – the infamous Econometrix report that talks of jobs and riches on an unimaginable scale. Interestingly, neither the companies nor Shell were prepared to reveal the background instructions, notes, findings and questions on which these reports were based. In contrast, and using donations from private people (R50 at time), Afriforum, Wilderness Foundation, and our own money, TKAG commissioned a R100 000 review of the Econometrix report by an expert South African team[6]. Moreover, TKAG stipulated to the team, at the outset that the report would be made publicly available, even if it weighed against our position.

Lastly, we have offered, and do so again now, to make available all of the correspondence, notes and instructions that passed between TKAG and the authors. To add scientific substance to an unfair and unscientific gamble, TKAG went so far as to submit the report for peer review. It was submitted to three respected scientists, one in SA and two in the US, and received favourable review from all three. The Econometrix document provides no such benchmarks. A gamble perhaps?

It is submitted to you that a reading of this report (which deals with the economics only) may provide an inkling of the effort to which we have gone, without formal standing, and on a literal shoestring compared to Shell and Uncle Jacob, to inject a measure of honest science into a very crooked deck.

In closing, I must refer to another player who joins and leaves the game randomly. This is the typical freelance journalist, who spotting a hot topic realises the value of joining. Let’s call him Opportunista. Reliant on publicity, he quickly hops aboard a national media platform. And so, conveniently being uninvolved in big business, government, tourism, farming or even environmentalism, he is able to altruistically dive into the game, ostensibly there to protect the interests of a passive, fickle and self-indulged public. Trumpeting his caveat of ‘trust no one’, he cautions his followers to eschew support for government, the oil companies or the environmentalists. Focus only on the gas bonanza, and a gas driven GDP surge that will solve the county’s energy, jobs and revenue problems, he urges. Opportunista can leave the game at any time, knowing that no one can point at him – he after all only highlighted the folly of not grabbing the bonanza – not how it should be accomplished. As for gambling, well he has nothing to lose and only fame to gain.

David, apart from one instance of being required, to choose between being obtuse or dishonest, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to debate this issue with you. My eagerness to read your response is overshadowed only by the possibility of a live (and unprepared) debate.

Are the pro-frackers in SA ready to roll the dice?

Here is the response from David Johnson to ‘@davidjohnson gets his answer’ and my response to that. A positive response from David, to a public debate is awaited.

A response to Jonathan Deal

December 27, 2013

In my article “We can’t treasure only the Karoo” I questioned the approach of the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG). You can read my original article, followed by a response from TKAG chairman Jonathan Deal, by clicking here. What follows is my reply to Jonathan.

Energy demand

Jonathan’s view that saving energy beats creating new supply, including reducing street lighting, is indisputable. Jonathan also correctly highlights that South Africa’s “electricity demand has not increased for five years”. But if this is meant to imply that the future holds anything but an increased demand for electricity, Jonathan is being, at best, misleading. Here are three reasons why.

Firstly, South Africa’s economy is heavily dependent upon energy intensive industries like iron and steel production. Over the past five years, production in these industries has been suppressed due to the global financial crisis, leading to less electricity demand. There can be little doubt the global economic recovery, which is slowly gaining momentum, will once more fuel demand for raw materials and result in increased electricity consumption.  Jonathan has, unfortunately, not uncovered a long term trend.

Secondly, if South Africa’s current population growth rate holds for just ten years, today’s 53 million people will become 60,5 million by 2024.  They will all need electricity.

Thirdly, 22% of South African households remain reliant on paraffin, wood, coal or animal dung as their energy source for cooking and 11% use candles for lighting. As South Africa makes its way up the ladder of prosperity and the government acts on its aim to ensure at least 95% of South Africans enjoy access to electricity by 2030, the number of people using electricity will rise, probably very significantly.

Whilst I agree with Jonathan that it would be wonderful if behavioural change could eliminate the need to generate additional energy, this is quite simply unrealistic. Suggesting electricity demand will do anything but climb is at best delusional and at worst dishonest.

A genuine environmental argument

A genuine environmental response requires a much more robust scientific foundation than arguments such as Jonathan’s trite “Shell is evil” mantra. Simplistic slogans might attract tabloid attention but are a gross simplification of the options we face and seek to pass culpability from us individuals, who collectively demand increased electricity generation, to one of many corporates extracting fuels because of the demand we have ourselves created.

A scientific analysis of all electricity generation options, which would satisfy our reasonably anticipated increased electricity demand, is the only way to enable meaningful comparisons between the impacts of rival generation methods. This is the essential first step to conclude which option is the least environmentally damaging. There is currently no such scientific analysis and, without it, we can’t rationally conclude which is the least environmentally damaging method of meeting our electricity needs (be it by shale gas, renewables or any other method). TKAG are either guessing fracking is worse, or do not care about the impacts of the alternatives.

Meaningless comparisons

At one point Jonathan writes “although [solar installations] can be large, they don’t have to be concentrated in only five places nationally”. Well, of course not. If solar were to make a meaningful contribution to the nation’s energy needs we could, for instance, construct one massive solar plant plastering 1,000 km2 of the Karoo, have tens of thousands of tiny plants dotted around the whole country, or something in between.

Jonathan’s offer of 500 hectares for a solar plant may be a generous offer of land from an individual, but a 500 hectare solar plant could produce nothing more than 0,5% of the estimated pre-2030 capacity shortfall, an almost irrelevant amount in national terms.

If the Karoo’s vast shale gas reserves were only capable of generating a similar amount of electricity to Jonathan’s proposed solar plant, no one would be interested in extracting them. But they are not. Jonathan is comparing apples with orange groves.

Distraction techniques

Jonathan questions the contractual relationship between government and BHP Billiton, the multinational mining and petroleum company, and believes it is “telling” that nowhere in my article do I comment on the “conduct of the South African government”. The relationship between private companies and the government undoubtedly bears watching. But even if this arrangement was appalling for the taxpayer it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is also bad for the environment, or that other companies are any different. It also has no bearing on the scientific comparison of environmental impacts between alternative energy sources. Whatever source of energy is ultimately utilised, the dangers of private and public sector corruption are always present.

The Nimby polemicist

When Jonathan states “Gas is available right now on the international market and can be delivered to Eskom at between $12.50 and $17.50 per mcf” he inadvertently but unmistakably paints himself as a Nimby campaigner as I previously suggested. Does Jonathan believe the extraction of foreign gas has no environmental impacts? Has he factored in the environmental costs of transporting gas internationally rather than domestically? Are South Africa’s ports large enough to process this gas, or would further devastation of the areas around Richard’s Bay, Mossel Bay and Saldanha be required to enable shipment? Some of this foreign gas is produced by Shell. Would Jonathan still consider Shell “evil” if they merely imported foreign gas?

I don’t doubt Jonathan cares deeply about the Karoo, but does he also care whether importing gas and therefore exporting our energy impacts could have a greater environmental impact than sourcing gas domestically? It appears not. I do.

In conclusion

I feel bound to re-state my position clearly, since Jonathan’s response almost completely ignored the central point of my original article.

1.    It is inescapable that we will require additional electricity generation capacity in the future, whether or not people become more responsible in their energy use (and I sincerely wish they would).

2.    I do not want to see the Karoo fracked. I do not want to see the Mpumalanga wetlands and grasslands destroyed for coal. But it hurts no less to think of the pollution around Baotou in China, where the polluted groundwater is slowly leaching towards the Yellow River. No true environmentalist would ignore the detrimental environmental impacts on other countries’ biodiversity of importing gas, any other fuel, or the manufacture of components for making energy infrastructure.

3.    We should be honest, scientific and detailed in our approach. Renewable energy and foreign sourced fuels have detrimental environmental impacts too. We shouldn’t pretend a 500 hectare solar plant is more than a drop in the ocean of our inescapable future energy needs.

4.    I want to know, and any true environmentalist should want to know, which is the least bad environmental option? We simply do not know the answer to this question without a proper scientific comparative analysis.

The Karoo is privileged to have a vocal single-issue NGO that shouts more loudly than the voiceless Chinese communities suffering from REE production, the people of Mpumalanga who lack a single topic anti-coal NGO and the coastal communities who are yet to realise importing gas would likely threaten additional local habitat with port expansion. But from the perspective of the global environment, the TKAG’s unscientific, localised and exclusionary approach is dangerous. It should not be supported by anyone with a genuine concern for environmental conservation in both the Karoo and beyond it.


1.    National Development Plan 2030, National Planning Commission, November 2011
2.    Statistical release P0301.4, Census 2011, Statistics South Africa, October 2012
3.    Statistical release P0302, Mid-year population estimates 2013, Statistics South Africa, May 2013

Perhaps it’s time to roll the dice?

Picture the South African landscape, if you will, as a living tapestry of environment and humanity. Poised above the landscape is a giant clock symbolising the confluence of climate change, unemployment, hunger, water, food, and other critical resource shortages, and the increasing needs of a growing world population.

Now juxtapose the landscape with a craps table. Poised above the table are the words: development=prosperity, and sustainability=survival. Just as in the game, on this real-life craps table there is a line. Staying behind the line may deny present generations the prosperity that they believe can be theirs. Passing the line may irrevocably destroy the prosperity of future generations.
Standing on the left and right of the table respectively are the environmentalists and the global developers. The environmentalists must admit that they are in the game as consumers of energy and users of technology – but they seek to reduce and limit that consumption and use, to preserve the system (Gaia) on which future life depends.

The developers claim a loftier cause – it is because of them that the world has an economy, energy, and food, transport, clothes and medicines – they have a connection with the people of the planet – they will never place the planet before its people. Their technology is the only path of survival for the world, their fossil fuels the lifeblood of the planet, and their determination to ramp up the production of fossil fuels to increase consumption simply a necessary and humane response to a rapacious world.

Given the chasm between the positions of environmentalists and the developers, the only thing to which any certainty can be attached is that the future will reveal whether onshore shale gas is the miracle answer to jobs, energy, prosperity and carbon emissions that it is claimed to be, or if, as prophesied by the environmentalists, it turns out to be an additional, unnecessary and risky fossil fuel that will place its extractors and consumers in a worse place than they were before its advent.
So often, in large development projects (and on a global basis, fracking may turn out to be the largest) the developers make many claims and promises. Often too, those who support the developers may not have to live with, or even acknowledge the consequences of the development – they may have the luxury of watching the tableau unfolding from a safe distance. In the hurly-burly world of international finance, faster transaction times, 24-hour global media, and an always-new war, famine, flood, fortune or other global news event, the promises of the developers and their supporters are quickly forgotten.
Nobody calls them to public account saying perhaps; “you promised 300 000 permanent jobs, you promised no pollution, you promised 3.5% growth, you promised that shale gas would make our air cleaner, you promised that fracking carried no health risk, that you would leave the Karoo better than you found it, that there would be more water for communities to use after fracking than there was before.”


The environmentalists are prepared to be somebody. Based on what has transpired, and is unfolding where fracking is happening, based on the actual results of extractive operations – in this country – and others, managed by the same companies who seek to mine shale gas in South Africa, based on the actual documented status quo of our Department of Minerals and its lack of control over the mining sector when viewed with its refusal to enforce the environmental laws and based, inter alia, on the slipshod investigation that has informed the Cabinet’s decision on shale gas mining, the environmentalists state:

    1. While the US EPA has still to complete it’s own congressionally mandated investigation into fracking;
    1. While bans, moratoria and restrictions on fracking, or parts of the process continue to exist and increase in more than 210 locations around the world;
    1. While scientists cannot agree on the economics, health and pollution impacts of shale gas mining;
    1. In the absence of an open, agreed, inclusive strategic environmental assessment of the real contribution to be expected from the exploitation of South African shale gas for the South African economy, under South African conditions;
    1. In the face of determined and self-serving marketing of shale gas by those with a great deal of money on the line; and
    1. Within the context of the climate change, population and resource debates, we state categorically that shale gas can be sourced off-shore, at a comparative price to that from under South Africa, without the environmental risk presented onshore, and without the potential to displace presently sustainable jobs in tourism and agriculture as well as the urban jobs supported by those industries. We claim too, that the gas will come with a huge gas-related infrastructure bill for the SA taxpayer to absorb, plus significant secondary costs to the fiscus (SA taxpayer) at municipal, regional and national level. We claim that the South African public – those not on the receiving end of handsome profits and undisclosed ‘loyalty rewards’ – will rue the day that shale gas mining was let loose on their environment – that is if they remember what was promised and compare it with what happens.

It is nonsensical to point to existing and historical environmental devastation here – and abroad – and use that as a reason to introduce a new type of damage – to claim that because we have damaged so much of our country, we may as well damage all of it, to accuse those who are awake to the consequences, of being self-serving Nimbys.

Prosperity today is worth nothing if it robs future generations of their right to also enjoy sustainable prosperity.

Call us obtuse, call us dishonest, and deride us for being emotional, and then roll the dice if you will publicly accept the consequences.

New EPA administrator Gina McCarthy sets the standard

Note the emphasis on communication with the public and the role of science in informing policy. A marked departure from the norm in South Africa – especially with reference to the conduct of the Department of Minerals.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

November 14, 2013

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Testimony Before House Committee on Science, Space and Technology

As prepared for delivery.

Good morning Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, and other distinguished members of the Committee. I am pleased to be here to talk about the central role science plays at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Let me begin by stating that science is and has always been the backbone of the EPA’s decision-making. The Agency’s ability to pursue its mission to protect human health and the environment depends upon the integrity of the science upon which it relies. I firmly believe that environmental policies, decisions, guidance, and regulations that impact the lives of all Americans must be grounded, at a most fundamental level, in sound, high quality, transparent, science.

Because we rely so heavily on science to meet our mission on behalf of the American people, it must be conducted in ways that are transparent, free from bias and conflicts of interest, and of the highest quality, integrity, and credibility. These qualities are important not just within our own organization and the federal government, but across the scientific community, with its long established and highly honorable commitment to maintaining strict adherence to ethical investigation and research. That’s why the agency has established—and embraced—a Scientific Integrity Policy that builds upon existing Agency and government-wide policies and guidance documents, explicitly outlining the EPA’s commitment to the highest standards of scientific integrity. And that commitment extends to any scientist or organization who wishes to contribute to our efforts. All EPA-funded research projects, whether conducted by EPA scientists or outside grantees and collaborators, must comply with the agency’s rigorous quality assurance requirements.

To ensure that we have the best possible science, we are committed to rigorous, independent peer review of the scientific data, models and analyses that support our decisions.  Peer review can take a number of forms, ranging from external reviews by the National Academy of Sciences or the EPA’s federal advisory committees to contractor-coordinated reviews. Consistent with OMB guidance, we require peer review for all EPA research products and for all influential scientific information and highly influential scientific assessments.

Among the external advisory committees is the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB). SAB reviews are conducted by groups of independent non-EPA scientists with the range of expertise required for the particular advisory topic. We invite the public to nominate experts for SAB panels and to comment on candidates being considered by the EPA for SAB panels. The EPA evaluates public comments and information submitted about SAB nominees. The EPA reviews experts’ confidential financial information to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest.

SAB peer reviews are conducted in public sessions in compliance with the open-government requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The public is invited to attend and to provide oral and written comments for consideration by the SAB. Public comments help to ensure that all relevant scientific and technical issues are available to the SAB as it reviews the science that will support our environmental decisions.

Another example is the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) which provides independent advice to the EPA Administrator on the science that supports the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The CASAC reviews the EPA’s Integrated Science Assessments which deliver science in support of the Clean Air Act.

Thanks to the science behind the implementation of the Clean Air Act, we have made significant and far-reaching improvements in the health and well-being of the American public. In 2010 alone, EPA estimates that programs implemented pursuant to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 avoided 160,000 premature deaths millions of cases of respiratory problems such as acute bronchitis and asthma attacks; 45,000 cardiovascular hospitalizations; and 41,000 hospital admissions. These improvements have all occurred during a period of economic growth; between1970 and 2012 the Gross Domestic Product increased by 219 percent.

Through a transparent and open process, we have also committed to enhancing the Agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment program. A strong, scientifically rigorous IRIS Program is of critical importance, and the EPA is in the process of: 1) enhancing the scientific integrity of assessments; 2) enhancing the productivity of the Program; and 3) increasing transparency so that issues are identified and debated early in the process. In 2009, the EPA made significant enhancements to IRIS by announcing a new 7-step assessment development process. Since that time, the National Research Council (NRC) has made recommendations related to enhancing the development of IRIS assessments. The EPA is making changes to the IRIS Program to implement the NRC recommendations. These changes will help the EPA produce more high quality IRIS assessments each year in a timely and transparent manner to meet the needs of the Agency and the public. A newly released NRC report is largely supportive of the enhanced approach the EPA is taking to develop the IRIS assessment for inorganic arsenic.

As I mentioned in my opening statement, science is the backbone of our decision-making and our work is based on the principles of scientific integrity and transparency that are both expected and deserved by the American people. I am proud of the EPA’s research efforts and the sound use of science and technology to fulfill the EPA’s mission to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.  I am happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.


SA’s ‘Life in stone’ could be a thorn in the side for frackers

Another World First for SAHRA

Submitted by The Heritage Portal on Tue, 12/11/2013 – 19:02

The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) has just released some very exciting news… they have pioneered the world’s first online palaeontological sensitivity map. The breakthrough will save developers tens of millions of rands in the coming years and become a priceless research tool. Proactive preservation at its best! Read the full story here

“The fossil sensitivity map is an important step forward in the proactive management of palaeontological and geological heritage resources. The map will guide and assist developers, heritage officers and practitioners in screening palaeontologically sensitive areas at the earliest stages of the development cycle.

PalaeoTechnical Reports

The successful development of the sensitivity map owes itself to a number of initiatives and partners. Since 2008, SAHRA, Heritage Western Cape and Amafa/Heritage KwaZulu-Natal have commissioned palaeotechnical reports from expert palaeontologists such as Dr John Almond, Dr John Pether and Dr Gideon Groenewald. These reports have been used by heritage officers across the country to assess the impacts on fossils by developments. However, this process has been extremely cumbersome and time consuming as the fossil bearing formations were not georeferenced so that footprints of applications could be overlaid systematically against the sensitive geological formations. This information was also not readily accessible by members of the public unless they explicitly requested copies of the palaeotechnical reports.

Council for GeoScience & SAHRIS

The successful development of SAHRIS in 2012 opened up a range of possibilities to automate access to and dissemination of the valuable information contained in the palaeotechnical reports. Furthermore, a number of provinces had only been partially assessed (or not at all). The extraction of the technical information onto a Geographical Information System (GIS) provided a means to eliminate gaps in the sensitivity maps where geological formations overlapped provincial boundaries.
SAHRA approached the Council for GeoScience (CGS) in order to access to their 1:250 000 geological shapefile data. The CGS were happy to collaborate and on 19 September 2013, SAHRA and the CGS signed a license agreement for the use of their data. Over the last few months, SAHRA’s palaeontogical heritage officer, Ms Jenna Lavin, has combined the Palaeotechnical Report information with the shapefile data on SAHRIS and has developed a Fossil Sensitivity Map for South Africa.

Continue reading…