Fracking confusion is the order of the day for David Johnson

The debate continues. David’s response today – with my answer.

Jonathan Deal does it again!

January 10, 2014

Jonathan, in his previous article, again completely ignored the case I have put forward since this debate began. Initially I thought there was little point in repeating my argument once more, until I read comments on social media sites. Some readers aligned to TKAG’s view complimented Jonathan on his “rebuttal”. But a rebuttal would require Jonathan to actually address the main pillar of my original article, not merely say why he doesn’t like fracking, which is all he does. I will therefore restate my position in writing, for the fourth and final time.

The most effective approach to limiting the negative environmental effects of energy development is based on a scientific analysis of all generation options and their effects. This offers us an objective basis to debate, on environmental grounds, which kinds of energy should be preferred overall or in a particular area.

TKAG are uninterested in discussing the environmental impacts of alternatives to shale gas. Their position seems to be that as long as the Karoo is saved it doesn’t matter how electricity is generated or which land is degraded elsewhere in the process. Jonathan never addresses this environmental concern in his replies.

Jonathan makes a number of points which relate to fracking in general, but are completely extraneous to the issue in the articles he purports to respond to. Jonathan’s tactic of responding with only superficially relevant arguments is so well developed he should seriously consider entering politics, he’d be good at it. Here’s my response in a nutshell:


One of Jonathan’s often used anti-fracking arguments has been the risk of corrupt practices in the shale gas industry.

Transparency International’s “Corruption Perceptions Index 2013” rates 177 countries and territories from least to most corrupt. South Africa, at position 72, is one place below Italy, a country where mafia involvement in renewable energy has been widely reported for many years.

Last year about a third of Sicily’s 30 wind farms, in addition to several solar power plants, were seized by Italian authorities. Politicians and businessmen, “tenderpreneurs” in South African terms, were among those arrested for renewable energy linked corruption. One reason the mafia focussed on the renewable energy sector was the sector’s generous subsidies. In fact, it is arguable that subsidised industries, like renewables, are particularly susceptible to corruption.

It is foolish, at least, to think renewable energy, or any industry, is exempt from the danger of corruption. More importantly, corruption is an entirely irrelevant consideration when establishing which form of energy would be the least environmentally harmful. Corruptly owned mafia wind farms are financially as filthy as coal, but the energy they produce is as environmentally clean as that of wind farms financed by legitimate means.

Government competence

Drawing attention to examples of ministerial error could become South Africa’s national sport. Of course Jonathan can point to examples related to fracking; we could all do the same in just about any field regulated or financed by government. Nevertheless, even the most inept Minister of Energy will not miraculously morph into a model of efficiency and saintly honesty if fracking disappeared from the equation, leaving a choice between renewables or coal. Does Jonathan honestly believe these same ministers speak learnedly and authoritatively on means of generating energy besides shale gas?

When Jonathan refers to incapable politicians, it reminds me of those same politicians kissing babies or handing out food parcels. It’s a direct appeal to our emotions, regardless of the topic at hand. The fact that incapable politicians hold ministerial positions is no more relevant to which form of energy is the least environmentally damaging than it is to whether permitting lion hunts aids or harms conservation or whether our fish stocks require more conservative commercial line fishing quota rights.


Perhaps the greatest environmental benefit of wind and solar energy is that, after the infrastructure has entered service, it can be pretty much left to do its thing. There is no need for a continuous supply of fossil fuels. There is no need for thousands of miners to dig up those fossil fuels either.

Jonathan has drawn attention to shale gas proponents’ dubious employment statistics. He has a point. But it is an irrelevant one. No matter what the truth of those statistics, it is a safe guess that during their operational phases, substantially more employees will be needed to generate the same quantity of power at a coal-fired power station than at a solar plant.

Saving jobs is not an argument for environmentalists to rely on in this debate. Coal could be one of the better choices, if your prime concern is maximising employment, but not if your prime concern is lowering carbon emissions.


Jonathan refers to the part TKAG funded review of Econometrix’s “Special Report on Economic Considerations Surrounding Potential Shale Gas Resources”. From what Jonathan has said, it appears that the review of the Econometrix report is the only study in which TKAG has financially invested.

Unsurprisingly, as the Econometrix’s name suggests, the initial report and TKAG’s response to it do not look at the environmental impacts of our energy choices, but at the economic case for fracking. The strength of the economic case for shale gas is immaterial to the relative environmental impacts of extracting that gas.

Moving forwards

Jonathan has suggested we hold a public debate. I will be back in Cape Town in late March and I am hopeful that a debate in person rather than online might mean I can focus the debate on what really matters – the environmental impacts of all our potential energy choices. Anyone concerned about the environment in the Karoo as well as other places needs a markedly more mature response than the narrow nimby anti-fracking case of TKAG.

So I will accept the invitation, and will let you know when debate practicalities are settled.


1.     “Sting operations reveal Mafia involvement in renewable energy” Washington Post, 23 January 23 2013.

2.    “Italy makes ‘Mafia’ arrests over Sicily wind farms” BBC Online, 15 February 2013.

3.    “Analysis – Is the Italian mafia turning green?” Wind Power Monthly, 17 April 2013.

4.    “German homes, offices searched in mafia wind farm probe” Reuters, 19 November 2013.

5.    “Corruption Hit as Italy Cleans Up Wind Sector” Renewable Energy World, 10 June 2013.

6.    Corruption Perceptions Index 2013, Transparency International.


I had hoped to continue dialogue with David, focused more on the issues than on the literary and tactical idiosyncrasies, of he and I. David’s opinion insofar as it pertains to me personally, and his advice on career choice, while perhaps being sincerely motivated by a desire to see me in politics are thus dismissed for the purposes of this discussion. I too, am becoming bored with re-stating the same points for the fourth time. Thus in the interests of being very clear, I discard the application of brevity in this reply.


Now. I cannot but agree wholeheartedly with David that: “The most effective approach to limiting the negative environmental effects of energy development is based on a scientific analysis of all generation options and their effects. This offers us an objective basis to debate, on environmental grounds, which kinds of energy should be preferred overall or in a particular area.” A scientific analysis of all generation options is expected, by TKAG, within the context of shale gas mining – in South Africa – to mean exactly that. It must include the full spectrum of scientific endeavours – basic science, applied science, engineering, technology, economics, social sciences, and statistics – as stated in my first article in response to David. For the life of me, I cannot understand firstly how David feels that I disagree with him on this point; and secondly how David can be unaware that the efforts employed by the South African Government to produce a scientific analysis that will stand up to world standards of scientific analysis can be viewed as anything but inadequate.

The fact remains: Science in countries where shale gas mining is fully developed is unsettled, with for example, the US EPA heading towards an investigation that will last six years before they are willing to commit to Congress on their definitive findings on the process of shale gas mining. On the basis of three years of debate in South Africa, at least half of which has been lost to inefficiency, and having regard for the fact that the Government Departments invited to be on the task team excluded key players, it is trite that a scientific analysis, cannot be said to have been completed in South Africa to a level that can justify the issuing of licences for exploration .

‘Environmental impacts of specific energy technologies and our ability to choose’

It is untrue that TKAG are uninterested in discussing the environmental impacts of alternatives to shale gas. Firstly, David is raking over old coals when he refers to ‘as long as the Karoo is saved’ – he knows full well from my previous responses that this involves the whole of South Africa. To put it plainly – if fracking were to be banned or relinquished in the Karoo but still faced in KZN or other provinces, our involvement would not diminish. I trust that after the fourth time it is now crystal clear: fracking is a South African national issue – not a Karoo issue.

David’s argument around ’a choice of energy options’ would imply that we are sitting at a great meeting of elders – with no current energy generating technologies in place – and the question under discussion is “Elders, what energy options shall we choose?” Now David knows full well that the other options have all been chosen and are implemented and committed to in varying degrees. This is not a question of “shall we choose coal over nuclear or fuel oil over wind or gas over coal?” The country is already heavily invested in coal – not only in energy generation but also in export revenues and local jobs.


It is inaccurate to say that one of my often-used anti-fracking arguments is the risk of corrupt practices in the shale gas industry. I have been abundantly clear on the fact that the oil and gas industry is proven to be criminal in their practices. David points to Italian Mafia and renewable energy as an example, but the Mafia on their best day, cannot compete with the largest companies in the world – on any timescale. And in any event – the example is irrelevant because we are speaking of an additional and new technology that is not yet licenced or practiced in this country. In terms of corruption, the geographically closer example of Nigeria is a case worth considering. Royal Dutch Shell has behaved criminally in that country. I am also on record of stating, as I do again here today that Shell have been dishonest in their campaign on shale gas in this country. This is not a risk it is a reality.

Speaking of generous subsidies, the oil and gas industry worldwide, despite posting record profits, enjoys substantial subsidies that have been in place so long that they can be said to be an intrinsic part of the business. I make no guarantees that renewable energy operators are more honest than fossil fuel pedlars. Eskom, some would say, at the heart of our energy debate, currently transfers to BHP Billiton; a subsidy calculated to eventually cost South Africans R11.5 billion. The point is that until our energy environment is holistically controlled in a business-like way, it may be short-sighted to accept at face value, Eskom’s lamentations about energy delivery capacity.

Government competence

I take David’s subtle point on the inefficiency of Ministers and his reference to their lack of learnedness and authority when making decisions on other energy sources. The question is thus: Do you believe David, based on your view (about a lack of Ministerial perspicacity) that the same team who has lead South Africa into its current energy dilemma should be trusted to guide the country through a decision on shale gas?

David raises my comment on ‘incompetent politicians’ as if we are back at the ‘choice table.’ The truth is that there are significant and reasonable questions about many aspects of shale gas mining being raised by diverse communities on different continents. Moreover, those questions and the activities of many of those communities, sometimes in direct defiance of their legislators cannot be said by David, or anyone else in this country, to have been satisfactorily addressed to the point that it can be argued that the issuing of licences is justified under the current circumstances.


Juxtaposing employment with carbon emissions makes no sense to me. The reference by TKAG to jobs is based on two solid points. (1) The oil and gas industry bases its most emotive marketing on the creation of jobs. So their claims demand a like response. (2) The jobs claimed (routinely) by the industry – in any continent ignores displaced jobs – the industry simply uses ‘blue sky’ economic theories to sketch a veritable employment Xanadu – and they have the money to push those claims in world media and the hallowed halls of politics.


Finally, I get David’s point. The Economic benefits of shale gas are immaterial when considered within a discussion that is exclusively focused on the environmental impact of extracting that gas relative to the environmental impacts of extracting or producing energy from other sources. TKAG invested specifically in a review of the Econometrix report because it is that report which has been adopted by the South African government. This can be proved by a review of public quotes by South African Ministers. Therefore, we decided that a vast expense for TKAG and its supporters was justified. The results stood up to three peer-reviews – something to which the Econometrix report – and its ambassadors – have not been subjected.

The elimination by David, ‘of the strength of the economic case’ from this discussion, whilst being novel, simply obliterates three of the four pillars on which the shale gas proponents rely.

Moving ahead

David’s closing view contained at least one bright spot – that is his reference to the ‘environment in the Karoo and other places’ – it appears that he has at last accepted that this is beyond treasuring the Karoo. Were I tempted, to label David and his ilk, in the hackneyed fashion that TKAG has been labelled, I most likely would bestow the rank of FATFIFA – Frack Ahead The Future Is Fracked Anyway.

SA shale gas delay allows the truth out
Much to the chagrin of Royal Dutch Shell, other applicants for shale exploration licences and their friends in government and industry in SA, the ongoing delay in settling the question of shale gas extraction in SA is working to the benefit of the nation.


Simply because the lack of information, transparency, effective public information and consultation in SA, has created a situation in which licences would have been issued in a virtual vacuum of information. This is not to say that the government is necessarily uninformed, but rather that certain pro-gas players in the government were and are prepared to overlook the global issues connected with shale gas mining. It is not in the interests of the nation to be committed to a decision of this magnitude simply on the basis of the marketing hype of the oil and gas industry.

What does a delay in the issuing of licences mean?

It is providing a real opportunity for important facts about shale gas  mining in other countries to reach South Africans. On a daily basis the media and various organisations are publishing reports in connection with shale gas, and the news is overwhelmingly negative. The Oil and Gas industry is spending significant amounts of cash on lobbying governments and industry but appear to be failing in their bid to counter negative information about the controversial practice of shale gas mining.

What is a topical example of the ‘negative reports’ referred to?

Here are three:

1. At least 210 bans, moratoria or restrictions on the holistic shale gas mining process or on sections of it are recorded as being in place and enforced in various countries, regions, states, cities and towns around the world. These are increasing, as many legislative anti-fracking measures are still under consideration at the request of local communities.

2. A recent report ( published by Associated Press has alleged contamination of water in four US States. This report is being widely redistributed via global media.

3. By way of example of the volume of media reports on shale gas mining, I have recorded via a media monitoring service 9447 consolidated reports mentioning fracking. A rough average of the number of media articles per report is around four. That is somewhere in the order of         40 000 articles on fracking in an eleven month period from February 20 2013. I am not forwarding this as a claim that there are 40 000 negative articles about shale gas mining, merely making the point that this is indicative of the volume of information and perhaps disinformation connected to the technology. It establishes in my view, a clear requirement for the commencement of a planned Strategic Environmental Assessment of the technology in South Africa.

The government and the applicants are well aware that to give effect to the perhaps ill-timed promises of various Ministers and officials ‘to push ahead with shale gas’ without taking heed of international developments will expose them to significant risk of lawsuits.

It really is time for the SA Government to step up to the plate and stop being led around by the nose by Shell.

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

@davidjohnson gets his answer on fracking

I had not planned to respond to this view, but a mail from Johnson asking what I thought of his piece required the courtesy of a reply.

Here is a view from @davidjohnsonsa – and my response.

We can’t treasure only the Karoo DAVID JOHNSON

December 7, 2013
First published on 7 December 2013 in By, the supplement of Die Burger, Beeld and Volksblad.

Single issue conservation NGOs can wield great influence and gain much publicity for their causes. A responsibility to ensure they really are promoting the best deal for conservation should go with this, but a high profile does not ensure that’s always the case. The Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) may be a case in point.

South Africa’s National Development Plan identified a need to build around 30,000 megawatts of new electricity generation capacity by 2030. To visualise the infrastructure necessary to generate that much power, imagine fifteen Koeberg nuclear power stations.

This capacity must be built somewhere, whether it is generated by coal, renewables, gas or any other means. Pragmatic conservationists should therefore prepare the environmental case on how to satisfy that energy hunger in the least environmentally detrimental way, based on sound scientific evidence, not emotion. Calls by anti-fracking lobbyists, TKAG, to prevent fracking in the Karoo neither lessen electricity demand, nor adequately provide an alternative. TKAG’s “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) approach pushes impacts elsewhere and risks, perhaps, even greater environmental harm than that they seek to prevent.

Anyone thinking renewable energy is “clean energy” should visit Baotou in China, the epicentre of world rare earth element (REE) production. The REE industry has led to Baotou being blighted by radioactively contaminated soil and groundwater and the air is laced with solvent vapour. REEs are an essential component in wind turbine manufacture.

China produces over 90% of the world’s REEs and their lower level of environmental regulation keeps down costs. If anti-fracking groups exaggerate the theoretical risk of Karoo groundwater contamination, leading to increased wind energy generation rather than utilising our gas reserves, we export some of our environmental side effects and contaminate someone else’s groundwater.

Solar power also has environmental issues, one being the immense amount of land needed. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has reported on solar power plant land requirements in the USA. There are many variables in calculating averages and these figures were based on US solar plants so should be treated with caution, but their “total area capacity weighted average” shows that a solar power plant capable of generating 20% of South Africa’s anticipated pre-2030 power capacity shortfall would require over 200 km2 of land. That is a larger tract of land than the entire Camdeboo National Park in the Karoo. If you know of a piece of land with no biodiversity value that size please step forward. If solar is to satisfy the anticipated pre-2030 energy demand shortfall we need five of them.

Working at the coalface of conservation, in the Mpumalanga grasslands and wetlands, is Kerryn Morrison of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). Kerryn explained how the “grasslands are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the country and wetlands are the most critically endangered ecosystem we have.” Media coverage of the threats from coal mining in these habitats is minimal compared to that about fracking in the Karoo, but that doesn’t mean they have less value.

Around 75% of the grasslands of Mpumalanga are currently under mining application or being mined. In Mpumalanga’s Steenkampsberg many of the proposed mining operations hold coal reserves which would last merely a couple of years. Mining these areas means critically important habitat will be destroyed for a relatively small quantity of coal.

Kerryn says that a blanket ban on future coal mining is simply implausible, and of course she’s right, but it goes further than that. A ban on future coal mining would merely displace energy impacts elsewhere.

The EWT is part of local consortium of NGOs and government bodies, led by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), seeking to establish the best way to formally protect areas with a high biodiversity and water resource value. Proclamation will largely secure such areas from unsustainable development and conserve our natural heritage. The mining industry has been included in discussions.

The approach of prioritising sensitive areas and not objecting to coal mining en masse is both pragmatic and likely to be more effective in the long run. A total ban on fracking in the Karoo is similarly unlikely. If TKAG used its considerable resources and profile to seek the formal protection of those areas of the Karoo with the highest biodiversity value, it could be doing the Karoo a far greater service.

Many of the exploration companies interested in the Steenkampsberg’s coal are small scale miners, invested in a single site. It would be reasonable to expect many of these companies to be wound up at the end of their mine’s short lifecycle. Acid mine drainage, the outflow of acidic water from disused coal mines, can often occur a decade after the mining ceases, years after many of the Steenkampsberg miners will have been liquidated. No one can force a company which no longer exists to rehabilitate.

Much of the Karoo anti-fracking commentary is simply along the lines of “Shell is evil”. Blaming large multinational corporations for the world’s ills is both fashionable and likely to grab tabloid attention. This ignores the obvious point that it’s better to have multinationals like Shell than companies which are unlikely to be around in a few years’ time which can’t be forced to rectify any pollution they cause.

All forms of generating power have negative environmental impacts. If fracking the least sensitive parts of the Karoo leads to less mining of the critically endangered Mpumalanga wetlands, fewer hundreds of square kilometres of land being plastered with solar panels and a lower demand for REEs meaning less groundwater pollution in someone else’s backyard, that is likely to be an environmental victory. We shouldn’t treasure only the Karoo.

To be certain of the least damaging means (or combination of means) of generating South Africa’s electricity requires a detailed scientific analysis of all energy options and their effects. It is not good enough to say “we need renewables, not gas”. Precisely where will these renewables be located and what are their impacts? We must make fair comparisons.

Creating public anxiety based on prejudices against fracking, along with encouraging assumptions that renewables have no negative implications, is a dangerous tactic which can lead to net global environmental harm. Preventing fracking in the Karoo does not lessen electricity demand. Worse, if it leads to more significant environmental impacts occurring elsewhere, anti-fracking lobbyists are nothing more than local champions and NIMBY activists. Environmental victories should only be won on scientific evidence and not on who shouts loudest.

What is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a technique to extract shale gas deposited in rock deep underground. A high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into rock causing cracks, sand particles keep the cracks open and that allows the gas to flow to the surface. The water scarce Karoo is thought to have rich shale gas reserves.


1. National Development Plan 2030, National Planning Commission, November 2011.

2. Eskom power stations, Eskom, February 2013. Click here for the link.

3. Rare Earth Elements: A Review of Production, Processing, Recycling, and Associated Environmental Issues, United States Environmental Protection Agency, December 2012. Click here for the link.

4. Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages, The Guardian, 7 August 2012. Click here for the link.

5. After China’s Rare Earth Embargo, a New Calculus, New York Times, 29 October 2010. Click here for the link.

6. Boom in Mining Rare Earths Poses Mounting Toxic Risks, Yale Environment 360, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 28 January 2013. Click here for the link.

7. Land-Use Requirements for Solar Power Plants in the United States, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, June 2013. Click here for the link.

8. Camdeboo National Park, Park Management Plan For the period 2013 – 2023. Click here for the link.

Links active on 2 December 2013.


Mr. Johnson refers to ‘single-issue’ NGO’s and mentions TKAG as a case in point. Some might question his position by asking: “Would TKAG be more palatable were it a multi-issue NGO?” Does Johnson recognise that the plethora of mining and development issues currently on the global table are at once broad and specialized? Does he believe, for instance, that a ‘multi-issue’ organisation such as WWF has been effectively heard on fracking in SA?

The reference to 15 Koeberg’s is impressive. What may be less known is that SA’s electricity demand has not increased for five years. Moreover, the plaintive bleating about gas, of the (outgoing) Eskom chief, is belied by the fact that he has nothing to use to turn all of that gas into energy. Nor any plans as to neither how it will be distributed around SA or as to who will pay for that infrastructure. Gas is available right now on the international market and can be delivered to Eskom at between $12.50 and $17.50 per mcf. Perhaps we should question (rather than TKAG’s pragmatism) the daily contribution of Joe public to BHP Billiton, and the arrangement between SA and Zimbabwe that sees our hard-earned power leaving the country.

Pragmatic conservationists, especially in single issue NGO’s, must of necessity base their approach to an issue on a strategic assessment of facts surrounding a specific question. In SA we call this a STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT ASSESSMENT (SEA) – and it does not imply a count of rabbits, birds and bees. Rather the ‘scientific evidence’ desired by Johnson should be launched within the context of an SEA, wherein “science” is an expansive term that references the full spectrum of scientific endeavors – basic science, applied science, engineering, technology, economics, social sciences, and statistics. The SEA should also be open, inclusive and widely published by the government.

It is telling for me, that nowhere in Johnson’s article is there any acknowledgement of the damage that has been done to public debate on shale gas mining in SA by the recalcitrant, secretive and dysfunctional conduct of the South African government. It may perhaps be easier to call environmentalists emotional and accuse them of being Nimbys. On the subject of Nimbys, a quick glance at the TCP, Exploration and Mining activity maps of South Africa to be found on the PASA website will show that gas prospecting is quickly spreading around the length and breadth of South Africa. If that is ‘in my backyard’ then I will accept the label of NIMBY – but only under that proviso.

One wonders, based on Johnson’s assertions, if we should suspend a move towards renewables because of the status quo in China? Also absent from his view is any mention of the debate (yes, science based) raging around the claim of just how much cleaner methane is than coal. But for the sake of this point, let’s accept that methane (and the fracking process) is as clean and green as the fracking proponents claim it is. And that fracking would be so successful that it replaced coal in SA over time. Apart from all the coal jobs to be lost, and wasted investment in power stations, the real point towards which I am moving is that the government (any government) will not leave that coal (money) in the ground. So it will be exported to a country that will burn coal. As the environment, within the context of climate change belongs to everyone on earth and pollution does not recognise sovereign boundaries, the argument for gas over coal is moot.

There are a number of large-scale solar installations under construction, one right next to the N1 near Touwsrivier in the Western Cape. They are modular, can be easily erected and although they can be large, they don’t have to be concentrated in only five places nationally. I have been completely off-the grid for years, and have reliable energy, with no emissions and no noise. Saving energy also beats creating new supply any day of the week, and we could do an enormous amount by reducing street lighting in cities. Rural places and the N1 are in darkness at night and people survive. Another way to save energy (and water) would be to consider just how much energy is used to bring water from long distances away, purify it (with more energy) and then use even more energy to send it (as clean drinking water) to fancy homes in lush suburbs to water big green lawns and road verges. A reckoning of what the green lawns cost SA in water and energy would be an eye-opener for those trumpeting about how we need energy.

In 2011, I offered (on radio in conversation with Bonang Mohale) to make 500 hectares of land on our property in the Karoo available to Shell on condition that they would (a) fill it with solar panels to feed into the grid) and (b) withdraw from fracking. There goes the ‘NIMBY’ label.

The distinction between EWT and TKAG is confusing. Firstly, that organisation is part of a formal alliance with TKAG against fracking and secondly, the issue (coal mining) that they are addressing has a long history in SA and around the world. Fracking, by contrast, is fraught with scientific debate, the subject of more than 200 bans, moratoria or restrictions, assailed by a growing international opposition, and only about 14 years old in terms of high-volume horizontal slick-water fracking. TKAG is also not quite three years old. Not really a fair, pragmatic or intelligent comparison.

Pragmatism, as a strategy could be effective if our government stepped up to the plate instead of permitting Minister Shabangu to break one promise after the other, and perpetuate an ineffective and arrogant approach to mining and the environment.

On AMD rehabilitation, the two new pumps installed to deal with AMD, have come at a cost of R500 million. The figures for running them monthly are in the order of more than R10 million per month ‘forever’ – according to the engineers.

The point about ‘having companies like Shell around’ to fix their problems is nonsensical. Not only because of the record that Shell has globally of polluting, denying such pollution, bribing and finally paying a ‘slap-on-the-wrist fine’ to avoid jail, but also because it is trite that Shell et al will be followed by other smaller companies – or is there some special arrangement that has reserved South African gas for the ‘big five’? So, the point is not ‘obvious’, nor sensible. And yes, Shell is evil.

Fracking, an environmental victory? For who? This generation? The ANC? The US? Shell? Investec? Come on Mr. Johnson. You are conspicuously silent too, when observing how loudly TKAG shouts (a line borrowed from Mr. Bonang Mohale, country chair of Shell SA) but failing to observe how loudly Shell has shouted behind closed doors, on TV, radio and print, and in the offices of all our poorly informed and biased municipal officials. It would appear, that in your book, this does not constitute Shell ‘shouting the loudest‘ but simply exercising their given right to engage with (and influence) the decision-makers in this inept administration.

I find your article on this wide-ranging and complex issue, insular, simplistic and partisan. In just one line, (the reference to PASA and the proposed fracking activity around South Africa), your view has been effectively confronted – this is not just about the Karoo – its about the whole of SA.

I am happy to debate you on fracking in any forum of your choice in this country and look forward to your reply.

Phone me if you wish 023-358-9903.   Jonathan Deal, CEO, Treasure Karoo Action Group