Anti-fracking lobby seeks new moratorium, keeps legal powder dry


http://bit.ly/1wYGYb4

Anti-fracking lobby seeks new moratorium, keeps legal powder dry

22nd July 2014

Anti-fracking lobby group Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) and social rights group AfriForum hand delivered a letter to President Jacob Zuma this week calling on him to declare a fresh moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in South Africa, or face possible legal action.

TKAG CEO Jonathan Deal reported on Tuesday that the letter questioned government’s apparent willingness to proceed with the processing of exploration applications despite having failed to address several outstanding concerns that had been raised by fracking opponents over the past three-and-a-half years.

In his State of the Nation address on June 17, Zuma described shale energy as a “game changer” and said that the “the shale-gas option” would be pursued “within the framework of our good environmental laws”.

Subsequently, Shell’s Bonang Mohale urged government to accelerate the licensing process, warning that South Africa ran the risk of missing out on the shale-gas boom as it had with the commodity boom.

Untested estimates indicated that South Africa could have more than 300-trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the Karoo basin, which proponents believe should be exploited to help the country diversify its coal-heavy electricity mix and even, potentially, to produce transport fuels.

However, Deal said the alliance against fracking – which was led by TKAG and AfriForum, but also embraced civil society, labour and religious groups – felt there were at least five outstanding issues that had to be address before South Africa could consider proceeding.

The first, and most important, related to public consultation, which AfriForum’s head of environmental affairs Julius Kleynhans argued had been entirely inadequate to date.

However, the draft fracking regulations outlined in 2013 were also said to be “flawed”, with no indication yet given as to whether the final regulations would take account of public submissions – the alliance against fracking’s own submission ran to over 300 pages.

Thirdly, concerns lingered over the composition of the task team assembled by the Department of Mineral Resources to finalise the framework under which shale-gas exploration and development could proceed. Deal argued that a new task team should be assembled that included individuals who were more critical of fracking and its potential benefits.

Opponents also had serious misgivings about the quality of the environmental management plans that had been submitted by potential shale-gas miners. They also felt that the precautionary principle should remain in place until outstanding scientific questions were adequately answered.

There was a “golden opportunity”, Deal argued, for government to restart the consultation process, the length of the previous consultation should not be confused with a credible process.

Deal said he had been heartened by Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi’s indication that he was willing to engage with the TKAG. However, neither he nor Kleynhans had received a formal approach from the Minister.

The alliance, which signed off its letter to Zuma with the words “in good faith”, said it hoped to receive a positive response from government to its “non-litigious” overture within the coming 30 days.

Should no response emerge, however, preparations would be made to take “legal steps”, the first of which was likely to be triggered should government grant an exploration licence to any of the current applicants.

Kleynhans indicated that AfriForum already had the financial wherewithal to take the matter legal and that it was convinced that there would be others willing to join the alliance in what threatened to become an expensive and drawn out legal battle.

“Our letter presents government with a valuable opportunity to address fatal flaws in its approach to shale-gas mining without the need for enormously expensive and embarrassing litigation from the citizens of South Africa,” Deal said.

But he likened the current approach to agreeing to “get on a plane where we don’t even know if the pilot has a licence, or if the plane has been serviced”.

“This is not about bunny hugging and we wouldn’t have the effrontery to talk about stars and birds and bees and rabbits when this country needs energy and it needs employment,” Deal stressed, adding that the debate needed to centre on economics and the science.

Deal also embraced the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) recent opposition to fracking, which drew a wry smile from Kleynhans, who admitted that AfriForum, which is known for fighting for minority Afrikaner rights, was not currently on speaking terms with JuliusMalema’s party.

“[The EFF] have indicated that they are going against [fracking], but obviously they have their own political motives . . . if they can put a piece of paper in front of us, we will definitely read through it and see what they have to say.”

Deal was more enthusiastic about the EFF’s potential involvement saying: “I’m not a political animal at all and I’ve had to learn politics fairly quickly in the last three-and-a-half years. But one thing I would say for Julius Malema is that, if he has an opinion, he’s not scared to make it known and not scared to stand up for it – and I admire that in him”.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter

Falcon Gas CEO may be too hasty for SA shale gas – TKAG


News from BLOOMBERG is that

(http://bit.ly/FalconShalegas)

Falcon Oil CEO Expects South Africa Shale Permit in Second Half

After unsuccessfully trying to have a response published by BLOOMBERG, TKAG posts it’s views on Falcon CEO’s SA wish list.

Here is the article by Bloomberg: TKAG response below.

Falcon Oil & Gas Ltd. expects to be awarded a permit to start exploration at its shale plot in the Karoo basin in South Africa in the second half of the year after technical regulations are published.

“Our focus will be South Africa over the next 12 months,” Chief Executive Officer Philip O’Quigley said in an interview. The Dublin-based company, which signed a five-year exclusive co-operation agreement with Chevron Corp. in 2012, may sell a stake in the asset following the approval.

The Karoo basin in the southern part of the country may have 390 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable gas, making it the world’s eighth-biggest shale-gas deposit, according to the U.S. EnergyInformation Administration. Falcon holds 7.5 million acres, according to a company presentation.

“The development of an upstream oil and gas industry will be a focus during the next five years,” Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi told a lawmakers committee in Cape Town on July 8. “We want to unlock investment as quickly as possible.”

South Africa has published draft regulations for the shale gas industry, which require drillers to meet American Petroleum Institute standards governing the type of equipment used and the disclosure of chemicals. Final rules are due to be issued in the next few months.

Earlier in the year, parliament approved separate legislation which will grant the government the right to take a 20 percent free stake in all new oil and gas projects and acquire a further unspecified share at an agreed price. President Jacob Zuma was asked to hold off on signing the law pending a review by a ministerial committee that will aim to ensure the law doesn’t discourage investment, Ramatlhodi said.

“We are delighted the government wants oil and shale gas exploration to start as soon as possible,” O’Quigley said.

Falcon has assets in the Beetaloo basin in Australia, where it’s planning to drill three wells this year, and in Hungary, where it’s looking for a company to further develop the license.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nidaa Bakhsh in London at nbakhsh@bloomberg.net; Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net Alex Devine, Indranil Ghosh

_______________________________________

TKAG RESPONSE:

An open letter to Mr. Philip O’Quigley –

Chief Executive Officer of Falcon Oil and Gas Ltd.

July 14 2014

Dear Mr. O’Quigley,

I have read in the press (Bloomberg July 11 2014) of your company’s anticipation that it will receive a permit from the South African government to commence exploration in the unique and sensitive Karoo basin ‘in the second half of the year’ and following the publishing of technical regulations.

TKAG has communicated with your venture partner, Chevron Corporation with regard to its involvement in this Karoo acreage, and in August of 2013 suggested that Chevron may wish to invest some time in reviewing the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) submitted by Falcon in 2011 to the Petroleum Agency of Southern Africa. TKAG and our alliance partners remain shocked and dismayed at the cavalier attitude displayed by Falcon and Chevron to the introduction of shale gas mining into a uniquely sensitive area in a water-scarce country and under the spectre of a plethora of unresolved issues standing between your company and a permit to commence exploration and possibly full production via fracking in South Africa.

Mr. O’Quigley, it is my obligation and duty to inform you that the issue of a permit to your company to commence exploration in South Africa for shale gas may be somewhat further away than you have publicly anticipated. I might add too that even should you have the permit to hand in the next five months, it may be far longer than that, before your company starts breaking ground in the Karoo, if ever. In essence, just because Falcon, Chevron et al are fracking elsewhere in the world doesn’t mean that you will succeed in bringing shale mining here.

TKAG and its alliance partners are not opposed to responsible and sustainable development of natural resources for the present and future benefit of South Africans. We will not submit to the imposition of a technology such as this under the current circumstances in South Africa – circumstances of which Falcon and Chevron are fully aware and which will militate against the commencement of this process in South Africa.

We invite you to send a representative to a press conference in Sandton, Johannesburg on July 22nd at which TKAG and its alliance partner, AfriForum will reveal a significant development in the shale gas debate in South Africa.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Deal

CEO

 

AfriForum and TKAG to reveal SA Shale gas development


MEDIA ADVICE

 17 July 2014

AfriForum and TKAG will reveal the contents and nature of an engagement with the State concerning shale gas mining (fracking) and specifically the recent announcements of President Jacob Zuma in this regard.
This will take place at a press conference at Sandton Convention Centre, 161 Maude Street Sandton, 2196 at 10h30 on Tuesday July 22nd.  Press packs will be distributed after questions from the media and this will be followed by refreshments.
If you wish to attend the briefing please respond to research@treasurethekaroo.co.za with the words ‘Will attend 22 July’ in the subject line. If you require an embargoed copy of the press statement and supporting documents please write to research@treasurethekaroo.co.za.
For more detail or to request a copy of the release and supporting documents after the press conference is concluded, please contact Jeanie Le Roux on 072-959-1818 or research@treasurethekaroo.co.za

ENDS/

Jonathan Deal CEO: Treasure the Karoo Action Group |  Landline: 023-358-9903 | Cell 076-838-5150 |

E-mail: jonathan.deal@treasurethekaroo.co.za

 

Shell claims twice for the same cost – honest?


Shell Oil to Pay $4 Million for Taking Double Profits in Oil Spill Cleanup
Posted on March 3, 2014 by Alisha Mims •
Shell Oil Company has been ordered to pay $4 million to settle False Claim Act allegations that it requested double reimbursements for a hazardous waste cleanup in Massachusetts. The company sought payment from the Massachusetts tank cleanup fund as well as from private insurers, Law360 reports.

Shell and Motiva Enterprises LLC requested reimbursements from Massachusetts’ Underground Storage Tank Petroleum Product Cleanup Fund program for more than 100 gas stations throughout the state. The companies did not reveal to state authorities that it also requested and received reimbursements from insurers, according to the state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The scheme of major oil companies profiting from oil spill cleanups recently came to light after it was reported that a former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) engineer and an environmental and civil rights attorney partnered with a team of lawyers, investigators, and experts to conduct an ongoing investigation into the “double-dipping” practice.

Thomas Schruben, a Maryland environmental engineer and former EPA employee who specializes in storage tanks had long suspected companies of profiting off of oil spill cleanups. Along with attorney Dennis Pantazis and their team, Schruben has brought 20 such cases to state governments, demonstrating how oil companies defraud states in order to make a profit from underground storage tank spills.

“State governments set aside tank cleanup funds to cover the costs of replacing old tanks and extracting polluted soil and dirty groundwater, not so that multibillion-dollar oil companies can profit by double-dipping,” said Christopher Paulos an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio law firm who practices in the areas of qui tam or whistleblower and False Claims Act litigation. “Shell oil and other companies have essentially defrauded state governments by collecting both state special funds and insurance money for the same cleanup efforts.”

In 1993, Shell sued insurers seeking coverage for remediating environmental damage caused by leaking underground storage tanks at its gas stations across the state of Massachusetts, according to Law360. The company settled with insurers but did not disclose the settlement to the Massachusetts’ underground storage tank fund program until February 2012.

Other major oil companies including BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil have used the scheme to defraud states and make a profit. Recently, BP was sued by the state of Minnesota for double-dipping. The state alleged that BP violated the Minnesota False Claims Act by collecting more than $25 million from the state tank fund as well as being reimbursed by insurers.

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.

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A Daily Maverick reader answers Ivo Vegter on his latest green attack


Mr. Vegter weighed in on an article written by Jonathan Deal and posted on this blog.

 

Vegter’s article about Fruit of The Poisoned Tree is here – followed by the reply of Laurentz Roux.

  • Avatar
    Ivo Vegter

    This article is as biased as an op-ed by a Shell spindoctor would be. It is written by the head of an organisation that has promised to “cost us and the South African tax payers millions of rands” to hold up shale gas development in court, has publicly — and falsely — accused me of being on the payroll of either Shell or the ANC, and who appears to have lied in an attempt to discredit me, an independent professional journalist attempting to conduct a “cautious investigation”.

    In fact, when I described myself as “cautiously in favour” of shale gas drilling at a public debate at the Franschhoek Literary festival last year, Deal derided my caution as being “half-pregnant”.

    It is littered with superficial appeals to emotion. There’s misdirection, for example in the claim that GDP is the “definitive gauge of the health and wealth of people”, when in reality those of us who claim the world is a better place than ever before use numerous measures of human welfare, including but not limited to life expectancy, income, disease burden, access to basic needs such as housing and sanitation, per capita calorie intake and malnutrition, happiness, incidence of war and violent crime, and prevalence of bigotry and hatred. Here’s an example on the left, and here’s an example on the right, both of which give many reasons why 2013 was “the best year in human history”.

    It contains counter-factuals, such as the prediction that shale gas will do little to limit carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, it has already done so. The hard data is in, and it shows that in part due to a switch from coal to gas, US carbon emissions are at their lowest level in 20 years, far exceeding the emission reduction achievements of the signatories of environmentalist’s statist dream, the Kyoto Protocol. Gas halves carbon emissions, by comparison with coal, and almost completely eliminates all other pollution — such as sulphur compounds, nitrogen compounds, heavy metals and particulates (smog) — usually associated with generating electricity. This is basic chemistry. There simply is no factual way around that.

    He employs the guilt-by-association fallacy, using other climate skeptics to discredit me by implication. He does quote me, though he does not name me and the link doesn’t work. But even though he has the luxury of cherry-picking his targets, Deal fails to mention relevant facts. For example, Patrick Michaels was a founding member of Greenpeace. He left the organisation in the late 1980s because he thought the group had achieved its goal of placing environmental concerns front and centre in development policy debates. He felt they had gone off the rails in their increasingly shrill campaigns, and the effort to ban chlorine went too far. “That’s an element on the periodic table. I’m not sure that’s within our jurisdiction,” he reportedly said at the time. It would seem relevant that a former radical environmentalist came to the conclusion that his cause had become corrupted.

    And for a generously funded green activist, whose organisation was the beneficiary of a public collection taken during a debate at which I spoke for no fee, to cry foul when private companies donate money to causes that they support, is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The green lobby is at least as well funded as anyone who opposes them, and often by companies (or investment managers like Al Gore) with vested financial interests in renewable energy or other “green” technologies. Deal decries that “big industry can throw tens of millions of dollars at it”, but the annual budget of Greenpeace alone runs to hundreds of millions of dollars. And the profitability of the companies that support the green movement is dependent on coercive government policies, regulations and subsidies that benefit them and harm their competitors.

    In the end, he appeals to an unsubstantiated metaphor, “the poisoned tree”, without making any substantive claims about shale gas, and the South African government’s efforts to investigate its risks and benefits. He fails to mention the dozens of scientists who have contributed (and still are contributing) to research on the subject, both independently and at the request of the government. He ignores that the issue has been researched extensively, and that evidence of likely environmental harm is scant and anecdotal. He declines to point out that shale gas has been the subject of public debate for at least three years, receiving more intensive and detailed attention than most public policy issues. No amount of research and regulatory measures will be enough to lead Mr Deal to conclude that “our leaders have properly discharged their duty”, unless they rule in his favour and ban it.

    For independent coverage of this issue, by all means refer to The Obstructionism of Shale Gas Activists, and The Case for Constructive Environmentalism, or check out a list of all my extensive work on the subject.

    You may not agree with me, but at least I don’t have vested interests in advancing one position or the other. As I declared publicly in one of the public debates against Deal and his pet lawyer, if evidence is presented that significant harm would come to the Karoo, I will change my position. Conversely, if evidence is presented that potential harm would be very limited, Mr Deal declared that he would not change his mind. He couldn’t, could he, having won a lavish prize that generously funded his campaign with more than a million rand?

    • Avatar
      Laurenz Roux ANSWERS IVO VEGTER
       

      My comments to Mr. Vegter in italics, in parenthesis:

      This article is as biased as an op-ed by a Shell spindoctor would be {ad hominem?}. It is written by the head of an organisation that has promised to “cost us and the South African tax payers millions of rands” {it is by implication, as it is Government’s choice to go ahead without consideration} to hold up shale gas development in court, has publicly — and falsely — accused me of being on the payroll of either Shell or the ANC, {Fair enough, but it is banter like you yourself exercise as you’ll see} and who appears to have lied in an attempt to discredit me, an independent professional journalist attempting to conduct a “cautious investigation”.

      In fact, when I described myself as “cautiously in favour” of shale gas drilling at a public debate at the Franschhoek Literary festival last year, Deal derided my caution as being “half-pregnant” {apt likeness… ‘Abstaining from a opinion in light of more contextual information’ might have been what you meant?}.

      It is littered with superficial appeals to emotion {Mr. Vegter, we are human, emotion is CENTRAL to our survival and development as a species, without emotion or inferential LEAPS we would make little progress}. There’s misdirection, for example in the claim that GDP is the “definitive gauge of the health and wealth of people”, when in reality those of us who claim the world is a better place than ever before use numerous measures of human welfare, including but not limited to life expectancy, income, disease burden, access to basic needs such as housing and sanitation, per capita calorie intake and malnutrition, happiness, incidence of war and violent crime, and prevalence of bigotry and hatred {fair point, but I think that in the context which Deal was referring to they did not use it in this nice elaborate manner}. Here’s an example on the left, and here’s an example on the right, both of which give many reasons why 2013 was “the best year in human history”.

      It contains counter-factuals, such as the prediction that shale gas will do little to limit carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, it has already done so {Mr. Vegter, the US is not isolated from the rest of the world, and their coal production, for instance, is still increasing and I doubt they stockpile it never to be burnt. THAT is the point Mr. Deal is making}. The hard data is in, and it shows that in part due to a switch from coal to gas, US carbon emissions are at their lowest level in 20 years, far exceeding the emission reduction achievements of the signatories of environmentalist’s statist dream {Unnecessary, attacking the man a bit?}, the Kyoto Protocol. Gas halves carbon emissions, by comparison with coal, and almost completely eliminates all other pollution — such as sulphur compounds, nitrogen compounds, heavy metals and particulates (smog) {Smog is one of the localised problems with fracking production, stop there please} — usually associated with generating electricity. This is basic chemistry. There simply is no factual way around that {Yes, there isn’t, isn’t there?}.

      He employs the guilt-by-association fallacy, using other climate skeptics to discredit me by implication {Self implicated I’m afraid}. He does quote me, though he does not name me and the link doesn’t work. But even though he has the luxury of cherry-picking his targets {Tends to happen with any argument, or written piece. This accusation is very weak any time any one uses it}, Deal fails to mention relevant facts {What you sound like: I would like Deal to include fringe facts that I judge as relevant when my fancy strikes}. For example, Patrick Michaels was a founding member of Greenpeace {Oh, so now implication by association is fine?}. He left the organisation in the late 1980s because he thought the group had achieved its goal of placing environmental concerns front and centre in development policy debates. He felt they had gone off the rails in their increasingly shrill campaigns, and the effort to ban chlorine went too far. “That’s an element on the periodic table. I’m not sure that’s within our jurisdiction,” he reportedly said at the time. It would seem relevant that a former radical environmentalist came to the conclusion that his cause had become corrupted {I don’t get the point of this}.

      And for a generously funded green activist {Generously funded by his retirement savings}, whose organisation was the beneficiary of a public collection {not exactly bankrolling is it. The premise is usually “if you agree with what I say, please donate, so I can keep saying it”} taken during a debate at which I spoke for no fee {You may register as a non-profit, no one is stopping you to charge to cover your expenses}, to cry foul when private companies donate money to causes that they support {what Deal does: I believe *this*, any of you can donate if you believe *it* too. What private companies, ie Shell, does: Here is a considerable large sum of money, please do the research…. And by basic free economy rationale they kind-of have to say what the company likes, otherwise they would not get asked again}, is a case of the pot calling the kettle black {So, no it is not}. The green lobby is at least as well funded as anyone who opposes them, and often by companies (or investment managers like Al Gore) with vested financial interests in renewable energy or other “green” technologies {Are you kidding me??? The likes of Greenpeace have the financial & political capacity of Shell?. Go home.}. Deal decries that “big industry can throw tens of millions of dollars at it”, but the annual budget of Greenpeace alone runs to hundreds of millions of dollars {Deal is not Greenpeace, and vice versa, so again you do exactly what you accused Deal of}. And the profitability of the companies that support the green movement is dependent on coercive government policies, regulations and subsidies that benefit them and harm their competitors {Yes, we are quite aware how this system works, it works exactly the same as the other side. They are just playing the game, a bad one, but hey, they started it…}.

      In the end, he appeals to an unsubstantiated metaphor, “the poisoned tree” {like pot calling the kettle black perhapse?}, without making any substantive claims about shale gas, and the South African government’s efforts to investigate its risks and benefits. He fails to mention the dozens of scientists who have contributed (and still are contributing) to research on the subject, both independently and at the request of the government. He ignores that the issue has been researched extensively, and that evidence of likely environmental harm is scant and anecdotal. He declines to point out that shale gas has been the subject of public debate for at least three years, receiving more intensive and detailed attention than most public policy issues {Where? South Africa? Have you seen the astounding apathy to either side? Just because you write about it does not mean that it is as big as you think}. No amount of research and regulatory measures will be enough to lead Mr Deal to conclude that “our leaders have properly discharged their duty” {Whoa, you were most probably fuming at this point… They have done an embarrassingly little amount of ‘research’ into it (the point he is making). And you claim to know Deal’s level of satisfaction… which is ‘never’? This point is unsubstantiated and juvenile}, unless they rule in his favour and ban it {It would be helpful}.

      For independent coverage of this issue, by all means refer to The Obstructionism of Shale Gas Activists, and The Case for Constructive Environmentalism, or check out a list of all my extensive work on the subject. {Ag please}

      You may not agree with me, but at least I don’t have vested interests in advancing one position or the other. As I declared publicly in one of the public debates against Deal and his pet lawyer {Oops, pets are loyal because you pay for their food, lawyers like food, so lawyers are pets? is that the logical argument you used?}, if evidence is presented that significant harm would come to the Karoo, I will change my position. Conversely, if evidence is presented that potential harm would be very limited, Mr Deal declared that he would not change his mind {Deal does not see it as a binary and clear cut choice, so in principle, he will be against any form of fossil fuel. And it was a incredibly irresponsible hypothetical choice to give in a complex debate. Rather be angry about that! But you are so hell-bent at arguing your ‘facts’, that you find relevant, and cannot wrap your head around the fact that some topics are more than the facts, there are no black and whites, there are no right and wongs, there is only that pesky emotion that keeps us alive and thriving when we sense something is not right, and he is sensing it}. He couldn’t, could he, having won a lavish prize that generously funded Balanced the payments of his campaign with more than a million rand? {So it is bad form to accept a prize?}

      {Yes, I can even shoot holes in my own rebuttals, and I have the tone of a drunkard, but point stands, you are deducing complexities to a point where you think you as individual have the answers.

      You are a good writer, really, but it might suit you well to start from the premise of maybe it is more complicated than you think.}

      • Avatar
        jonathandeal  Laurenz Roux 

        Thank you Mr. Roux, for objectively putting that to Mr Vegter in a way that I haven’t managed to.

Co-director of FrackNation caught lying about fracking


Ten big fat lies about fracking

TEN BIG FAT LIES ABOUT FRACKING

PHELIM MCALEER
FILMMAKER

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 pic.twitter.com/k4CqvO1hWs” (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”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-afr  (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. pic.twitter.com/5Ik0933m9O (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? pic.twitter.com/nQGeaB0zr7 (Another picture of a slum dwelling)”

Tweet 5: “The new apartheid: Greens v everyone else http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22151746 … “(Same link to the BBC interview, now using Apartheid)”

Tweet 6: “The Truth behind @tonybosworth South African pals (link not working).http://www.iol.co.za/business/business-news/racial-twist-in-debate-on-gas-fracking-in-the-karoo-1.1304441#.UWwqOr855zg …”

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 pic.twitter.com/4yynZuZ24k” (Another view of a street in a poor area).

Tweet 9: “SA fracking warrior is the Green de Klerk, not Mandela @goldmanprize @RHarrabin @tonybosworth http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22151746 … “(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. http://www.spe.org/jpt/print/archives/2010/12/10Hydraulic.pdf

[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. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Fracking

[5] <tedxlist@endocrinedisruption.org

UPDATE IN RESPONSE TO THE POSTING OF THIS ARTICLE:

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.