Activist evidence fails to impress

February 12th, 2015

As a regional anti-CSG group gears up for a campaign to try and debunk the NSW Government’s Gas Plan, it’s worth taking a look at the claims being made by the experts they quote about the safety of the natural gas industry.

Gasfield Free Northern Rivers, a local activist group based on the New South Wales North Coast (and who disclaim their own website information with the following statement: We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the absolute accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the content”), has apparently launched a self-funded campaign aimed at the Gas Plan.

A spokesman for the group told the Lismore Northern Star newspaper that “we want a gasfield ban, not a gasfield plan”.

That’s the slogan sorted then, now for the content.

By the looks of the article, the group will be heavily reliant on the work of the National Toxics Network (NTN) and in particular, the research of Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, who told the Northern Star that:

“Most of the chemicals used in fracking fluids still haven’t been assessed for their effects on human health and the environment.

“There are no effective … options for managing the gas industry’s extensive wastes and waste water”

On the issue of emissions, she went on to say:

“Fugitive emissions … are fugitive by nature because they’re uncontrollable.”

If those lines sound familiar, it’s because they are part of the NTN’s mantra against unconventional gas development – a mantra that has been exported by Dr Lloyd-Smith and others to the United Kingdom.

Dr Lloyd-Smith spoke to community groups in the Falkirk region of Scotland in mid-2013, and in 2014 gave evidence via video conference to a Scottish Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals hearing at an appeal by Dart Energy Scotland into the refusal of planning permission for a gas development project.

The limitations of giving evidence by videoconference on the other side of the world are evident in the transcript of the hearing, so instead, let’s take a look at what the closing submission by Dart Energy’s legal team says about the evidence given by Dr Lloyd-Smith.

On the issue of claims made about chemical and compound use in hydraulic fracturing:

“It is very difficult indeed to understand why an experienced professional like Dr Lloyd-Smith continues to suggest that salt, citric acid, or other chemicals listed by her are hazardous and a threat to health. They are not and I submit that suggestion or allegation should not be made by a professional person acting reasonably and responsibly.” (page 38)

On the responsibility to present accurate information:

“It follows then that when Dr Lloyd Smith gives a talk, or makes allegations, about UCG (unconventional gas) the ordinary man in the street or member of the community will listen to, be influenced by, and attach weight to what Dr Lloyd Smith says.

 It is therefore not just appropriate but actually essential that what Dr Lloyd Smith says is truthful, accurate and does not unnecessarily exaggerate issues. If this was to happen members of the community would be unnecessarily alarmed, misinformed and would base any objection on an incorrect improper factual basis.” (Page 77)

The submission goes into great detail on issues relating to a talk that Dr Lloyd-Smith gave to community groups, citing examples of why the contents of that speech had absolutely no relevance to the Dart Energy situation, and in the closing section states:

“I have to submit with considerable regret that the talk given by Dr Lloyd Smith was not fair, reasonable or even relevant. It was entirely irrelevant. In addition worse still it was in parts untrue and or exaggerated.” (page 84)

Keep those remarks in the back of your mind when considering comments and claims by the National Toxics Network.




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  1. Brewster on 13 February, 2015 Reply

    Scaremongering, pseudo science, junk science, scary stories from a supposed learned person, deflection and cherry picking. I’ll back the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer’s review and analysis any day of the week.
    It is well known that most of the chemicals used in fracking are common in our daily lives – the concentrations are low so there is no likelihood of health risk – gee some are even present in a cup of coffee. Health risk, water risks, fear and trepidation for our children and children’s children and theirs as well – don’t forget to throw in the most vulnerable (another feel good, warm and fuzzy feel good thing). The UK Chief Scientist Sir Professor Mark Walport gave a speech predominantly focussed on Risk and Innovation in Germany in September 2014. In reference to fracking he stated
    “There are really 3 science and engineering concerns about hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The first of these is: will it cause earth tremors? The second is: will you get contamination of the water table? And the third is: will there be fugitive release of the methane gas? (In other words if you leak all the gas then you lose the advantage of it as a fossil fuel). And what the science and the engineering tells you is that this is a drilling technology and no drilling technology is completely risk-free. But if it is done well, if it is engineered well, if it is governed well, then it is as safe as any other form of drilling, recognising that there is no ‘free lunch’, there is nothing that is completely risk-free.” He went on to note
    “Those are the engineering concerns, and that’s what the Royal Academy of Engineers’ report said and actually multiple other reports have all essentially said the same thing. But the public or publics who are protesting, at least in some parts of the world, about fracking are coming at in from a different angle. They’re coming at it from the values angle and from the ‘my pain, your gain’ angle. And so there’s a group that dislike fracking because they dislike fossil fuels, there’s another group that dislike fracking because they actually just don’t like big companies, and then there’s a third group who just don’t want the inconvenience of having something industrial happening in their back yard.” The referenced speech can be found here

    • Robert on 10 April, 2015 Reply

      Thanks for pointing out that there is a risk. Would you or Mark Walport agree to having a gas well drilled in your back yard? No. Who would? Is this the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer you were refering to?


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