Fracking fact finders on a one-sided mission
June 19th, 2015
Going on a trip without doing your research can be perilous.
You can end up seeing only the bad side of the city, missing out on the highlights and, at the end of the day, returning home with a lingering regret because deep down, you know that there’s a whole lot more you could have seen and done.
And so it may be the case that a delegation from South Australia heading to the US on a fact finding trip about hydraulic fracturing might come back wondering what they missed, judging by their itinerary.
The group will get a very one-sided view of the US shale gas industry, with a series of meetings scheduled with some of the biggest names in the anti-gas field.
There’s no attempt to listen to the communities and chambers of commerce that have benefitted from the so called ‘shale gale’, nor to understand from industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America what the growth in gas development has meant for the economic prosperity of their member organisations.
Perhaps the most glaring emission from the itinerary is a briefing with the US Environment Protection Authority, whose recently released Study of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources found that:
“hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources”
There’s none of that. Instead, there’s a roll call of fractivist favorites.
First on the group’s list is Tony Ingraffea from Cornell University.
Ingraffea’s central contention about methane leakages from gas wells have been discredited by the scientific community and his own peers. You can read more about that here and here.
Ingraffea has even admitted that his work is more advocacy than science.
Also on the agenda for the fracking fact finders are:
- Robert Howarth – another Cornell professor whose contentions about methane and greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas activity have been called into question by researchers in the United States
- Sandra Steingraber – an ecologist, author, poet and cofounder of New Yorkers Against Fracking who earlier this year claimed that energy development only creates jobs for women as ‘hotel maids and prostitutes’. She’s also described fracking as a ‘tornado on the horizon’ and a ‘human rights issue.’
- Jannette Barth – an economist who calls into doubt claims about economic development from shale gas development in the Marcellus region, despite evidence to the contrary.
- Michelle Bamberger & Robert Oswald – Cornell University Professor of Pharmacology Robert Oswald and private practice veterinarian Michelle Bamberger co-authored a paper on claimed impacts of gas drilling on human and animal health.
Needless to say, the scientific community had a slightly different point of view on their findings. University of Melbourne Honorary Professor and United Nations Environment Program advisor Ian Rae said:
“It certainly does not qualify as a scientific paper but is, rather, an advocacy piece that does not involve deep (no pun intended!) analysis of the data gathered to support its case.
The data in Table 2 are incomplete in that no dates or places are provided, and no references to other commentary on the events it reports, so it’s hard to assess the weight of the evidence. Surely there were reports to or by regulatory agencies. It could be that this is old evidence and that note has been taken of the hazards and appropriate regulations put in place to mitigate them. We just don’t know.
Contributions to the journal are said to be refereed, but the refereeing process evidently was not very stringent. For example, better refereeing would have forced the authors to provide the details I identified above as missing from their compilation. As well, it might also have curtailed some of the less-well supported statements and asked for more recent references to the scientific basis for expressions of concern that material dated to the 1960s and 1970s.
Bamberger appears to be a veterinarian in private practice in Ithaca, New York, while Oswald is a pharmacology professor at nearby Cornell University. As far as I can see, neither has a track record of investigation in environmental studies. This does not mean they are wrong to sound a note of concern, but it does mean that they cannot be regarded as experts in the field with broad experience and attainments.”
It’s yet to be seen why the group needs to travel to the other side of the world to get such a one-sided view of the shale gas industry and the well established engineering process of hydraulic fracturing.
A great deal of balanced, factual and evidence-based material can be accessed right here in Australia.
For example, the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) produced an excellent overview of unconventional gas production a couple of years back that includes multiple references to South Australia, while more recently, the South Australian Government’s Department of State Development launched a new website to provide the facts on hydraulic fracturing.
There’s a plethora of other Australian based research and evidence that the group could look at, and a long established onshore unconventional gas industry that they could examine, visit and study, but it seems that facts and evidence just can’t compete with the attraction of ‘privately guided New York sightseeing’, or the promise of a night at Niagara Falls.
Whatever the case, it’s a one-sided itinerary that leaves no doubt as to what the study reports will invariably have to say.