More hot air as another Gaslander returns to Australia

April 8th, 2016

A US farmer turned activist is visiting Australia again this month. John Fenton featured in both of the Gasland films alongside New York city filmmaker Josh Fox and others including academic Anthony Ingraffea, whose work has been widely debunked and heavily criticised.

Ingraffea, described in Gasland as ‘the Godfather of well integrity’ infamously stated that one in five wells were structurally compromised as soon as they were built – a claim which has been torn apart by authorities in the USA and Australia.

Having been chased down by journalists over the content of his films, Josh Fox himself has publicly admitted that facts were not as important to him in making the Gasland films as was his role in sending a message to the oil and gas industry.

Despite being a favoured academic among anti-fracking activists, Ingraffea recently told a court that he actually knew very little about hydraulic fracturing and had never actually seen a frack take place.

John Fenton visited Australia two years ago.  It is quite likely his whistle-stop tour of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia will be marked by the same stories and the same claims made on his last visit to Australia in 2014.

Fenton hails from Pavillion, Wyoming.  The efforts of Fox, Fenton and a handful of others have made Pavillion a centre of debate over shale development and fracking in the US.

The area achieved headlines after complaints about water quality which lead to a draft Environment Protection Authority  report in December 2011, suggesting there may be a link between hydraulic fracturing and test results from two deep water monitoring wells the agency drilled.

The problem was that the ‘possible’ link was not properly investigated – and was certainly never proven.

Energy in Depth in the US exposed the flaws in that investigation (see here, here, and here, just for starters).

But the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) last year sealed the issue, when it published the results of a two and a half year long investigation into water contamination, concluding that it is unlikely that fracking contaminated Pavillion’s water supply:

“Evidence suggests that upward gas seepage (or gas charging of shallow sands) was happening naturally before gas well development.

It is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallower depths intercepted by water- supply wells. Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths intersected by water-supply wells. The likelihood that the hydraulic fracture well stimulation treatments (i.e. often less than 200 barrels) employed in the Pavillion Gas Field have led to fluids interacting with shallow groundwater (i.e. water-supply well depths) is negligible.”

There’s an erudite summary of the Pavillion study and what came before it here.

Late last month Stanford University published another study that claimed a firm link between the gas industry and water contamination in Pavillion. But, as was later reported, the author of that study was the same person who wrote the 2011 EPA report.

In effect, the latest ‘research’, from Stanford is a rehash of the same flawed investigation widely criticized by federal and state officials.

We can probably anticipate that Fenton will nonetheless claim that the latest Stanford paper is some kind of vindication of his position. More considered examination of the facts and the history is unlikely to be so generous.

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