Sunday, 23 September 2012

Another predicatably one-sided Guardian article

Isn't it frustrating when an organization that you otherwise identify with can be so completely dunderheaded over certain important issues. The Green Party's anti-scientific attitudes to homeopathy and to GM foods spring immediately to mind. And once again, my paper of choice (the Guardian) prints (yet another) poorly researched and in some aspects downright false articles about shale gas and fracking. So once again, my comments:
But evidence is mounting that fracking pollutes groundwater with a witches' brew of toxic chemicals, creating imminent threats to public health and safety. It has even caused earthquakes in Ohio.
One report from one test well in Wyoming. And some methane contamination from a poorly cemented well in Dimock, now dealt with and methane levels below acceptable limits once again. Does that count as 'evidence mounting'? I guess so. From several hundred thousand fracked wells across the US. No mention of the head of the EPA's views on shale gas. As for the earthquakes in Ohio - they were caused by waste-water injection, not fracking. Waste-water injection is a common practice throughout the oil industry. And if you're really against water injection, pass a regulation requiring companies to treat all their water at the surface - which is also common practice in many situations.
The detonation of explosive charges, coupled with the infusion of high-pressure fluids, fractures the shale, allowing the gas to bubble up to the surface.
The 'how-shocking-is-fracking' brigade love mentioning the explosives. Sounds dangerous, right? Truth is, explosives have been used to complete oil wells for as long as for ever. The explosives are not to blow the rock apart - they are small directed charges to pierce holes in the steel well-bore casing. It is the high-pressure fluid that moves into fractures and pushes them apart. Proppant (usually sand) is then injected to keep the fractures open, allowing the gas to flow to the well, where it rises to the surface.
The components of the fluids used for fracking are considered protected trade secrets, although they are known to contain toxins. Where the fracking fluids go is a key question.
The details of every chemical pumped down every well in the US is available on this website. It's getting to the point that one begins to suspect the journalists who still push the 'fracking-chemicals-are-trade-secrets' line are not just poorly informed/poorly researched, but outright promulgating lies to make their articles sound more dramatic (and thereby garner a larger following). As for this 'toxic witches' brew' - the latest fracking fluids are in fact safe to drink. Another thing that really bugs me is the use of the word 'cocktail' whenever people describe the fracking fluid (as in this 'cocktail of chemicals') - if someone handed my a cocktail that was 99% water and 1% active ingredient, I think I'd be finding a new barman!

As for where the fluids go? Between 30% to 50% come back up the well, meaning the rest is still in the ground, in the shale formation. These shale formations contain gas (of course). The gas will have been there for hundreds of millions of years. Natural gas, being buoyant and low viscosity, is one of the mobile fluids you can have in the subsurface. If the formation has been capable of trapping gas for 100,000,000 years, I'm pretty sure it can trap saline brines, which don't have any buoyancy force acting on them, and are much more viscous than gas. So in short, we know where the fluid has gone - it's trapped in the shale formation.
Fracking entered the national debate when the award-winning documentary Gasland, made by film-maker Josh Fox, showed how people living near fracking operations could easily set their kitchen tap water on fire.
Gasland did win plenty of awards, but mainly for it's artistic qualities (which, fair play, is really well shot) not for journalistic integrity. No mention of the state regulation findings that the gas coming out of the 'flaming faucets' was biogenic in origin, not thermogenic, meaning that it was gas from shallow bacterial processes, not related to the shale gas at depth (they have characteristically different isotopic signatures). Methane in water supplies is a common phenomena in many artisan wells across the US, and has been for centuries. Josh Fox knows this, but didn't consider it relevant to mention in his film. Gasland is not journalism, it's storytelling. Which is fine, but the Guardian is a newspaper, so it's supposed to do journalism.
Like every good journalist, and appropriately, in this post-Citizens United era, Fox follows the money
That would be the money flowing into his bank account as environmental groups around the world rush to buy screening rights and speaking engagements, on the basis of his film which strikes just the right controversial, highly unbalanced tone?

As I've said a million time now - shale gas extraction IS and industrial process, and as when any industrial process starts up in a new place, there should be a fair and rational discussion to weigh the potential risks and benefits. Which is why it's disappointing that the Guardian seems to be only interested in writing about scare stories and falsehoods.


  1. I suspect the Guardian's actions may well have something to do with it losing money hand over fist. Keepoing people motivated to buy the newspaper by using fear is a staple of many newspapers, especially the tabloids like the Daily Mail that the Guardian and many of it's readers like to look down their nose at, when the Guardian actually uses many of the sensationalist and scaremongering tactics it claims to abhor.

    It's not just with fracking. Look at tuition fees. There are arguments for and against the changes, and I'm no massive fan of what's been done myself, but the Guardian has spewed misleading article after misleading article about them, helping spread myths that are most likely to put off the very potential students they claim their hearts bleed so much for. Meanwhile, it's left to the Telegraph and Martin Lewis (TV's Money Saving Expert), to dispell these myths with useful information.

  2. ALSO, THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT TO READ, JV. Nor do they recommend being controversial. So, serious news. <3