Friday 15 November 2013

My first media hack job: "The Truth Behind the Dash for Gas"

The Truth Behind "The Truth Behind the Dash for Gas"

Talk to media people enough, and something like this was inevitable, but it seems that I am the star in a new anti-fracking documentary entitled "The truth behind the dash for gas" (my part starts from about 20 minutes in).

Back in November last year I received an email from a young guy who said he was looking to make his way as a film-maker just out from film-school. His email to me is quoted below:
I am putting together a short film about fracking in Somerset. The aim is to present a fair and informative assessment of the potential for fracking in Somerset, the risks and dangers associated with it, and the views of local people. The film and those working on it are independent of both the anti-fracking campaign groups and those who stand to gain from the fracking industry.
I think just by watching the first few minutes of the film you can see that their  claimed intent "to present a fair and informative assessment of the potential for fracking in Somerset" is barefaced lie. Even more barefaced is their claim that "the film and those working on it are independent of [...] the anti-fracking campaign groups". However, the film has a facebook page, in which it clearly states that the film is facilitated by Frack Free Somerset. The FrackFreeSomerset and FrackOff websites appear prominently in the credits at the end of the film.

Given that the very first contact between myself and the film makers was a lie, one can hardly expect the remainder of the film to do any better. I find it especially ironic that the 2nd word in the film title is "truth", while their very first contact with me was an obvious, barefaced and outright lie. It's not worth my time to address the content of the film as a whole, but I do want to comment on the parts in which my comments have been used.

Comment #1: that debate over hydraulic fracturing has descended into a media slanging match, and I don't think anyone could disagree with that. However, the film moves straight to the same science denialism more usually seen in the anti-climate-change world - if you can't trust the Royal Society for advice on scientific matters, the British Geological Survey, or the Geological Society, for matters geological, or Public Health England for public health matters, then I'm not sure where is left for you to turn, and the term conspiracy theorist begins to apply (see my final comment for more in this vein).  

As for my own 'close ties', I spent 3 months in the BP Institute in Cambridge as a 20-year-old M.Sci student. While BP provided the funds to set up the lab, the students who do projects there are  university students, and have no connection to BP (I certainly spoke to noone from BP while I was there, and in fact the majority of research being done when I was there was on developing energy efficient buildings). I also spent a few months in Rijswijk in Shell's research facility during my Ph.D. During my Ph.D I developed geophysical techniques to ensure safe storage of CO2 in geological reservoirs - so-called CCS, a potential method to mitigate climate change. During this time Shell asked my to come over and help apply some of these methods to their test site at Ketzin, Germany. All of this is made abundantly clear on my website.

Comment #2: I say that in many cases the impacts have been exaggerated. The Scranton Times-Tribune investigated claims made by residents about shale developments in Pennsylvania, finding that 77% of accusations were without substantiation. Surely an example of impacts exaggerated? Equally, even in cases where regulatory breaches by companies have lead to issues - the example of Dimock springs to mind - the impacts of this have been regularly exaggerated. At Dimock, while methane was found to have contaminated groundwater, there was no evidence of fracking fluids in the water. It's not good to have methane in groundwater, and this should be prevented from occurring at all times. However, methane is not toxic or harmful to human health, barring the risk of explosion if it allowed to accumulate in significant amounts. After the company had been cited and forced to repair its wells, levels of methane dropped, returning below the minimum safety levels set by the EPA (a fact never mentioned by activists, who will tell you that once contaminated, an aquifer can never be restored).

Comment #3: The most famous flaming tap in Gasland, the Markham well, had nothing to do with oil and gas drilling. This has been made abundantly clear by the Colorado State regulator (COGCC), which felt the need to release a comment to "correct several errors" in the film. The flaming tap is the headline image of Gasland, it appears in all the trailers and promotional material. That the gas is of biogenic origin, from shallow layers well above those targeted for drilling, implying that gas drilling is not the cause. This film attempts to argue that poor well casing still allowed shallow biogenic methane to migrate. However, the COGCC report makes clear that "there is little or no temporal relationship" between gas drilling in the area and the complaints made about the Markham and McClure wells. This is a fairly massive oversight to be made, one that I think that is worthy of comment. Clearly the film-makers find it easy to relate to other films that are economical with the truth in order to tell a story.

The regulators did rule that a drilling company was at fault in the case of the Ellsworth well. This company reached a settlement with the claimant (again, a fact that the film neglects to mention). The COGCC conducted sampling over a 170 sq mile area, and the Ellsworth well was the only one where any impact was detected. Strangely, we don't get to see Josh Fox setting the Ellsworth taps on fire - one can only guess at why?

The next sleight of hand is either quite clever, or monumentally dumb, I'm really not sure which. They move on to discuss the Duke methane studies, which I have discussed in previous posts here and here. Of course, there are a number of studies performed along along these lines, all of which come to very different conclusions to the Duke study. For some reason the film makers don't mention these (one wonders why). However, these film-makers can't even get the Duke PNAS study facts right! A screen-grab of the PNAS abstract is shown, highlighting an apparent claim that methane was found in 82% of drinking water within 1km of a gas well.
 How about we look at that section of the abstract in full:
In fact, you can clearly see that the 82% figure refers to all the water sampled, not just the ones near gas drilling sites. Methane was found in 82% of water samples, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THEY ARE NEAR GAS WELLS OR NOT! Incidentally, this is a similar percentage to that found by Molofsky et al., who sampled a much larger dataset (1,700 samples vs 140 samples), finding that 78% of samples contained methane, regardless of proximity of gas wells. In fact this is why establishing whether shale development has caused problems is so difficult in Pennsylvania - there is already a lot of methane in the groundwater. Where studies have been conducted in areas where natural methane is not present in shallow water, they have not seen an impact from drilling.

I honestly find it hard to believe that this accidental highlighting of parts of two sentences, conveniently removing the context to make a scarier quote, is accidental. Either way it is particularly dumb to hope that people familiar with the source material won't spot the attempted trick.

Comment #4 is about well integrity. The astute among you will notice a cut in the editing between the start and end of my answer. Clearly, other things I've said have been edited out. Sadly, this interview was conducted a year ago, so I can't remember exactly what I said, and back then I was too naive to make my own recordings (not a mistake I'll make again), but presumably it was something that didn't fit with the narrative being portrayed.

The films then cuts to the SLB Oilfield Review from 2003. Always a good litmus test of a shale gas commentator is how they treat this report. Firstly this report covers data from deep offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a very challenging drilling environment, so it's not surprising to have more problems offshore than onshore. The only statistics relevant to onshore UK shale drilling are stats from other onshore wells.

More importantly, the film describes the stats as showing either "leakage" or "failure". In fact, they depict incidents of Sustained Casing Pressure. SCP isn't a good thing, and again it should be avoided, but it doesn't equate to the mass leakage of hydrocarbons into shallow layers. Categorically, these stats have no bearing on the rate at which well integrity issues are causing contamination, which is what, misleadingly, the film tries to claim.

The most obvious place to look for wellbore integrity-related contamination issues from onshore wells drilled under a UK regulatory system, is of course to look onshore in the UK, where we have drilled 2,000 wells already, many of them in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (making most of them 30 years old at least). One of the few things this film gets right is that whether a well is fracked or not has no bearing on wellbore integrity issues. Therefore, if the statistical claims made in this film were true, there would be 1,000 onshore contamination incidents already. If the bold claim that follows ("all wells leak eventually") were true, we'd surely have 2,000 incidents by now. Clearly the claims made in the film do not add up, because I'm not aware of any problems associated with onshore wells in the UK.

Similarly, after the Piper Alpha disaster, regulations were significantly tightened to prevent such an event ever happening again. Again, the North Sea has not been turned into an environmental wasteland - we're still so keen to eat North Sea cod that there's almost none left!

We can also look to the US, which has hundreds of thousands of onshore wells, and actually examine statistics relating to actual incidents of groundwater contamination, as opposed to SCP. Luckily, the US Groundwater Protection Council has done exactly this, in a study released in 2011. They find that of 187,000 wells drilled in Texas, and 33,000 wells drilled in Ohio, only 21 and 12 wells respectively had seen casing issues leading to contamination, rates of 0.01% and 0.04%.

Comment #5 regards regulatory differences between US and UK, and resulting differences in operating practices. The above statistics show that contamination is not endemic to shale drilling. However, even the handful of cases that have occurred is a handful too many. These few incidences are inevitably the result of poor practice, and/or the contravention of regulations.

While I'm speaking, they cut to some shots of flowback waste pits. What they fail to point out is that these are not allowed in the UK - any waste flowing back from the wells must be stored in double-lined steel tanks. This is with good reason: in the GWPC report I mention above, the majority of drilling-related contamination incidents (172 in Ohio, 190 in Texas) have come from surface activities, not from processes happening under the ground. In the US it is common to store the waste fluid in open, plastic-lined pits. These have been known to overflow during heavy rain, or for the liners to tear, allowing the contents to leak. I think the endless shots of waste-fluid pits that activists like to show indicates either that they are not aware that these are banned in the UK, or that they do know this but don't like to let facts get in the way of the story.

For example, in one well-publicised case XTO opened the valve on one of their tanks, allowing the fluid to flow out into the ground, while in another case a trucker dumped his load into a nearby storm drain, rather than taking it to the treatment plant. This sort of illegal activity should absolutely be prevented, and it is important that regulators keep a sharp eye on operators to ensure that this doesn't happen. But it doesn't show that shale gas development is inherently problematic. Again, we can look the the UK example for dealing with produced water. The existing UK onshore industry handles 70 millions barrels of produced water a year, with no apparent contamination problems.

The next interviewee, Laurence Rankin, is presented a "Former Environment Agency manager", with the obvious intention of making us think that he is an impartial commentator. Since my 3 months as a 20-year-old M.Sci student at the BP Institute is worthy of mention, maybe the film should have also pointed out that he is also a coordinator of the Sefton Green Party and member of Friends of the Earth, so perhaps slightly less impartial than first appearances might suggest. While the Green Party man seems to have a problem with Cuadrilla's activities, the Environment Agency itself doesn't, and hasn't claimed that Cuadrilla have broken any of their regulations. The fact that the Green Party man isn't familiar with fracking, doesn't mean it hasn't happened. For example, horizontal wells have been fracked at Wytch Farm in Dorset. Update - this comment reflected media reports regarding Wytch Farm. Water is injected into the Wytch Farm reservoir, but this is to increase the reservoir pressure and drive oil towards production wells (a common practice in conventional fields), not to fracture the rock.

The use of the term 'slick-water' is another slight of hand, somehow implying that slick-water is somehow worse that what has gone before. In fact, in the good old days it was common to use a mix of gelled gasoline and napalm as the frack fluid. Given the choice of water with 1% chemical additives, or gasoline and napalm as the frack fluid, the use of slick-water represents an improvement. And the fact that there were no specific references to fracking in exploration licenses is that it was considered such a normal part of oilfield and drilling activities (with 10% of existing onshore wells being hydraulically stimulated). The main difference between now and what has gone before is one of scale, with modern treatments using higher volumes, rather than any major differences in the technique itself.

The film moves on to the Cuadrilla-induced earthquake near Blackpool. The next mistake made comes with the claim that the increase in earthquakes seen in US is directly attributable to hydraulic stimulation. In fact, the increase in seismicity is caused by an increase in the volumes of waste fluids, from both conventional and unconventional operations, being disposed of by deep injection into saline aquifers. I know this because I have worked in depth on these events, including writing a report for parliament, because they have implications for CCS. There are no proposals in the UK to dispose of fracking fluids through injection into deep aquifers. As far as I am aware, we do not have suitable deep saline aquifers onshore (although we are targeting such aquifers offshore in the North Sea for CCS). Again, one is left wondering whether the film makers know this and are lying, or simply do not understand the science that is being done in this area?

There is only one case in the US where fracking has triggered seismicity - in the Eola field, Oklahoma, which occurred in January 2011, 3 months before Preese Hall event, but was not reported as such until August 2011, after Preese Hall, and one case in Canada (British Columbia), where events occurred between 2009 and 2012, although they were not reported until August 2012, a long time after Preese Hall. So Preese Hall was the first reported incident of induced seismicity triggered by hydraulic stimulation for shale gas.

With respect to reporting of the earthquake and resulting casing deformation to the Energy Minister, there was no regulatory requirement to report casing deformation to him - this is the role of the HSE. Moreover, I think the actions taken were entirely appropriate - they ceased operations to allow a 6-month scientific study to be conducted, after which the results were reported for DECC, HSE and the rest of the world to read. While we're on the point, all of the casing deformation was within the production casing string, within the target zone of production - it was actually below the depths of the frack stages that triggered the seismicity. It poses no risk whatsoever to the integrity of the well. The figure below shows the well design - the deformation is the little yellow bar right at the bottom.

I think that's it in terms of my contribution to this piece of work. I'll comment briefly on the accusation of "mission-creep" in terms of chemical use - every chemical used in the UK must be permitted by the Environment Agency, and fully disclosed to the public.

One final point in closing: the go-to 'expert' for this film appears to be Ian R. Crane, an ex-oilfield-executive, who gets the final word as far as this film is concerned. I don't usually like to stoop to ad-hom arguments, but as Mr Crane seems to appear on an increasing number of anti-fracking pieces, it'll be worth your time having a look at his profile on RationalWiki, a website dedicated to uncovering cranks, conspiracy theorists, and pseudoscience. If this is the best figure-head that the anti-fracking movement can come up with, I would suggest they need to try a little harder.

UPDATE: I checked out the FrackFreeSomerset website to look for more information. According them, the film is not just "facilitated" by FFS, but in fact "produced" by them.

UPDATE (21/11/2013): The film maker himself has left a comment for me. He is correct to point out that I failed to address my comments of water use. In the film, I describe how much water is used for a single stimulation. Of course, the issue is cumulative effects over time if many wells need to be stimulated. The water use for an individual well (~10,000 - 50,000 cubic metres) sounds like a lot, but it must be placed in context. Between the 3 largest water utilities (Severn Trent, United and Thames), 1.7 billion liters of water are lost to leaks PER DAY. If water companies were able to improve on this by just 1%, we would have available an extra 17,000 cubic metres of water, that's enough water to frack a well every day. If water consumption is your concern, don't blame frackers, get the water utilities to fix their leaks (or at least 1% of their leaks).


  1. Just to pick up one a small point about the casing deformation after the tremor. So that happened in an area where they were already perforations in the casing. So in effect it had already been "damaged" on purpose. Have I got that right?

    1. Hi SMBL. Your interpretation is correct. On the picture above, each set of horizontal lines represent a frack stimulation. They start at the bottom and work up. The quakes were stimulated in stages 2, 4 and 5. The deformation zone was between stages 2 and 3. So the stimulations in zones 4 and 5 were several hundred metres above the deformation zone, so completely irrelevant in terms of the possibility of contamination of shallow groundwater.

  2. Dear Dr JV
    I am not a geologist but a historian. If one of my students used rationalwiki as an authoritative source I would award them a third class mark and ask them in for an urgent tutorial. Your 'research methods' make me extremely suspicious about the other claims in your blog.
    Dr JB

    1. Would the Guardian be a preferable source for you?
      Are you denying that Mr Crane has, among many other claims, tried to claim that the "New World Order" would stage a fake alien attack to take over the world? There's plenty of evidence from all sorts of sources, RationalWiki was simply the first that came up.

      As for the other claims, links to peer-reviewed papers and/or reports from learned bodies are available throughout. I've even kept them all in one easy-to-reach place for you:

      If you don't like my take, there's plenty more available here:
      and here:

    2. By-the-by, John Brown, here's Mr Crane claiming that commercial airplanes are being used to spray us with "chemicals":

    3. An argument is always stronger if you play the ball not the man. And my points about Rationalwiki as a junk source for academic argument still stands.
      As for your links, reports by the Institute of Directors and Cuadrilla are not peer-reviewed, nor are they from 'learned bodies'.
      Dr JB

    4. Indeed, play the ball not the man, couldn't agree more. So it's odd that thus far you've not addressed any argument I've made, merely attacked the quality of my scholarship, which apparently makes you suspicious. Pot, meet Mr Kettle.

      As for the ad hominem with respect to Mr Crane. As I state, I don't usually like to sink to that, which should be apparent from other articles on this blog.

      However, the credibility of this film relies heavily an the testimony of Mr Crane, without further investigation. He is allowed to make his claims unchallenged and without the need for evidence or substantiation, and the audience is expected to accept this on the basis of his position of authority ("ex-Oilfield Executive"). Where a key argument is one from Mr Crane's authority, rather than evidence, it becomes appropriate to investigate whether that authority is valid.

    5. Thanks for admitting that your scholarship is suspect.
      Dr JB

    6. It is evident that Deep Geopolitics is not an area that you have ever researched JV, yet you are quick to dismiss a particular proposition, purely on the basis that it is beyond your comprehension and does not fit with your prevailing worldview! Meanwhile, unlike yourself who has to rely upon a perception of 'authority', I claim none. I always state that I do not expect (or want) anyone to take anything I say at face value, I simply seek to stimulate curiosity so that people will take the time and make the effort to investigate the subject for themselves. As for your arrogant claim that, 'people are more likely to believe government funded scientists than the man from the industry' ... well, I addressed that in Mondays edition of Fracking Nightmare. One thing is becoming very, very clear ... any attempt to claim that you are impartial on the issue of unconventional gas, is delusional.


    7. I do not intend to rely on any perception of authority - every comment in the above blog is based on data. As another example, you claim to "address" the issue of public perception of scientists, industry, government etc. Well, there is actual data available on that - you can see it here:
      It would seem 83% of the public do trust scientists, while 11% do not. So not arrogance, just an analysis of data. I am fully aware that you are on the side of the 11%, but you must be careful not to assume that your opinions represent the general public. This is why science relies on data wherever possible.

      As for whether I am "impartial on the issue of unconventional gas". Yes, my views on the subject are clear from the various posts on this blog. These views are arrived at through my analysis of the situation and the data at hand, not through any paid incentive. I am often accused of being "in it for the money". Anyone claiming that clearly has little idea of what life is like for young postdoctoral researchers - the salary is not great I can tell you. If I'm in it for the money, then clearly I'm not doing a very good job of making any of it. For example, I could easily double my salary by taking a job with your old employers. I have chosen not to.

      Regardless, your comment is rich indeed (pun intended) coming from someone who is condemning shale gas while, quite literally, waving a money tin in the air. After all, whose of our websites has a "shopping cart" and "checkout" section? I would posit that your need to sell your products influences your position on shale gas - after all, how many people would come to your events, and buy your products, if you said that everything was fine?

  3. I've yet to view the documentary, but I imagine if a frackhead like James Verdon felt it necessary to write such a lengthy post criticising Jackson's efforts, that the documentary must be powerfully convincing and truthful. Let's face it: we have all the facts on our side and you just can't hack it.

    1. I wrote a lengthy post because it was using falsehoods to attack things that I'd said, obviously. In addition, I find being lied to, to my face, by a person who I thought I was trying to help, to be immensely irritating. Communications between scientists and the media can be problematic at the best of times. Unscrupulous people like this make this problem worse. A volcanologist twitter-followee summed up the situation neatly in respect to these events:

    2. I found Dr JVs segment on the film to be far less convincing than the rest of it. I wonder how happy Dr JV would be to have an oil rig in his street? Seems to me that he's fallen for a few of the old brown envelopes and the result is spouting pseudo-science. The fact that this blog has been ramped up the Google listings when it is just a blog makes me suspicious of dark art intervention by Bell Pottinger.or ssimilar. Have you read for instance the UNEP report condemming the dangers of fracking? Do you know better than the UN Dr JV?

    3. Actually I grew up in Hampshire with "oil rigs" only a couple of miles away on the Humbly Grove oil field. Meanwhile, the walk from my house to my primary school went over the site of an abandoned well. So don't presume to tell me what I would or would not be happy with.

      The fact is that the drilling rigs, with which everyone is familiar, are only on site for a month of two while the well is drilled. What's is left behind is actually very small, and difficult to spot behind a couple of well-landscaped hedges. Meanwhile, if a well is abandoned, the pad can be landscaped such that you'd never even know it was there.

      As for the brown envelopes? I wish! Do you really think that the grand PR scheme of what looks to become a multi-billion pound industry is to pay a university post-doc to write something on blogger? Much as I enjoy what I do, I'd be the first to admit that this is hardly the most professionally put-together website. The purpose of this blog is to try to shed some facts on to what is a highly polarised, often nonsensical debate about fracking. If it is scoring highly on google listing, then that is because people are reading it, because they want the facts.

      I am aware of the UN report. Does it recommend that fracking be banned?

  4. Compare what anti-frackers stand to gain with what those behind fracking stand to gain.
    This is another simple case of People & Planet vs. money
    We KNOW fracking is unsound, regardless of how many words are written and spoken on the subject.
    Watch the film and make your own mind up.

    1. Greenpeace's annual income is close to €300 million. How much of that would they stand to lose if they took anything but the hardest possible line on shale developments?

      Watch the film, read the many learned body reports and scientific papers listed here (or many other places):
      and make your own mind up.

  5. James, thank you so much for raising the profile of this critically important documentary. As you feel so strongly, perhaps you would agree to participate in formal public debate? I would be happy to oblige and nominate Prof. David Smythe as my seconder. After all, it shouldn't take too much effort for you to dismiss the EVIDENCE I present as either 'psuedo-science' or the rantings of a 'Conspiracy Theorist'!

    1. Given the total lack of honesty and integrity I have experienced from those involved with this film, I have absolutely no intention of dealing with them in any capacity whatsoever.

      If you have issue with anything in the above post, do please point out where you disagree.

    2. It is a common denominator amongst the 'pro-fracking' community that they are generally only able to present to a sympathetic audience. With few exceptions, academia is reliant upon corporate funding and is rarely able to express any dissent towards the corporate/Govt agenda. I have never yet witnessed or participated in, any open debate on this issue where the audience walk away believing that High Volume High Pressure Hydraulic Fracturing is a worth the contamination risk to the UK water supply. I'm sure you know that you could not defend your support for this industry in open debate; consequently, I am not surprised that you elect to hide behind your blog.

    3. How about you come along to this event, and you can watch me have a discussion with those both pro- and against shale development:

      As you so astutely point out, otherwise I'd merely be giving the oxygen of publicity to a film that doesn't deserve it.

    4. One minor problem ... this event is apparently only open to members but thanks for the invitation.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi James, I just want to make clear to you that there has been no deception with regards to obtaining an interview although I can see why you would think so. The person who approached you and filmed the interview was indeed a young uni grad making a balanced doc. We then joined forces and he obtained a consent form from you, which I have. I am an independent film-maker with no attachment to Frack Free Somerset. They facilitated a small donation, provided some contacts and research. They are using the film as part of their campaign. I pointed out to them that the word 'produced' is misleading. Therefore you can't use the 'I won't deal with dishonest people' line to escape a debate with Mr Crane. I challenge you to refute anything Mr Crane says in the documentary. I also note with interest you don't attempt to discredit Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith, nor do you comment on the UN report that fracking cannot be made safe, or defend your misleading comment that we only have to be worried about 3 swimming pools-worth of water being used up in the fracking process.

    Thankyou for pointing out the 87% methane quote. That is indeed a mistake which I am in the process of rectifying. So 87% of water wells sampled within 100km of a gas well contain methane and the amount of methane multiplies by a factor of 6 for those wells within 1km of a gas well. That's much scarier, thankyou!

    You often suggest omitted info as deliberately misleading (conspiracy?) yet you yourself fail to tell the whole story re the Duke report. You triumphantly state no methane was found in Arkansas. True, but the authors of that report clearly state:

    'The hydrogeology of Arkansas's Fayetteville Shale basin is very different from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. FAR FROM CONTRADICTING THE EARLIER STUDIES, the Arkansas study "suggests that variations in local and regional geology play major roles in determining the possible risk of groundwater impacts from shale gas development. As such, they must be taken into consideration before drilling begins."

    I don't have the luxury of detailing whole studies and have to make hard decisions about what to leave out of a complex issue. I can assure you the cut in your dialogue was due to stumbling and repetition. And, as we have now established I'm an honest person, you can trust me on that!

    1. Hi MJ,

      One of the few uplifting aspects of this particular blog post was that several people have subsequently got in contact with me reporting similarly dishonest behaviour at the hands of anti-fracking groups. If I am tarring you unfairly with the same brush then I apologise, but it seems that for these groups the ends are justifying the means. At the very least, however, it would be considered courteous to inform me of the change of circumstances, and of the film's release, rather than leaving me to stumble across it on YouTube. For what it's worth, I would not have rescinded my permission. The fact that you did neither leaves a sour taste, to say the least.

      As mentioned in the main post, it's not worth my while to go through the whole film - the purpose of this post was to point out the evidence behind the things that I am on camera as saying.

      Thank you for reminding my about the comment regarding water use - in amongst all the other comments I had forgotten to mention that one. I will update the main post for you in a moment.

      It is clear that you are cherry-picking the studies you show. There are a number of studies looking at methane in groundwater both in PA and elsewhere. Only one of which (probably the least robust) shows any impact of gas drilling, and this is the one you show. I am not a filmmaker, though I can well understand the "hard decisions about what to leave out of a complex issue". By your take on this however, a filmmaker would be justified in taking the handful of papers that do not show ill-effects of smoking to make a film claiming that smoking is safe, or in taking the handful of papers that do not show any global warming impacts to make a film claiming that climate change is bogus. All because of those "hard decisions about what to leave out of a complex issue".

  8. JV is a self-professsed, 'academic paid by the British Government' ... enough said!

  9. Dear James,
    Laurence did indeed inform you of the change in circumstances and we were going to reinterview as I'm sure you'll remember. In the end there wasn't time or more importantly funds. The reason I didn't inform you of completion is it isn't complete, just awaiting further funding.

    Again I must point out that I was not aware of the other studies pertaining to methane in Pennsylvanian drinking water. This was not deliberate 'cherrypicking'. You seem to see conspiracies where there are none, interesting seeing as you feel the need to use the classic 'that's a conspiracy theory', 'he's a conspiracy theorist'  to discredit those who disagree with you. As I mentioned previously, you both discredit the Duke report and use it to support your argument.  You complain about the use of Evap pit footage to cover your clip saying things won't be like the US but that's why they're used there: to illustrate your point that what happens in the US isn't currently allowed in the UK. But what about gas flaring? Flaring WILL be permitted in the UK, at a time when air quality monitoring has just been reduced.

    In the documentary, you  mislead the public into thinking we only have to worry about a few pools of water when, as you well know, fracking is causing already strained water supplies in the US and Australia to run dry:

    When I asked you to respond to this, you mention the problem of widescale water usage as an aside, then go on to say 'don't blame fracking, blame the water companies'. Forgive the unscientific analogy but isn't that a bit like saying 'Well yeah we did dump sulphuric acid in the river, but it was already dirty'. Of course water companies should cut wastage. Is it going to happen? Nope. Should we be using a process that wastes what's left? No.

    In the same way that you're too busy to actually disprove anything that Ian Crane says (even though you have plenty of time to trawl the internet for incriminating info) and too busy to comment on other aspects of the documentary, I'm too busy to respond to all the claims you make of 'lies' in the documentary. But every perceived 'slight of hand' (sic) in the film is countered by your own information management! I'll give just one example:

    You say slick water is misleading then go on to say:
    'in the good old days it was common to use a mix of gelled gasoline and napalm as the frack fluid. Given the choice of water with 1% chemical additives, or gasoline and napalm as the frack fluid, the use of slick-water represents an improvement.'

    1% doesn't sound like much. Many suggest it's closer to 5% but 1% of 1 million gallons is 10,000 gallons, as you well know. 2,000 wells, 64 billion gallons of water, 640 million gallons of chemicals. And what about the Depleted Uranium  mentioned in the  haliburton patent:

    That's the Depleted Uranium used in warheads by the allied erm... warheads in Iraq and the Balkans, causing clusters of birth defects.

    And by the way, napalm IS gelled gasoline, not that I'm condoning it's use. I can't find any record of it being common use, what's your source? I can only find a record of it being used initially.

    1. Dear MJ,

      Please remember that I have all of the correspondence between myself and Laurence, and it takes me about 30 seconds to check through it to see if it is consistent with what you claim. And at no point did Laurence inform me of the change in circumstances with respect to the film - he told me that the reason for doing a second interview was that there had been a technical problem with the mic during the first filming.

      Why the desperate attempt to claim otherwise? Surely the easier thing to do would be to admit that you could have handled the situation better, apologise, and then we can all move on.

      So you were genuinely unaware of the the majority of research looking at methane in Pennsylvania groundwaters? Given your above record in terms of honesty I remain doubtful, but it this is genuinely the case then I am happy to apologise for assuming that you were cherry-picking, and
      instead conclude that you merely know very little about the subject you
      are filming, and can't be bothered to research it properly. Either way, now that you do know about them, I'm sure you'll be putting them into the final version of your film.

      As an aside, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that I want to both
      discredit the Duke report and yet use it for support? The Duke study is an interesting piece of evidence, which should be considered in the context of other studies on similar issues. This is how science works.

      I'm able to understand the implication of the evap pits shots. However, at no point does the film actually say that they are not allowed to be used in the UK, leaving plenty of room for viewers to come to the wrong conclusions if they wish. I note that similar pictures appear all over FFS's literature, so clearly there is considerable confusion in this regard. And yes, flaring will be allowed, and at no point do I say that it won't be.

      In my interview I make it absolutely clear that the water quantity I talk about is for one well. This should not be misleading for anyone capable of basic multiplication to multiply that by the number of wells that might be needed. However, your analogy about suphuric acid is as nonsensical as it is provocative. Water use in the Barnett shale represents 0.2% of total consumption in the state of Texas. You may also be interested to know that coal-fired power stations use more water per unit of electricity than that generated from shale gas.

      As for my 'information management', I'm not sure what you think I've missed out. I've talked about the total amounts of fluids used, and I've talked about the percentage of additive. Again I assume that my audience is capable of basic maths - what more information do you need? And the concentration is the most important factor, because it is the concentration that determines whether a fluid is classed as toxic, hazardous, irritant etc. Moreover, your 'information management' fails to mention that while we have probably seen a handful of methane contamination incidents, beyond evap pit-related spills we have not seen any examples groundwater contamination by hydraulic fracturing fluids. We've certainly seen no evidence of depleted uranium contamination of groundwaters.

      Gasoline, napalm, propane, CO2, nitrogen - the industry has used many different fluids over the years. There's no one source for all of this - it's called knowing the field beyond reading a few blogs on the internet.

      This blog has grown over the years, and is now pretty extensive. Getting all of this information into a short interview is, I agree, difficult. However, everything discussed in your interview is discussed and backed up at length throughout this blog.

    2. Golly, you really are determined to brand me as a liar aren't you! I was fully aware that you would have the full email stream. Laurence has just confirmed that he told you we had joined forces outside your University building on Park Street before you signed the release form.
      As you can hear in the doc there is a problem with the audio of your interview and that was the reason for the intended re-shoot.
      No 'desperate attempt' just a desire to relay what actually happened when being labelled a liar and schemer. I don't know what company you keep but it seems you must deal with dishonest people quite a bit!

      re The Duke report: You rubbish it then use a quote from it that no impact from drilling was found in the Arkansas study.

      Re water usage, you actually give a per frack figure not per well figure. The difference is measured in multi-millions of gallons. You then say, and I quote, 'Would anyone have a problem with us(!) making 3 olympic sized swimming pools in Bristol and saying we're going to run out of water. So I don't think that's a problem for shale gas at all'. That, to me, is extremely misleading! And seeing as you are a venerable scientist I can only deduce that this muddying of the water (boom boom) is deliberate.

      You suggest gelled gasoline is better than a small percentage of carcinogens, endocrine disrupters etc but modern fracking techniques use vast quantities of frack fluid. In order to do the 'basic maths' one would need the figures for volumes of chemicals used in each process. However I suspect it's a moot point as napalm wasn't used extensively. Are you saying that 1 million gallons of chemicals per square mile is non toxic??

    3. For someone who spent half an hour of a film trying to brand me as a liar, I hardly think you're in a position to complain, no? And no, Laurence did not mention any change in the film's circumstances during our brief meeting on Park Street.

      "I don't know what company you keep but it seems you must deal with dishonest people quite a bit" - only since I've come into contact with the "anti-fracking" community, and I'm not the only UK academic or otherwise-involved party to have reported similar experiences from people who are less than upfront about their true identities and/or affiliations. As I mentioned above, the only good thing to have come from this particular blog post was that several people have got in contact with me to let me know about their similar experiences.

      Re "The Duke Report" - there have been several 'Duke' papers, not just one report. I do hope you are aware of this, right?

      The Duke paper on Arkansas is the only one (that I'm aware of) covering that geographic area, so in the absence of other data we have no choice but to consider it in isolation, although there haven't been reports of any methane-related issues from that area AFAIK.

      However, with respect to their Pennsylvania study, there are several other studies performed in the area, all of which have conducted much more extensive sampling, and all of which have come to very different conclusions to the Duke study. This draws into question how the authors made the decisions in terms of which wells to sample, which, in an area where naturally occurring methane is present, is a crucial issue (because non-random well sampling, and a limited number of samples, can lead to biases in the results).

      On a related note, you might be interested to know that the USGS has recently released a new paper sampling wells from upstate NY - geologically similar to PA, but with no shale drilling allowed. Their results, from a no-drilling-area, basically end up reproducing the results from the Duke PA paper, the obvious conclusion being that shale drilling is not the cause of high methane concentration in PA either. Link here.

      If you are still concerned about water use, I suggest you read the following papers: total water use for shale development in Texas - where there are 3 major plays, the Barnett, the Haynesville and Eagle Ford - represents less than 1% of total water consumption of the state, hardly much to get excited about; the choice of power-plant in which the fuel is burnt is far more significant w.r.t. water consumption than how the fuel is produced, indeed where shale gas is used as a transportation fuel, life cycle water consumption is far less than for other transportation fuels like petrol. The shale gas boom in the US has lead to a switch from coal to gas fired power stations, and coal fired power uses 25-50 times as much water as a gas fired power station using shale gas.

      I'm sure that you'll tell me that, like the Pennsylvania methane studies, you simply weren't aware of them (are you familiar with any research done on shale gas, I wonder?). Luckily, now that you are, I'm sure you'll include this information in the final version of your film.


    4. "You suggest gelled gasoline is better than a small percentage of carcinogens, endocrine disrupters etc" - No, I suggest that 99% water plus additives is better than gelled gasoline. The toxicity of a substance is defined by its concentration within the overall fluid. You can see the chemicals and their concentrations for many US wells on the website if you wish. Similar info will be available for the UK, and all additives require permitting from the EA to be used.

      Moreover, noone is denying that there have been examples where well casing issues have led to methane leakage - Dimock being the most notable example. However, even at Dimock there were no frack-fluid chemicals identified in the groundwater, just the methane. Spills from surface pits (not allowed in the UK) and/or illicit and illegal dumping of flowback water aside, we do not see evidence of frack-fluid chemicals entering groundwater supplies from the drilling or fracking processes.

  10. You regularly champion the documentary Fracknation (Budget: $150,000) as a paragon of truth. Yet that film is completely one-sided, relying on
    the views of a man who says 'shale gas is a gift from God' and showing a lovely leafy shot of a single gas well in beautiful rolling countryside. Aaah, fracking is so lovely! Unsurprising when you learn that fundraising was promoted by pro-industry lobbying groups Energy in Depth and the Marcellus Shale Coalition & executive producers included the director of an Ohio-based oil and gas outreach program and the head of external affairs at Cabot Oil and Gas:

    Your championing of such a biased project is at odds with your positioning of yourself as the scientific voice of reason, only concerned with facts.

    Or is that a conspiracy theory??

    As Frackland cherry picks Pennsylvania as the only place to look, so  your mate Iain Stewart's Horizon programme, with it's team of researchers and big budget, turns a blind eye to Colorado and Australia, where the negative effects of fracking are irrefutable and fracking companies have admitted contaminating drinking water.  Horizon cherry picks  Louisianna, the one US state where land owners can make money from fracking under their land (something which won't be repeated here. Oops, they brushed over that!). In one classic moment, a shale gas millionaire is asked how much of the community is pro-fracking. He answers (90% I think) and that's it, end of story, no need to investigate the validity of that statement!! I don't think there was a single negative impact image in the whole show!

    When programmes costing hundreds of thousands of pounds (not to mention the billions of pounds spent on PR) pick and choose what to include then you surely can't get all high and mighty when an internet film made for peanuts does the same!!

    1. Again, MJ, your responses lead me only to question your integrity. I do not champion FrackNation as a paragon of unbiased truth - you are creating a strawman. In point of fact, I've never watched anything more than the trailers.

      At one point I did blog about this film (here). I point out that while the film's funding is crowd-sourced, much of the money probably comes from those who have benefited from shale developments.

      I do think that it is interesting that those from the 'pro'-side of the debate are starting to deploy Michael Moore-style methods, a technique more commonly associated with the opposite side. I think that by combining ambush-style interview methods with selective editing, you can make anyone look bad, regardless of what side of any issue they might be on. But this is a general point not specific to the discussion about shale.

      That said, I do think that the footage of Josh Fox admitting that he knew of groundwater-methane incidents prior to fracking, but didn't think it was relevant to mention them, is quite incriminating. That apart, I don't think I've said anything else about the content of FrackNation, for the obvious reason that I've not watched it.

      As for the Horizon program, I can only assume either that you didn't actually watch Iain's program, or that you have forgotten large parts of it, because the final 20 minutes of so were spent investigating potential negative impacts. Iain himself performs the lighting-the-water-due-to-methane trick; visits the MacIntyres, who believe that drilling has contaminated their water; and discusses the blunder made by operators
      in not disclosing their frack fluid compositions. The lead researcher from the Duke paper is given substantial air time. In my review of the program (here) I point out that the twitter response was outrage from both sides, which probably means a fairly balanced program.

      Again, I have to ask - did you seriously miss all of this, or just
      trying to mislead once again?

  11. I don't think fracking makes any sense! There are risks. I do not see regulators being able to effectively understand, regulate to manage all the risks. I do see that companies can be trusted to operate by them even if guaranteed safe regulations were in place. If the government won't, communities will use the facts to ban fracking at a local level, because the environmental dangers of it are sufficiently acknowledged. This is consistent in the content of the film and subsequent posts.

    It is a complex issue and emotional issue. Even academics can appear less than objective.

    It is however very simple to say no and move on. We have PV cells. For most journeys we now drive an electric car. We will eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels by replacing oil boilers with biomass. All these changes have made both financial common sense as well as sustainable environmental sense and set a good example for our children. It seems to me to be a shame you haven't chosen a more sustainable topic to invest your energy and talent in for the benefit of your children etc.

    1. oops typo , "I do not see that companies can be trusted to operate by them even if guaranteed safe regulations were in place.

    2. "I do not see regulators being able to effectively understand, regulate to manage all the risks. I do see that companies can be trusted to operate by them even if guaranteed safe regulations were in place"

      Do you have anything to back that up, or are you just going on your own emotions here? The main risks associated with shale gas drilling are (1) wellbore casing integrity, and (2) the storage, treatment and disposal of produced waters. These are issues for conventional drilling as much as they are for shale gas development. Do you have evidence that regulators are struggling with these issues in the existing drilling industry (and remember, there are ~2,000 onshore wells, and 10,000 offshore wells in the UK)?

      Similarly, do you have evidence that there is a culture of malpractice, of flouting regulations among the existing UK drilling operators?

      I agree that it's an emotional issue. That's why I try to back up everything I say with facts and figures. I don't think anything on this blog is much different from the conclusions reached by, among others, the Royal Society, The Royal Academy of Engineering, The British Geological Survey, the Geological Society of London, Public Health England, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management. If you feel that I am being less than objective, then you'll have to accuse all of the above of the same.


    3. It's very easy to "say" no. However, moving on is substantially more difficult. It's good that you have PV cells. I'd love to have them, but (1) I live in a rented flat, so even if there were a roof to put them on, I wouldn't be able to, and (2) on a post-doc salary I wouldn't be able to afford the upfront costs anyway. I suspect the same is true for a large swathe of the population.

      I do have some experience with them however - my parents have a house with a large, south-facing roof in the south of England (so ideal conditions really), and they've had solar panels for a couple of years. It's reduced their gas consumption, sure, but it hasn't eliminated it - they still use plenty, especially in winter.

      For another example, take the new WWF headquarters in Woking. They went 'all out' to build 'the greenest office building ever'. It's got solar panels, heat pumps, the lot. Yet it gets a grand total of only 13% of its energy requirements from renewables (link).

      This is why James Hansen - one of the key scientists who first identified climate change as a problem - said that "suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the US, China or India, or the world as a whole, is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy" (link, page 5). Even the Friends of the Earth "Clean British Energy" ambitions see us burning plenty of gas in 2030 - only dropping from 28% of generated electricity in 2013 (link) to 24% by 2030 (link.

      So even Friends of the Earth agree that a significant share of our electricity generation in 2030 will be from gas, not to mention gas consumption in domestic heating and cooking, as well as industrial use as a feedstock for chemical processes (remember Grangemouth?). Given this, which is the better source, as North Sea supplies dwindle? To import LNG from Qatar - gas that has to be compressed and shipped half way around the world, costing us billions of pounds that leaves the UK economy, creating no jobs and paying no tax? Or to produce it domestically, keeping the money within our economy, where it pays tax and creates jobs?

    4. As for where I invest my talents and energy - this blog is only a little sideline. I spend the majority of my time developing and improving geophysical techniques capable of tracking exactly where the fractures are going during hydraulic stimulation. These kinds of methods are capable of detecting whether there is any risk of a fracture interacting with shallower layers, aquifers etc, and they will be deployed at all future hydraulic stimulations in the UK.

      I think that having academics developing the monitoring techniques to independently monitor shale gas extraction is a perfectly valid, and valuable, use of my talents. The UK Research Councils (in charge of distributing academic funding) agrees with me.

  12. No it is not all emotion it is judgement, based on research and facts.

    As far as backing up my assertion that companies cannot be trusted I would refer you to the conflict between a need for someone "developing .. techniques capable of tracking exactly where the fractures are going during hydraulic stimulation. These kinds of methods are capable of detecting whether there is any risk of a fracture interacting with shallower layers, aquifers etc... " and that of a company claiming that it uses "proven, safe technologies". I note the company has been slapped down by the Advertising Standards Authority and been forced to change its wording.

    What does that tell about how trustworthy the company involved actually is?

    What does the need to assess risk tell you about how safe and proven it all is?

    Good luck, and thank you for the responses. I would take a step back from the childish ping pong games, take a look at the bigger picture, live by, invest your life in more sustainable, less risk to the environment, long term economically beneficial ways to secure future generations energy needs.

  13. My 'take' on fracking and all unconventional gas extraction, and further oil and coal use is that they all contribute to fossil CO2 entering our atmosphere, and that if the UK is to have a chance to achieve its Climate Change Act targets of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 based on 1990 levels, then we cannot, just cannot go down the 'build more gas-fired power stations' route.

    I appreciate that a kWh of electricity generated with coal is twice the CO2 than that of gas-generated electricity, but factor in fugitive emissions and the total footprint of gas-fired electricity could be more than that of coal (except that coal mining also releases methane, so making that *even* dirtier than just the CO2 emitted from the coal)

    So, from this we can see that all fossil fuels release fossil carbon into the atmosphere, already struggling with 400ppm CO2 and a more than doubling of methane from pre-industrial levels, despite its short half-life.

    I cannot see *any* sense in continuing with fossil carbon extraction. We need to go on a 'war footing' against climate change, and build low or zero carbon renewable generation as if there's no tomorrow. Or if we don't, there may not be one.

    Dr. JV, I note that you studied CCS. Why have you not continued with that? I see CCS as a *possible* way forward to continue burning small amounts of fossil fuel in a safer manner. If the technology works, it could also be a way to sequester carbon from AD plants and biomass power stations, so having a negative CO2 footprint.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog post and all the comments. I may not agree with all of them but I try to keep an open mind.

    1. Hi John,
      I recommend that you read the National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios publications (Link). They consider a number of scenarios, from business as usual to "gone green", which models maximum possible penetration of renewable and energy efficiency tech within the bounds of realism. While the demand for gas does drop under the gone-green scenario, we are a long way from phasing out gas fired power completely. Remember also that only about 1/3 of our gas consumption is for electricity, the remainder being used in domestic heating and cooking (~1/3) and industrial processes (~1/3). While more domestic solar and better insulation can reduce demand domestically, again there is only so far this can be taken. It's difficult to see how gas used as feedstock in industrial processes can be replaced.

      With regards the methane issue, the idea that methane releases from nat gas are making it worse that coal is being widely de-bunked. There was only ever one group of authors who ever claimed otherwise. See here for the latest review paper. While fugitive rates are probably higher than official EPA estimates, they're still well below the point at which switching from coal to nat gas ceases to be a benefit.

      It seems also that to plug my latest paper for a moment. The geophysical methods used to monitor CO2 injection are pretty similar (even identical!) to those used for shale, so my day-to-day work is applicable to both. The main difference is that in shale you want to create fractures to allow the CH4 to get out, while for CCS you want to avoid fracturing to ensure that no CO2 escapes.

      My personal view on CCS is that it is technically feasible from a geological perspective - the question is who pays for it if we are to deploy it on a large scale.

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