As the overwhelming impact of fracking on the environment, climate and renewable energy becomes clearly either non-existent or positive, tactics used by the dwindling band of protestor/objectors are jumping from the fanciful to the downright devious. If you can’t win on fact, start lying. Earlier this year, I pointed out how anti shale campaigners use the same techniques they accuse climate change “deniers” of using, specifically including
fake experts. These are individuals who purport to be experts in a particular area but whose views are entirely inconsistent with established knowledge.
The use of fake experts is often complemented by denigration of established experts and researchers, with accusations and innuendo that seek to discredit their work and cast doubt on their motivations.
Fake experts range from David Smythe a geology academic with no experience in drilling any time in the past quarter century to perennial job seeker Mike Hill. Hill has retired from Twitter allegedly because questions about his qualifications as the really important sounding adviser to European Commission on shale were asked not by journalists, but by members of the public. Note the emphasis in this reply from the Commission. Note the emphasis:
Hill is very bizarre. An electrical engineer (so he says), he sets himself up as the Walter Mitty of cement logs. I would venture that most people’s internal fantasy life is a little more interesting, but Hill pops up when he thinks everyone has forgotten about him and provides a veneer of science to opponents desperate to paint themselves as holders of fact that the corrupt academic establishment have sold out to the oil industry. He is proof how small town journalists will print whatever outrageous claims anyone makes, as long as it comes from someone local.
A far more disturbing tactic is to simply scare people via medical matters couched in important sounding groups that are simply groups of socially isolated charlatans instead of individual ones. We’ve had the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health example in the UK earlier this year, where activists worm their way into heretofore respectable organisations and destroy any future credibility. Sometimes it’s even government quangos as this shameful waste of money from Scotland shows.
With controversies and conversations around hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the news, The Commissioner has published a briefing on how the issue relates to the rights of children and young people.
The briefing on unconventional gas extraction focuses on issues around health, planning, and respect for the environment. It says that:
•unconventional gas extraction may lead to unavoidable environmental and health impacts, even when caution is applied
•care must be taken to make sure children’s views are heard in a meaningful way during the planning process for unconventional gas projects
•consideration should be given to the effect climate change may have on children’s rights.
Too often it is not the report itself but green journalists twist on it, as we saw in the Guardian thalidomide headline, a rare case that proves outright distortion simply won’t work any more in most levels of the national media, and especially when challenged. This may explain why the national media seems as bored with fracking as anyone else, me included, the last few months. Even the Guardian couldn’t bestir themselves to recycle the Scottish example..
The only things dying a death in the fracking debate are not children, but the increasingly desperate efforts of opponents to get media coverage. No one reported on this organisation which put their two cents into Lancashire County Council on shale:
Medact is a registered public health charity concerned with the social and ecological determinants of health. It has over nine hundred members, the majority of whom are public health specialists and clinicians with a wide range of expertise and knowledge.
Medact is currently producing an expert position paper on the health effects of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) in the UK, based on the evidence about its safety and direct impact on health; its wider social, ecological and economic impacts; and the threat presented by greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
This report is needed because of the absence of an authoritative and comprehensive assessment of the health-related costs and risks associated with fracking. A review of the potential health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants from shale gas extraction has been produced by Public Health England (PHE) (released as a draft in October 2013, and published in final form in November 2014), but was inadequate and incomplete; and] arrived at an erroneous, unsubstantiated and misleading conclusion.
Note the sneering paranoia. Government scientists won't have our expertise. But journalists seem to be learning a key question: How big a number is that? Even if there are nine hundred members from the British Medical Association (160,000 doctors) or the 390,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing, in Medact it really isn’t more than yet another group of fake experts.
Andrew Montford of the Bishop Hill blog wrote recently of “systematic deception” practiced by Friends of the Earth Scotland in using a recent example of scare tactics surrounding health using “experts”, :
There is also alarming evidence about the potentially devastating public health impacts for communities living in and near gas fields. Communities living near gas fields in Australia complain of respiratory problems, rashes and irritated eyes.iv An investigation by a concerned GP in early 2013 of 38 households in close proximity to coal seam gas wells in Tara, Queensland, found that 58% of residents reported definite adverse health effects related to gas drilling and a further 19% were uncertain.v Symptoms include breathing difficulties, rashes, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting, and spontaneous nosebleeds.
And who cooked up this alarming "evidence"?
Geralyn McCarron, a member of "Doctors for the Environment". Interestingly though, Dr McCarron recently came to Scotland to give evidence to the Dart Energy inquiry at Falkirk. Examination of the final submission of Dart's QC is illuminating. It seems that under cross-examination, Dr McCarron admitted:
▪there was no baseline monitoring in her research, either of emissions or the environment
▪important records were missing
▪she had no experience of conducting such surveys
▪that the study was not a comprehensive health assessment
▪that her report had significant limitations
▪that her report would have been biased because of the way participants were selected
▪that her report was not supposed to be definitive
In particular, she is quoted in the records of the hearing as saying
I did not conclude anything, I reported symptoms.
I did not say that that (health) related to gas, I reported symptoms.
One of my predictions for 2015 is that both existing and new license holders in the UK are not going to take blatant lying lying down anymore. A more robust response to the press and advertising standard authorities is one step, but legal action can be expected to. After all, the success of lawsuits depends on evidence, not emotion.
It would help if the government would step in, but this side of the UK election that won’t happen. There was an excellent example of what government should do from the US Department of Energy recently in calling out, and then obliterating, a classic fake expert and distortion of legitimate research combination published by anti fracking Peak Oil bitter enders in Nature magazine.
But a careful examination of the assumptions behind such bullish forecasts suggests that they may be overly optimistic, in part because the government's predictions rely on coarse-grained studies of major shale formations, or plays. Now, researchers are analysing those formations in much greater detail and are issuing more-conservative forecasts. They calculate that such formations have relatively small 'sweet spots' where it will be profitable to extract gas.
The results are “bad news”, says Tad Patzek, head of the University of Texas at Austin's department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, and a member of the team that is conducting the in-depth analyses. With companies trying to extract shale gas as fast as possible and export significant quantities, he argues, “we're setting ourselves up for a major fiasco”.
The Nature story was jumped on antis, although to trot this old chestnut out for a stroll during a collapse in oil prices due to OPEC’s battle against shale was too big an ask for most of the US and UK press. But the EIA responded big time:
One day, whoever is in charge after May, we may deserve someone in UK government to stand up and say this. The problem will be, is whether there will be any one in the UK media, who will report it so that people can listen to it instead of the army of fake experts Fiends about the Earth have ready to go over the top yet again.
BTW, apologies in advance for swiping the Charlatans image, it was too good to resist.