Junk Science War: Fracking Quakes and ‘Dirty Faces’

By Steve Milloy
November 17, 2011, PajamasMedia

Though I write to defend the natural gas industry from the junk science hurled at it and the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), I do so with mixed emotions.

Two recent government reports, one from the United Kingdom and the other from Oklahoma, have tried to draw a connection between fracking and seismic activity occurring in those areas. In the UK, the seismic activity registered 3 on the Richter scale (vibrations similar to a passing truck). In Oklahoma, the activity registered between 1.0 and 2.8. Neither report could attribute with any certainty the seismic activity to the local fracking, as that would be nearly impossible to do given the multifactorial nature of seismic activity.

So: of the more than one million fracking or fracking-like operations that have occurred, unattributable seismic activity has been detected twice. Moreover, no structural damage was attributed to any of the seismic activity.

Scientifically and from a risk management perspective, fracking should be off the hook. But of course it’s not, because radical environmentalists loathe fracking — cheap natural gas means that the world won’t be giving up fossil fuels anytime soon — and so they have their long knives out for it. You can safely bet that anytime seismic activity coincides with fracking activity, they will use that coincidence to whip up fear.

And if it’s not earthquakes, it will be fracking fluids in drinking water. Or fracking’s greenhouse gas emissions. Or whatever can be dreamed up to scare people about the expanding industry of extracting natural gas from shale formations.

As we’ve learned with other environmental scaremongering, there are countless junk science-based ways to scare the public, and you can rest assured the radicals will dream them up and employ them to great effect.

What this means is that the shale gas industry will be under continual attack, and that the attacks won’t stop until fracking does.

However, while I’m more than happy to spotlight and debunk the enviros’ use of junk science, I’m also more than a little annoyed at the junk science that the shale gas industry itself is apparently quite happy to use against its brethren fossil fuels.

If you’ve followed the 21st century environmentalist war against fossil fuel, you’ve probably heard of the “Dirty Faces” anti-coal campaign: advertisements featuring coal-smudged faces, proclaiming that coal is “dirty” because its emits greenhouse gas carbon dioxide — ironically, a colorless and odorless gas.

The Dirty Faces campaign was unapologetically sponsored by shale gas company Chesapeake Energy. CEO Aubrey McClendon figured that he would do his part to help drive the coal industry out of business to drive up demand for natural gas, the current glut of which was caused by the technology breakthrough of fracking. Though cap-and-trade died in the last Congress, McClendon and Chesapeake are back to their anti-coal campaign, this time waging a proxy war through the American Lung Association.

The Obama administration is waging an all-out war against the coal industry though the EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the Mine Safety Administration. The EPA has enlisted paid allies like the American Lung Association to attack the coal industry and politicians that support it.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2010 report, Chesapeake Energy provided the funds that allowed the American Lung Association to create a new public service campaign (called “Fighting for Air”). It includes junk science-based fearmongering about premature deaths, asthma, and other heart and lung effects allegedly caused by ambient air quality. The Lung Association uses the campaign to help defend the EPA’s war against coal.

So while Chesapeake fights environmentalist junk science on fracking, it actually funds junk science to use against its rivals. To some people this may make business sense, but it’s shortsighted.

Helping the EPA defeat coal will win the gas industry no brownie points. That’s not how the all-powerful and unaccountable EPA needs to operate. Plus, Chesapeake is aiding and abetting enviro-radicals who, as soon as they have finished off the coal industry, will set their sights on shale gas. Divide-and-conquer is one of their bread-and-butter techniques.

Knowing that the junk science war against fracking has just begun, it’s more than frustrating to know that the frackers are willing to do the same to another innocent party.

Chesapeake’s problem is not the coal industry. Its problem is the radical environmentalists who are purposefully blocking U.S. economic recovery and growth in part through their war against fossil fuel production. A growing economy would actually require more energy, including gas, and gas prices would rise as demand increased.

We need to develop all forms of energy: coal, gas, oil, nuclear, wind, solar, whatever. Energy is not the zero-sum game — swap coal for gas — that McClendon seems to think it is. And paying the enemy to employ junk science is not the right way to gain friends and influence people.

Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them.

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23 responses to “Junk Science War: Fracking Quakes and ‘Dirty Faces’

  1. Back in the early 1980s I worked as a copywriter at an advertising agency that was considering an anti-nuke campaign for a natural gas company. I pointed out the errors in their argument, but it made no difference to them. They would have gone through with it anyway, had I not sold them instead on a campaign to encourage deregulation of natural gas prices. The ignorance, dishonesty, and short-sightedness of all involved was truly amazing.

  2. Good column. I always wondered how you could say coal puts out more greenhouse gases than natural gas when the statement is false. Burning natural gas gives you CO-2 and 2 H2O for every molecule of methane burned. So you get a far greater production of greenhouse gases per million Btu from methane because water vapor is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

    Of course all this is nonsense because burning either material has a negligible impact on climate.

  3. Like the American gun manufacturers, who enthusiastically supported the government’s efforts to ban the import of inexpensive and surplus rifles made overseas. Lenin was wise to observe that a capitalist will often gladly sell you the very rope you intend to use to hang him.

  4. Nice article. We have some of this anti-fracking war going on here in the southern tier of NYS — the fingerlakes region; as well, the small earthquake thing has been discovered, because apparently many moons ago they had the only earthquake in the region when fracking was taking place for a huge gas storage facility way deep in the ground. As you know, NYS has approved of fracking in many regions of the state — but of course, the ecoids will do everything possible to block it.

    • Well, what can you DO after a sale, but hang around? Lenin sucked, didn’t he? Lenin had all sorts of people SHOT, so he must have REALLY been buying bullets, maybe from someone he subsequently had shot. Although… the rise of the Soviet state has to do with the rise of economic oligarchs,–the Soros-es…of that era. The continue-ing problem with Soviet Russia, is the CIS is still using Oligarchs to maintain their economy (–barely), and STILL maintain that Socialism/Communism “works”. I suspect you’re correct, after the jokes.

  5. A pox on all their houses for perpetrating this nonsense.

  6. In effect, what Steve describes is another form of “crony capitalism” – the use of federal EPA-supported junk science by one energy industry to put another energy industry out of business.

  7. Message to the NG industry: What goes around comes around.

  8. Fracking has been used for quite some time (1947), mainly in less permeable rock at depths greater than 5,000 feet. In the early 60s, a series of earthquakes were felt in Denver in an area not prone to earthquake activity. What was found was that the injection of waste fluids (mainly toxic stuff from WWII) at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal to a depth of 10,000 feet was causing these earthquakes. The largest was a 5.3 which occurred after continuous pumping of fluids into the disposal hole (which by the way, was just below a highly fractured zone in the Fountain Formation); however, most were in the 1-2 range. Yes, hydrofracturing does induce earthquakes, but most are barely felt and can only be detected through the use of sensitive seismic instruments. Much ado about nothing.

  9. This is very interesting, I have never even heard of fracking or even knew it existed, but having felt a recent earthquake in Kansas, it would be good to know if that would cause seismic activity. It’s interesting that fracking causes more air pollution that coal energy, but I also have seen that coal energy causes a lot of physical waste product that can’t be disposed of efficiently. What’s more important, endangering our air or endangering the ground and ground water with waste product?

  10. chuck in st paul

    Austinbus, natural gas is NOT causing ‘air pollution’. Water vapor and CO2 are NOT pollution, except in the fevered minds of watermellons. So-called ‘clean coal’ at a plant with scrubbers produces a minimum of actual air pollution in the form of particulates and some noxious gases, but in today’s regimine the amount is barely measureable.

  11. Didn’t someone once express the opinion that if we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately? Of course, what relevance could history possibly have today.

  12. Just finished reading a Ken Follett suspense novel on this very topic: “The Hammer of Eden”.
    All about murder, radio talk show hosts, female FBI agents, radical left wing terrorists (pronounced ‘Occuppy Everything’) with a “Fracking” truck, divorcees, etc.

  13. I agree, Chesapeak is incredibility stupid and short-sighted burning its bridges with another fuel industry. You never know when you will need friends in a much bigger battle. Shame on the idiot Aubrey McClendon.

  14. Having spent a great deal of time in the South Wales coal fields, installing equipenet and going to University South Wales (Cardiff) I remember the esteem with which miners were held. Salt of the earth etc. Parts of the university – the Mining Block were built by public subscription organised by the miners union. Ming fami8lies did not wnt their children to go down the pit and a university education was THE way out. But mining communities – that was something else. In the valleys there was a close comradeship and an absence of crime. I’ve spoken in many miners lodges including the Tonypandy Marxian Working Mens Institute. (There Marx on Junkscience.com.) You have to know what it was and what its become today. Riddled with unemployment, crime, graffiti and depression; places that look like ghost towns

    Then came Margaret Thatcher and a Tory government hell bent on extracting revenge for the Miners strike in 1972 and 1974. The Tories in 1983 latched on to the idea that nuclear power was a weapon with which to beat the miners in the long term.

    Scargill the miners leader, red that he was, knew that the Thatcher government wanted a war, but chose the wrong ground and used poor tactics. After a year the miners were defeated, and coal very gradually dropped out of the equation and the consciousness of the middle class. Which is ironic really as these same people in the 70’s and 80’s would have been on the picket lines ‘defending’ the miners. Now they castigate them as climate criminals. Lenin once said that building a movement on these people would be like building a house on shifting sand.
    The movement that is building, not conscious yet, will have some very strange bedfellows.

  15. I normally agree with the articles by Steve Milloy against the man-made climate change propaganda but I think fracking is another matter. In our country area we are against it as we are a seaside resort as well as a farming community. Fracking has been known to infiltrate the water table with dangerous chemicals which cannot be removed by pumps, etc. Many farmers have had livestock die and get sick themselves because of this method of mining. The whole operation is dangerous and an eyesore and should be restricted to remote areas.

    • I want geologic proof that fracking caused any of so called event that you are
      claiming occurred. I would also like to see any of the laboratory test to prove your contentions!!
      Dusty

  16. The history of “environmentalism” is rife with territorial battles between various fuel supply sources. The oil industry used environmental arguments against coal in the UK in the 1930s. E. F. Schumacher, the author of “Small is Beautiful” extolled the virtues of home fires while he was serving on the UK Coal Board. Chesapeake senior VP Tom Price gave a speech to the Colorado Oil and Gas Assoiciation in the summer of 2010 in which he clearly explained how he was in charge of a group of 100 who formed SWAT teams to go into states and form alliances with groups like Sierra Club to run “Coal is Filthy” campaigns.

    http://atomicinsights.com/2010/12/chesapeake-energy-executive-increasing-natural-gas-sales-by-partnering-with-anti-coal-activists.html

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. the leader of the antinuclear group named Riverkeepers, spoke at the same event and explained to the gas producers that all large wind and solar projects are really gas plants.

    http://atomicinsights.com/2010/11/robert-f-kennedy-jr-tells-the-colorado-oil-and-gas-association-that-wind-and-solar-plants-are-gas-plants.html

    People who do not understand these battles need to go back to Econ 101 to learn about how market share and the balance between supply and demand affect the profitability of selling a commodity like energy.

  17. Jamesthrust November 17. You are including water vapor produced by burning methane as a greenhouse gas which is absurd. Water vapor is produced by burning any hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline but its contribution to the total amount that stays in the air is irrelevant because atmospheric water vapor is in equilibrium with the entire ocean. Furthermore, IPCC wrongly assumes that water vapor in the atmosphere positively reinforces the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide when the opposite has been proved by Ferenc Miskolczi.

  18. I thought the claims of seismic effects from drilling/fracking were parallel to the reports of seismic activity after extracting heat for geothermal energy. I think that was in Switzerland. If the gas that is under pressure is extracted, then the surrounding material must take up the slack as it would in any tunnel or mining operation near the surface. It seems like this should be a good graduate thesis for someone able to do computer modeling, something like differential element methods. This gas is being made at extreme depths, extracting the gas might only cause more to be made if the original components plus the pressure and temperature are still present. Gas fields can recover pressure over time. Decades ago, my uncle bought a farm that had an abandoned gas well on it and the pressure increased over the time that he used it. He converted his all electric home to gas.

  19. I can remember when asbestos was beginning to get traction with respect to it being dangerous. One of the most embarrassing responses was from US producers who tried to claim that the Korean version of asbestos and other versions of foreign asbestos were the ones that were causing the health problems, but not good old North American versions. Unfortunately, environmentalists are very fragile mentally because they are so dependent upon feelings to decide what is right and wrong rather than reason. Bad press releases works on them quickly and cheaply.

  20. Any sort of asbestos is extremely dangerous in building materials when homes are pulled down for renovations. It is safe when the walls are intact. We have a lot of fibro homes in Australia which were built in the 1950’s when no-one knew the danger of asbestos when homes were demolished. My father died of asbestosis and mesothelioma in 1974 because he worked at a company which manufactured asbestos products in the 50’s. There was no protection for the workers then. Many DIY renovators are dying from the same disease because they didn’t wear protective clothing during the renovation of their homes. This has nothing to do with wacky environmentalism, this is medical fact.

  21. To Lawrence,
    Type in ‘dangers of fracking’ to google or some other search engine and you will find dozens of websites with scientific information. The New York Times has an informative article on the danger of this method of mining. Fracking requires millions of tonnes of water mixed with chemicals which are injected into the earth to release the gas and this permeates the water table. You can use your imagination about the damage to farmland and rivers.

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