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.
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.