Hydraulic Fracturing - Recycling the Ridiculous

Publish date: 
August 2, 2012

As the constantly improving, safe and responsible production of energy from shale leads the way in reducing CO2 emissions, growing the economy, creating and saving jobs and securing our energy supply, folks are starting to take notice – including the president and other policymakers who are hardly predisposed to praise the oil and natural gas industry.  When you combine these with academic, think tank, governmental and press reports shredding myths surrounding development of these important natural resources, it’s enough to make a natural gas opponent long for the halcyon days of disinformation (2011), when zealous “fracktivists” and their media supporters just made stuff up and passed it along as truth.

Yesterday, one such opponent of natural gas development succumbed to his longing for the past with a post on DeSmog blog, which was then cross-posted to Huffington Post – under, I suppose, the mistaken belief that volume provides verity. Unfortunately, rather than seek a new reality-based debate, the author just wraps some new misinformation around recycled, old, tired untruths.  Let’s deal with the new stuff first.

Only a few years ago, it seemed likely that gas would increasingly be a mainstay of power generation…The industry (at the time) received support from surprising allies like the Sierra Club and the Center for American Progress…But a popular movement fueled by growing concerns about water contamination and public health impacts posed by fracking, coupled with a clearer look by press and by Wall Street analysts at the industry’s claims, has threatened to derail the ascendency of unconventional gas.

This would have you believe that environmental groups backed away from supporting natural gas for health and safety reasons, and that the economics of unconventional gas are unsound.  Second part first, to a recent paper out of Harvard:

U.S. Shale/Tight Oil Revolution is of different nature. Specifically, it could reflect the following: An advantage for U.S. GDP, employment, and balance of trade…The shale/tight oil boom in the United States is not a temporary bubble, but the most important revolution in the oil sector in decades. It will probably trigger worldwide emulation…

Regarding the first, environmental groups have not backed away from supporting natural gas because of problems but because of its successes:

So why is the Sierra Club suddenly portraying natural gas as a villain? The answer surely is the industry's drilling success… now that the hydraulic fracturing and shale revolution has sent gas prices down to $2.50, the lobby fears natural gas will come to dominate U.S. energy production. At that price, the Sierra Club's Valhalla of wind, solar and biofuel power may never be competitive. (Wall Street Journal)

In the words of the journalist Matt Ridley, “it became apparent that shale gas was a competitive threat to renewable energy.” (Reason)

The collapse of climate-change legislation and near record-low natural-gas prices have created a market landscape where natural gas is poised to win out over renewables and nuclear power. (National Journal)

Renewable energy is supposed to become more competitive as fossil fuels rise in price, due to increasing demand. But abundant new natural gas supplies, such as in the Marcellus Shale in the United States, could help keep natural gas cheap. (MIT Tech Review)

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the shale gas boom will lengthen the time it takes for renewable energy sources to become competitive on the open market. (NewsWorks)

But more and cheaper natural gas does not help our prospects for bolstering renewable sources of energy, including solar, wind and biomass. History has shown repeatedly that nothing is worse for renewable energy — and the policies that support it — than cheap and abundant conventional energy. (New York Times)

Cheap and abundant energy – the horror, the horror…  The blog post then moves on to recycled material:

…at the “Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011” conference in Houston last year, where industry PR officials gathered to strategize how to "overcome public concern" surrounding their operations…A representative from the American Petroleum Institute spent an entire hour leading the group through an analysis of New York Times articles, especially those written by investigative reporter Ian Urbina.  Again and again, the Times coverage was referred to as a “war on shale gas.”…Of course, no explanation as to why the Times would launch a “war” on shale gas was proffered.  The accuracy of the facts reported was also not discussed (perhaps because many of the Times' shale gas articles are accompanied by thousands of pages of leaked documents, sometimes from the industry itself). But the sense of victimization was palpable.

The interesting thing here is the phrase, “war on shale gas,” was not one the oil and natural gas community came up with; it was from this post by Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Michael Levi, hardly an industry apologist:

The New York Times’ war on shale gas continues with two more big stories by Ian Urbina…I hate to say it, but on the whole, both pieces are of pretty poor quality…I can’t say that I’ve read through all of the hundreds of pages of documents that the Times has posted on its site. But I’ve gone through a good enough slice of them…to get a feel for how Urbina went about using them in his stories. There’s a pattern: Urbina was clearly looking for negative views of shale gas, and had no problem finding them. Given the massive size of the industry, and the number of financial bets being placed upon the sector, that shouldn’t be a surprise. What is a surprise is that Urbina hasn’t done much to put them in context.

And the reason the “accuracy of the facts reported was also not discussed” is not because the articles were so well supported by accompanying documents, but rather, that by the time of the conference the articles had been so widely shredded and debunked from all angles (including by the NY Times itself) going into a specific refutation of each proclaimed fact would have taken days.  The DeSmog goes on with yet another sad regurgitation of the “NY Times Greatest Gas ‘Hits,’” which sound just as sour a note today as they did when they were first released.  We won’t bore you re-debunking them, but if you’re interested you can find analysis of the Times series:  here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and much more here.