A hilarious lesson in why you should pick your advocates carefully

Pants on fire

On Thursday 22nd January Lancashire County Council announced that it’s officers had recommended rejection of Cuadrilla’s 2 applications for development wells in Roseacre and Preston New Road. Local media went into something of a frenzy getting reactions from Cuadrilla and from the various anti-fracking groups. In the interests of balance presumably they also sought opinions from one of the very few vocal advocates of fracking in the area. Michael Roberts is an ex vicar, who lives near Garstang, who was interviewed on Radio Lancashire by Graham Liver.

The interview can be heard in all of its hilarity here

You may wonder why I have gone to the effort of transcribing and commenting on the whole interview here. Well, first of all I and many others found it particularly amusing, and secondly, I want it to be available so that whenever the pro-fracking PR people comment on a newspaper article about the way people who question fracking exaggerate, make false claims or mislead people, there is a ready reference to one of their most vocal supporters doing all of that in the space of just one 5 minute radio interview.

Here’s how it went.

GL: Let’s now speak to Mike Roberts is a geologist and former vicar from Garstang about the future, and is there a future for fracking in Lancashire? Michael, good morning, nice to speak to you again

MR: Good morning

GL: What do you make of the of the news yesterday?

MR: Well I think er they raise a few minor issues like the noise, which is a few decibels, but I’m quite sure all the locals whether they live in er Fylde with farming, if they hear greater noise though sileaging throughout most of the summer months as I remember in Cockerham listening to local farmers doing it until 2 o’clock in the morning.

[The noise of fracking was compared by the Sun newspaper on the same day to being quieter than a domestic dishwasher. Perhaps the Reverend Roberts is a Sun reader. The reality is somewhat different. If you want to hear what a fracking well being drilled really sounds like click here. Planning permission granted to Cuadrilla in 2010 at Balcombe stated noise levels for nearby residents should never exceed 55 decibels between 7.30am and 6.30pm from Monday to Friday. 55 Db is about half way in between a large electrical transformer at 100ft and and air conditioning unit at 100 ft. It is not a piercing level of noise which is presumably why Cuadrilla allegedly had a problem keeping their drilling operations down to this level in Balcombe. I can state categorically that as a long term Fylde resident I have never heard a farmer sileaging (admittedly I live in a town) but I have heard and recorded the noise from a development well, and it is a lot louder than any dishwasher I would allow in my house]

MR: But I do think the other thing we need to realise is that fracking in not only inevitable , it has happened because most people are having their houses warmed at the moment by gas which has been fracked. It’s either come from the North Sea, the Irish Sea or been imported from abroad.

[Now this is one of the Reverend’s favourite tropes – sadly for him though it is not actually true that any of us are using gas which has been fracked from the Irish Sea. It is amusing to hear extravagant claims like this from somebody who is so critical of what is said by anti-fracking commentators, isn’t it? For more on this issue see the end of this article]

MR: So I think we have that, and the other thing is when you look at those objections on noise and traffic

GL hmm

MBR: All the objections about earthquakes um pollution and everything else were er ruled out, and I think this is where things have gone wrong as so any of the anti-fracking groups have put forward what I can only call misinformation about all the environmental risks, and of course this has been thrown out.

[Now anybody who has actually read the reports will be fully aware that nothing was actually “ruled out”. The officers considered (rightly or wrongly) that the impacts could be mitigated on small scale development pads. For the Reverend Roberts to claim otherwise and to imply that that means that “anti-fracking groups have put forward what I can only call misinformation about all the environmental risks” and that these concerns had been “thrown out” is not borne out by the facts and is itself the crudest form of misinformation.]

GL Would you like them to frack near your house?

MR (Pause) aaah providing they were no closer than a few hundred yards I wouldn’t mind

[We assume that the Reverend Roberts had actually read the report before coming on air so we are bemused that he should make this comment when the Officers had clearly stated in the Roseacre report that “The site is located between the villages of Roseacre and Wharles, with Roseacre Hall and village approximately 180m to the north”. He appears to be agreeing that the Officers concerns are appropriate and that the development wells should not be allowed. Welcome to the anti-fracking movement Michael]

GL: So you wouldn’t mind the noise

MR: Well the noise would only be for a few.. a few .. relatively short time a few years.

[Yes we laughed at that too]

GL: what about the

MR: (Interrupting) I think you have to get the balance between saying that um ahem (coughs) do you need gas in this country or do you not. And the fact is that with any industrial process it is going to have a local impact.

[This is rather typical of the Reverend who often uses this type of false choice argument. He implies that the only source of gas available to us will be fracked gas. This is plainly silly]

GL: So you would put up with the noise and you would put up with all the lorries then?

MR: Well the lorries won’t be as many as you think, because when you actually think about it, and I cycle through Roseacre quite frequently, and sometimes cough when the coal er coal fire smoke

GL: [makes a noise betweeen a cough and a snigger]

MR: …you know comes out. (Sounding peevish) Yes, I am not joking there!

GL: (Sounding contrite) Right

MR: There are relatively few lorries. Not as many as people make out.

[We particularly enjoyed this little exchange, especially the Reverend’s suggestion that he could comment from experience on the impact of lorries in Roseacre before any fracking has actually started. Perhaps he will be our next Doctor Who? Or maybe the Reverend Who?]

GL: So but but when when if they start again there’ll be a lot more lorries won’t there?

MR: Well I was thinking about what would happen when they actually did it.

GL: Yeah

[Michael almost caught the ball again there, but not quite]

MR: um I mean the lorries are a bigger problem in Roseacre than than they are on Preston New Road where in fact you’ve got a main road.

[Yes that at least is true]

GL So, so you said that you would be happy if they, if they you know decided that In Garstang they were going to start fracking next to you, you’d be happy with all the lorries and you’d be happy with all the noise

MR: Not next to me, I think it would need to be several hundred yards away from the nearest house. Exactly how far I don’t know.

[Now I am over accustomed to the Reverend Roberts sneering at local people who are concerned about shale gas as NIMBYS, but, hello, what have we here? Not within several hundred yards of my house eh? What a revelation – he really is becoming one of us! The NIMBY Reverend!]

GL So what do think

MR: [interrupting again] I have seen

GL: So what do you think is going to happen next then

MT [Carrying on] I have been through Pennsylvania and seen where fracking is quite close to houses and there was one where fracking was actually within 50 yards of the house and all the peo..all the rigs had gone so you’d just got the little Christmas trees, and I spoke to the owners of the house right next to it and I said were you happy with this and they said “yes”

GL: Hmm

MR: But then I would say that they probably had received some

GL: Money?

MR: Financial rewards for having it on, literally on their doorstep.

[We think that Reverend Roberts probably realised as he was speaking how badly he had just shot himself in the foot there so we won’t comment further]

GL: So what do you think happens now then?

MR: I think they’ll have to look to see what they can do to reduce the noise and also in Roseacre check out the traffic.

[Gosh! We can see why they got you onto the show with perception as acute as that Michael! I think that is commonly referred to as a “statement of the bleeding obvious”]

GL: And after that do do do d’you think whatever happens now we are probably , we probably will still get fracking here? In Lancashire?

MR: It is silly to, not to use a big natural resource like that because of improving our energy supplies because at the moment we could be quite close to having power cut offs … umm …

[The Reverend is very keen on accusing those who oppose fracking of scaremongering. But what have we here. There is no suggestion that at the moment we are closer than normal to having any power cuts, and commercial fracking is still many years away. but the Reverend is clearly telling us “at the moment we could be quite close to having power cut offs”. If that isn’t scare-mongering I will eat his dog-collar.]

MR: ..and also you need to look at the other aspect, which is often overlooked, is that within the whole Fylde area the employment is not good, and here is an opportunity for employment which is being denied to the people particularly of Blackpool, where as you know employment is not good.

GL But we keep being told that there is no guarantee that local people will actually get these jobs

MR: Well actually if you go and look to see what they are doing . uummmm, I went to Annas Road, and there as they were clearing it up, they had local contractors coming in. You’ve also got the Blackpool and Fylde College with their new um Energy (pause) Centre, giving opportunity for people to get work in the fracking industry.

[So the jobs he is so sure will provide a huge boost are by his own admission apparently limited to cleaning up the mess after the event and a few college lecturers]

GL: Um

MR: But I think often those type of things are exaggerated. Initially, of course some of the experts will have to come from outside but there’s a whole raft of other people, and you also have all the local businesses …. Ummmm who are .. very keen to be involved in this. And when they putout on their web site er a few days ago, within a matter of hours 200 business had signed up and said they wanted to work with this.

[So the Reverend seems to have agree with us that claims for jobs are exaggerated and that the well paid jobs will go to people from outside the area. Is this man really pro-fracking?

But then he makes some extravagant claims about “all the local businesses” supporting fracking. Just to take the example of tourism, there are nearly 1,000 hotels and B&Bs in Blackpool alone. To get excited because 200 businesses sign up to a web site on spec is really starting to sound a bit desperate.]

GL: OK Michael we’ll have to leave it there but thank you very much for joining us this morning. Michael Roberts, a geologist, former vicar from Garstang who it is fair to say is very pro-fracking.

So afterwards we tweeted the Reverend to ask about his claims about the Irish Sea

@Refracktion: Now the @MBRoberts4004 – I could swear I just heard you say that we are all using gas fracked in the Irish Sea. Where are the rigs?

As if by magic his pal “Aunty_fracker” – an anonymous shill jumped to his defence with this tweet


The screen shot is of Centrica’s East Irish Sea field off Blackpool, which as far as I am aware and anyone can tell me has never been fracked. In fact the BBC reported in 2014 that “The founder of shale gas firm Cuadrilla is planning a venture to frack in the Irish Sea, the BBC has learned. Dr Chris Cornelius believes there are large volumes of offshore shale gas that could be extracted.If successful, it would be the first such project in the world.”

Mike Roberts himself was totally unable to defend his point of view but the pair of them had great fun attempting to show how silly I was to have asked such a dumb question

Mike tweeted


Oh how we laughed as we replied

@MBRoberts4004 Yes but only conventional ones in the Centrica CONVENTIONAL field Mikey – whats your point?

Aunty thought she had won a great victory as she crowed


Aunty and Mike then had great fun laughing at me as they stated the obvious that a shale gas molecule is the same whether it is fracked or not.


The fun they had, but sadly for them it wasn’t to last

They went a bit quiet when I pointed out that I was well aware of that but that I could find no reference to Centrica’s Irish Sea field being fracked as claimed by both the anonymous shill @aunty_fracker and the verbally incontinent Reverend Roberts.

I asked several times but they decide that ignoring me might make their idiocy get forgotten more quickly.

This morning I asked them both again.

Refracktion: @Aunty_Fracker Seeing as how you are awake can you point me towards your evidence for the Centrica Irish Sea field having been fracked?

Refracktion: @MBRoberts4004 .. seeing as how you are awake can you point me towards your evidence for the Centrica Irish Sea field having been fracked?

and, bless her cotton socks, @AuntyPantsOnFire just couldn’t stop herself rising to the bait like an ageing trout.

She came back with

Aunty_Fracker: Was Elswick fracked @Refracktion poppet, yes or no?

and we carried on thus:

@Refracktion: @Aunty_Fracker Oh by the way “Yes”. – with 163 m3 of fluid compared to ~ 20,000 required for HVHF well (as you know)

Aunty_Fracker: Well done @Refracktion dear. So, we’ve now established that fracking for gas takes place in conventional reservoirs, correct?

Refracktion: @Aunty_Fracker But we haven’t established that the Irish Sea has been fracked have we. Carry on.

Aunty_Fracker: And the Centrica installations in Morecame Bay, they target conventional formations don’t they @Refracktion poppet?

Refracktion: @Aunty_Fracker Yes sweetie they do. But we haven’t established that the Irish Sea has been fracked have we. Carry on.

Aunty_Fracker: So, there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t also need to be fracked just like Elswick was, is there @Refracktion sweetpea? x

Refracktion: @Aunty_Fracker Is that best you can do after your condescending diatribe yesterday? LOL. Oh dear – @MBRoberts4004 can you do any better?

No reason to believe otherwise, except for the fact that they haven’t been perhaps? And it would be unfair of me not to mention that Cuadrilla were censured by the ASA for using Elswick as an example of a well that has been fracked as it was a totally misleading comparison with modern day High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing

Apparently the Reverend Roberts had nothing to say in defence of his own (misleading) claim either.

So, as the anonymous @auntypantsonfire would say on her absurd blog – Until next time xxx

Pants on fire

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