The BBC – Fracking Rubbish

Today the BBC put out a programme on Radio 4 – Inside Science – which claimed to get inside the science of fracking.

It was terrible. Sloppy journalism and bad science.

The list of badly reported programmes on fracking is long and ignoble – Iain Stewart’s Horizon programme springs to mind as another example of a programme which managed to please nobody and wasted thousands of pounds of licence payer’s money.

Today’s effort though exceeded all expectations.

It began with a patsy interview by Gaia Vince with Kris Bone, the Well Engineering Director at iGas. For some reason she interviewed him at a Coal Bed Methane Well. Coal Bed Methane is not quite fracking, but heck – this was only a science programme after all. Coal Bed Methane and Coal Seam Gasification are fracking’s twin ugly sisters, but let’s leave that for the moment.

We got the now standard story about how there was no visible surface impact at the well, which ignored totally the fact that with fracking we will get a repeated impact over 1000s of wells that is of only a few weeks duration per well, could last years per pad, but which would eventually leave a relatively peaceful surface area like the one they visited. We can only assume that Gaia, for all that her name sounds very green, was ignorant of the environmental realities here.

They might as well have taken her to the infamous Elswick well in the Fylde – yes the one that the Advertising Standards Authority criticised Cuadrilla for using as it was not comparable with what we all face from fracking. That one.

We had the story repeated that fracking isn’t new and Kris dutifully trotted out the obligatory “we’ve had 2000 onshore wells with 10% already fracked” patter, so beloved of the fracking propagandists, but comprehensively debunked by the DECC. There were no awkward questions from the lovely Gaia who seemed terribly excited and in awe of her interviewee. It made us wonder if it was maybe her first solo outing as a reporter.

Then we got the “scientists”. 4 “experts” talking about different aspects of fracking

We started with Contamination of Water Supplies

Richard Davies from Durham rubbished the Gaslands tap sequence and told us the risk of contamination of groundwater from fracking is incredibly low and “there is not a proven example of fracking causing contamination of ground water”. Yawn. That line is straight from the fracking propaganda playbook. Richard Davies isn’t always the worst of the academic supporters of shale gas, but he knows that anyone who has looked into this doesn’t think the risk is from fracking itself, but from the processes around it. Setting up the problem like this and then dismissing it is a common tactic, and one which, in our opinion, reflects very badly on the academic integrity of those who use it.

Dr David Rothery, Senior lecturer on Earth Sciences from the OU, attempted to reassure us that the people in Gasland were getting water from boreholes so we’d be OK in the UK – perhaps he is totally unaware that the Environment Agency told us that 11% of Fylde households draw at least some of their water from boreholes. But if so what on earth is he doing pontificating about matters on which he is so ignorant, and more to the point what are the BBC doing giving him a platform like this?

Back now to Richard Davies who finally grudgingly allowed that cementing failures and steel corrosion might increase the risk of water contamination. He very nearly got onto the subject of bonds for abandonment not being required. However, he just said he thought we needed to keep checking the wells after the operators had high tailed it. “No shit Sherlock!” as they say. Like we said he’s not the worst and to be fair it may just have been the editing separating his pieces which made the first part sound so questionable on its own.

Next we got onto the Chemicals

Prof Zoe Shipton from the Department of Civil Engineering of Strathclyde University did the bit about how the chemicals used were only things like you found in your kettle and baby’s nappies. Flow back water can apparently be “treated just like any other industrial effluent can be treated” . Perhaps she’s really not aware that the flowback fluid is radioactive? And perhaps as a civil engineer her expertise in chemicals leaves just a tiny bit to be desired? Just saying 🙂

Then we got onto Water Shortages Richard Davies gave this short shrift, but thank goodness he managed at least to restrain himself from using the golf course analogy. Northern England has LOADS of water. Less in the South of England but in South Africa there is a shortage. End of story apparently

And now – drum roll – Earthquakes

Of course we got Professor Mike (Brian Cox Wannabe) Stephenson from the BGS for this. He admitted that the 2 quakes in Lancashire were “probably” caused by fracking. He was at pains to point out that the two earth quakes were very very small and stated “they couldn’t have caused any damage”. Now Cuadrilla have a board at their public consultations which quotes Prof Stephenson as saying exactly that. The thing is that we know, they know, and most importantly perhaps, HE knows very well that the earthquakes did indeed cause damage. It’s beyond debate now. The casing of the well at Preese Hall was ovalised over a long distance. Cuadrilla’s failure to understand and report and this damage earned them a severe reprimand from Charles Hendry, the then Energy Minister. There is no way that Stephenson does not know this. Why does he keep saying it and allowing it to be used by the frackers as a quote? If he worked for the industry we’d understand, but he’s supposed to be a respected academic! If he’d like to offer an explanation we’d be glad to publish it.

Stephenson rounded off his piece by telling us that there was really nothing to worry about as man made earthquakes are quite common. Yes really! It’s all OK. Honestly.

Then we had what sounded like our new friend David Rothery with the best bit yet! – They are not quakes they are tremors – the earthquakes would have happened anyway and they might have been stronger if we’d waited so we should really be grateful to fracking for setting them off earlier! So there you have it! Fracking is saving us from earthquake damage! Fantabulosa! This short piece must take the prize for the most ludicrous justification of fracking ever heard on mainstream media anywhere in the world at any time so far. Congratulations David.

Prof Mike came on again to tell us that if you are going to frack you really do need to make sure there are no faults in the area – it’s “really very very important” apparently. Somehow he forgot to mention that the Preese Hall tremors happened because nobody had a bloody clue whether there was a fault there or not. In fact the Fylde is known to be faulted, so according to what Stephenson says here it’s all over. Game Set and Match – Time for Cuadrilla to pack up. Except they won’t will they? Own goal Prof?

Finally they addressed the environmental issue – or rather we had Zoe again – she waffled on about how huge our resources are before admitting that if we burn all that we’ll add a significant amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. David now came on again to tell us that “fracking is a very good stop gap to get our own gas” (whatever that means) and told us that the alternative is buying gas from “the Russians”. Maybe he doesn’t really know that most of our imports currently come from Norway, Holland and Qatar, with Qatar being joined by the USA in the near future. Or maybe he does but the Pesky Rusky’s story sounds better eh Dave?

Overall this was a horse’s arse of a programme. Badly researched, factually inaccurate and totally one sided. If Cuadrilla and Igas had commissioned it themselves they couldn’t have hoped for a better result.

The BBC really does need to do better than this to justify it’s licence fee!

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