Beware more anti-fracking sleight-of-hand in 2018

Over the years, we’ve noticed that opponents of fracking have become adept at misdirection. Beware their sleight-of-hand.



Here are some to keep an eye out for.

Turning cubic metres into gallons or litres

The standard unit of measurement used by industry to express the volume of a given liquid is a cubic metre.

But opponents of fracking prefer to use gallons or even litres. Why? Because it makes it sound so much BIGGER.

1 cubic metre is the same as 219 gallons or a thousand litres.

You’ll see them use gallons or litres whenever they want to try and make water use seem excessive (Cuadrilla has said it will use 34,425 cubic metres of frack fluid in its Preston New Road wells, but opponents like to say “over 7 million gallons” which obviously makes it sound far higher) or when reporting spillage incidents from the US.

“Each well will be fracked 30 or 40 times”

This one is rather an egregious over-statement and is usually pre-faced by the “it takes over 7 million gallons of water to frack a single well” line. The intention is clear: they want you to believe that each well will be fracked 30-40 times using 7 million gallons on each occasion -- so as much as 280 million gallons.

Of course, they’re not stupid enough to actually state this because they know it’s indefensible. Instead, they heavily imply it, leaving you to do the mental maths.

Don’t be fooled.

Cuadrilla proposes to use 765 cubic metres of fluid in up to 45 discrete “stages”. So, it is factual to say that it will frack its horizontal wells 45 times, but the total fluid use will still only be 34,345 cubic metres (7 million gallons) in total.

Comparing flowback composition with treated drinking water

When a well has been fracked, around half the injected fluid returns to the surface along with the gas. But in addition to the water, sand and handful of dilute chemicals (that are non-hazardous to groundwater) used to make-up the frack fluid, it comes back with some other constituents -- metals and minerals collected from the shale rock itself.

These include things like chromium, copper and arsenic -- all widely distributed in the Earth’s crust and therefore in rocks and soil everywhere. These three metals in particular are all used in wood preservatives, made at the Impra (formerly Laportes) factory in Barrow-in-Furness.

You’ll hear people say that flowback from Cuadrilla’s earlier Preese Hall well contained lead at over 1,438 times the amount found in drinking water and arsenic at over 20 times. But it’s a totally false comparison, because unlike drinking water, nobody will be consuming flowback -- those wood preservatives will contain arsenic at many, many times the amount found in water coming out of our taps, but you won’t find anyone sensibly making that sort of comparison.

Not only that, regardless of its source -- upland fells, reservoirs and lakes, rivers or abstracted groundwater -- drinking water is treated to remove things like metals before it’s put into the supply network.

It’s just another way of trying to scare the population with exaggerated numbers.

Using photos of drilling rigs to illustrate long-term landscape impacts

Whenever anti-frackers talk about landscape impacts, they show you a picture of a drilling rig on an operational site.

At over 30 metres high, the mast is clearly visible from nearby. But that’s not what a shale gas site looks like forever.

Once the wells are drilled, the rig is demobilised and leaves the site to make way for the fracking equipment (tanks and pumps). These are much less visible.

And after fracking is complete and a well-site is producing gas to the grid, all that’s left behind are the “Christmas Tree” well-heads and some other low-level items of plant and equipment, easily screened by trees and shrubs.

Don’t be conned into thinking that we’ll one day end up with a hundred sites that all permanently look like Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site does now, because we won’t.

Conflating correlation with causation

Studies about the potential health impacts of fracking are being pumped-out continually in the US -- some by genuinely well-meaning academics and institutions, but many others by opponents of shale gas that are dressed-up as independent research.

Whatever the source, you’ll find that opponents over here will not only cherry-pick the findings that appear to suit their arguments but they’ll also deliberately suggest that correlation equals causation when, in fact, there isn’t a single credible piece of research that has so far been able to prove a causal link between fracking and ill-health.

ALL the studies ever appear to show is a potential association between this and that, but never any evidence of a direct link.

Fracking’s detractors in the UK will also play on these statistics that talk about “risk” as though it’s a certainty. So, if a study says it finds an increased risk of asthma in people living within a mile of a fracking site, opponents will headline their blogs to suggest that it means you’ll get asthma if you live within this radius of a site. But risk doesn’t work like that, it just means there could be a higher chance or more potential, but it’s far from definitive that you will.

Note how these all have something in common: a grain of truth. Like the best confidence tricksters, they use just enough of the truth that it makes their claims sound plausible. Look out for these and other examples of the sleight-of-hand used by anti-frackers in 2018.

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