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Fractivist Journalism and Its Proficiency with Fake News

LNG - Tom Shepstone Reports Tom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.


Fractivist journalism is one gigantic exercise in fake news – fake fracking news that is – as a story on a University of Guelph methane study illustrates.

Fake news seems to be enjoying quite a run these days, but there are no better examples than those provided by fractivist journalism. There are only a handful of reporters regularly reporting on fracking issues who bother to even attempt being objective. Most are in the model of StateImpactPA, a fractivist shill effort financed by the Heinz and Haas families to serve as an echo chamber for the work of sister entities such as the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper, et al who are financed by the same families. There are numerous others as well and a loyal reader of this blog who happens to be a fractivist sent me an article yesterday that very much falls into the same category.

Fractivist JournalismThe article is entitled “Methane Leaks from Energy Wells Affects Groundwater, Travels Great Distances, Study Confirms” and appears in the online Canadian magazine known as The Tyee (named for a salmon, logo to right). It’s about a University of Guelph study published in Nature Geoscience and titled “Mobility and persistence of methane in groundwater in a controlled-release field experiment.” The study itself is much more muted. Here’s the abstract (emphasis added):

Expansion of shale gas extraction has fuelled global concern about the potential impact of fugitive methane on groundwater and climate. Although methane leakage from wells is well documented, the consequences on groundwater remain sparsely studied and are thought by some to be minor. Here we present the results of a 72-day methane gas injection experiment into a shallow, flat-lying sand aquifer. In our experiment, although a significant fraction of methane vented to the atmosphere, an equal portion remained in the groundwater. We find that methane migration in the aquifer was governed by subtle grain-scale bedding that impeded buoyant free-phase gas flow and led to episodic releases of free-phase gas. The result was lateral migration of gas beyond that expected by groundwater advection alone. Methane persisted in the groundwater zone despite active growth of methanotrophic bacteria, although much of the methane that vented into the vadose zone was oxidized. Our findings demonstrate that even small-volume releases of methane gas can cause extensive and persistent free phase and solute plumes emanating from leaks that are detectable only by contaminant hydrogeology monitoring at high resolution.

The study is anything but an indictment of the shale industry. It simply says methane can migrate, a fact we all know, and injected the stuff into a sand aquifer to see how it moved, as if that proved anything about the degree to which shale wells actually leak. The point of the study is identify how methane does migrate and should be monitored. What the Tyee article does is make a huge leap from learning more about how methane moves to suggesting there are massive amounts of it leaking from shale wells and impacting groundwater, which is anything but true.

fractivist journalism

University of Guelph researchers injecting methane into Canadian sand aquifer to see how it migrates.

Worse, it extensively quotes Jessica Ernst, who made claims an Alberta judge found to be “verbose, repetitive, inflammatory, improper and not in keeping with the spirit of the Alberta Rules of Court.” The article is also replete with snide and heavily biased comments packaged as “news” that are clearly opinion (and poorly formed opinion at that). Consider these gems:

In recent years the chronic problem of methane leakage has been aggravated by hydraulic fracking, which causes more wear and tear on well plumbing and seals with intense pressures, shaking and well-banging seismic activity.”

Although industry argues that shale gas wells are too deep to affect groundwater, most methane leaks come not from the production source or bottom of the well but from shallower geological formations closer to the surface of the well. Gas flows up then enters groundwater or the atmosphere via corroded, old or faulty seals.”

Despite evidence of serious methane leakage into groundwater from energy wells, many regulators and energy companies have denied the scale of the problem, claimed the methane naturally migrated into the groundwater or was caused by bacteria.”

Nearly a half a dozen studies done by scientists at Duke and Stanford universities have consistently found elevated levels of methane in water wells near shale fracking operations but couldn’t always identify the source or the mechanism for contamination.”

But industry has repeatedly dealt with abuses of groundwater by offering landowners money and demanding that they sign non-disclosure agreements.”

It’s one “when did you stop beating your wife” question after another, with the reporter injecting his own views or using the Park Foundation funded Duke study for data when, in fact, there are numerous much larger studies indicating exactly the opposite. This is fractivist journalism.

What’s especially revolting is the self-righteous holier than thou posture of The Tyee as it engages in such demagoguery, calling itself “serious” as many times as it can.  “We’re independent and not owned by any big corporation,” they say, and “dedicated to publishing lively, informative news and views, not dumbed down fluff.” When they have to tell us it’s not fluff, that’s a pretty indicator it is, of course, but it’s the “independent” part that really grinds. Why? Because, a little further down their “About” page, there’s this:

How is The Tyee funded?

The exact makeup of The Tyee’s budget changes from year to year. This past year, just under 40 per cent of The Tyee’s revenue came from ongoing investment. The Tyee has two investors: Working Enterprises, a Vancouver-based labour-affiliated investment group that has as part of its mission funding socially-responsible organizations, and Eric Peterson and Christina Munck, whose B.C.-based Tula Foundation funds a wide range of progressive programs including those of the Hakai Institute on the B.C. Central Coast.

The Tyee, in other words, is a special interest investment and anything but independent. The Tula Foundation that funds it also funds an Environmental Law Centre that has been “representing BC Nature and Nature Canada in the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings,” for example, doing everything it can to stop pipelines. Tula has a very definitive political agenda and is engaged in a campaign to stop oil and gas development in Canada. It has a right to that agenda, of course, but don’t tell us The Tyee is anything but another fractivist echo chamber. Spare us the preaching about its independence and seriousness. Fractivist journalism isn’t either; rather. it’s fake fractivist news.

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10 thoughts on “Fractivist Journalism and Its Proficiency with Fake News

  1. The study of methane/natural gas well leaks, natural oceaonic seepage, cause and effects on our enviroment. And climate change.

    By Dr Rotciv Namruf
    PHD Enviro-Tech Sciences & Applications, U.B. California


    After a 8 year study, both lab and field, using computor modules and on site lab monitoring equiptment, our study has concluded though scientific concensous and experimentation, that methane gasses escaping from deep natural ocean seeps, as well as deep shale well bore drilling has little to no effect on water quality.
    end section 1 – case study 65698af

    Air quality study:
    Particles .001/per billion airborne methane and cause and effect analyasis.
    Field studies with non fired methane flares dicipitation rate 100 x 5000 fpc. Carbon/CO2 Negitives:
    Immiedeate danger flaring (controll) asp. Oxegen depletion temporary no threat dicipitation rate .0247 x per thousand x 2 a(3) x6
    Over all summary and concensous of study and interaction of human participatol theroetic symposis.
    Natural or manmade seepage of hydrocarbons (natural gas) into wator and atmospheric space is not harmful to the enviroment or add to global warming/cliamate disruption or change. Their is more climate changing hydro carbons being released into the atmosphere from
    uneduated anti fosil fuel fossil fuel using minions whenever they open their mouths in protest thus the real threat to the enviroment

  2. Jessica Ernst from Canada. Josh fox from new york. Maya van Rossum in PA and some other folks. Jeff tittell from New Jersey Sierra club. Roger downs in NY. Kate sinding NRDC New York and some others. Robert Kennedy jr whose influence is far and wide both through pace environmental law and the riverkeeper networks. Food and water watch. The overlapping networks which are people vs pipelines, fang or any individual anti pipeline org whipped up to counter a specific pipeline. Throw in the politicians who these activists have influenced. It is a small world. It is small enough in fact that reporters can and should be able to figure out that yes they have been using the same people as sources and organizations for years. After all they are the ones who get the press releases directly from the activists.

    The reporting is as much as a problem as the misinformation that the groups are spewing and perhaps even more so. Because all the ways the misinformation spreads is part of the problem.

    How did a network that is fairly small (it is basically incestuous) come to have so much influence over such an important topic? The activists have been misinforming each other even for years.

    The sloppy biased and sometimes fact free reporting has been an ongoing problem now for at least 4 plus years that I have seen. That is a huge problem because it effects the ability of reporters new to the scene and issue and people to get real information.

  3. The ignorance of these people is overwhelming, please let’s avoid the emotive comments and try to explain what happens based on scientific fact.

    As soon as any organic material, (from plants, micro-organisms, animals etc.) is buried in the ground it starts to decay and it will produce methane and other hydrocarbons. This means that throughout most of the surface of the earth if you go down even a few hundred feet you will find methane gas. This has nothing to do with drilled wells and/or fracking – it’s a naturally occurring event. The gas will migrate and collect in pockets where it becomes trapped, and sometimes it will reach the surface, often bubbling through water. Marsh gas and will o’ the wisp were well documented and understood long before the advent of the oil & gas industry.

  4. Pingback: Fractivist Journalism and Its Proficiency with Fake News | The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF)

  5. About 35 years ago I was involved in the installation of downhole pumps in water wells drilled to supply the requirements of a nearby refinery expansion. In one of the wells failure of the insulation of the downhole cable was attributed to methane leaking into the aquifer. Part of the treatment process for the water involved resting in a storage tank where the methane levels in the water will reach the natural equilibrium values.
    Perhaps the fractivists should remember that it normal practice for municipal water supplies to be dosed with chlorine and ammonia to prevent the growth of unwanted organisms in the water during the journey between treatment plant and household.

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