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Fractivist Journalism and Its Proficiency with Fake News

Tom Shepstone, Gas Now

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.

The 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

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.

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