Appalachian Basin

Scottish Outlet Pushes Fracking Myths in Hit Piece on U.S. Shale

Not content with their current moratorium on fracking, anti-shale activists in Scotland have been going after anything remotely fracking-related, including imports of shale gas from the U.S. Stateside activists and the Scottish media outlets are more than happy to help them out, as evidenced by the anti-shale hit piece that appeared this past weekend in The Herald Scotland.

 The article, composed to coincide with this week’s expected first-ever shipment of imported ethane from the U.S. to the Scottish petrochemical company Ineos, contains numerous anti-fracking claims that have been thoroughly discredited here in the U.S., many of which were literally cut and pasted from an activist press release. The Herald also targets one U.S. company — Range Resources — in an attempt to put a single corporate face on what it characterizes as the encroaching U.S. shale bogeyman.

Having said that, The Herald can at least be commended for affording Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe the opportunity to inject some rationality into the debate, two days after publishing its “fracking is bad” advocacy piece. In an article published Tuesday, Ratcliffe notes that fracking is “extremely safe,” and that U.S. is most environmentally regulated country in the world.

Ratcliffe points out that although fracking isn’t currently allowed in Scotland, shale development has still essentially saved his Grangemouth refinery thanks to the availability of U.S. imports alone. It had previously relied on quickly declining natural gas feedstock from the North Sea.

“We’re talking about 10,000 jobs in total that depend on that Grangemouth facility, so if it were not for the shale gas we are bringing in from the USA, Grangemouth would have closed three years ago.”

He also notes that the UK is missing out on the economic benefits that the U.S. is enjoying, including a manufacturing renaissance.

“If you look at the UK manufacturing has collapsed in the last 20 years, and there is an awful lot of people in the industrial heartland who depend on manufacturing jobs. There is going to be no manufacturing left if it continues in that direction and shale has got the possibility of transforming it, maybe even reversing it, as it has in America.”

Still, the first Herald hit piece deserves a bit of fact checking. Here are the three biggest problems with the article, followed by the facts.

#1: Herald “journalist” copies and pastes activists’ press release; pushes debunked claims

A majority of the article features extensive quotes and claims pulled directly from a press release by the anti-fracking group Friends of the Earth Scotland. For instance, that group’s “head of campaigns,” Mary Church, claims,

“It is completely unacceptable to attempt to prop up INEOS’s petrochemicals plants on the back of human suffering and environmental destruction across the Atlantic. Setting aside the devastating local impacts of fracking, the climate consequences of extracting yet more fossil fuels are utterly disastrous. We urge the Scottish Government to act swiftly to ban fracking.”

First, it is worth noting that advertising watchdog Advertising Standards Authority just called out Friends of the Earth for distributing a “misleading” leaflet claiming fracking causes cancer. The leaflet also featured a photo of Grasmere in the Lake District — despite the fact that there are no plans for fracking in the area.

It’s not surprising that Friends of the Earth has resorted to deceptive tactics, considering the overwhelming data that directly contradict their claims.

Among the “utterly disastrous” consequences of fracking in the U.S. are the lowest energy-related CO2 emissions in 27 years — which any objective observer would agree is the No. 1 priority of mitigating the “climate consequences” Church speaks of.

And as far as “human suffering” goes stateside, new World Health Organization (WHO) urban ambient air pollution data shows the opposite is occurring, as U.S. outdoor air quality has improved in recent years at the same time the rest of the world’s outdoor air pollution has increased eight percent. The U.S. has seen significant decreases in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and fine particulate matter pollution in recent years thanks to increased use of natural gas for electrical generation.

The latter is of particular note, considering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says PM 2.5 can cause “early death, cardiovascular or respiratory harm,” while WHO’s is even more blunt in its assessment, stating: “… Ambient air pollution, made of high concentrations of small and fine particulate matter, is the greatest environmental risk to health—causing more than 3 million premature deaths worldwide every year.”

WHO’s comprehensive database, covering 3,000 cities in 103 countries, shows more than 80 percent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution worldwide are exposed to PM 2.5 concentration levels that exceed WHO standards. In sharp contrast, the WHO data show just 20 percent of people living in urban areas in the U.S. are exposed to PM 2.5 levels that exceed WHO standards, which are far more stringent than the U.S. EPA’s.

So considering fracking has directly mitigated what the WHO calls “the greatest environmental risk to health,” Church’s claims of “environmental destruction across the Atlantic” sound quite silly, especially when one considers the EPA has confirmed that the fracking process has not contaminated groundwater.

#2: Article singles out Range Resources and exaggerates or misstates the facts to support its narrative

An Ineos official confirmed his company would be importing gas from several U.S. sources. Still, The Herald singles out Range Resources in the piece and, predictably, attempts accusing the company of “trashing the environment.”

Here are The Herald’s claims about Range Resources, followed by the facts.

Herald Claim: “(Range Resources) was fined $4.15 million by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2014 for polluting soil and groundwater.”

FACT: The story fails to note that DEP has acknowledged the locations in question have been fully assessed and remediated and these assessments concluded that there was no impact to drinking water supplies. Furthermore, this instance did not involve fracking fluid or anything related to the actual fracking process. Instead, it involved pit liner issues and minor surface spills.

Herald Claim: “(Range Resources) also agreed to pay a $1.75 million settlement to the department for failing to keep proper records of the water it used over five years.”

FACT: The article fails to note that the activities that prompted the settlement did not result in environmental harm. According to DEP spokesman John Poister: “This was not a case where they were taking millions and millions of extra gallons of water and not reporting it. We were able to reconstruct their water use by going back and taking records from their contractors. … (Range) had records. They just didn’t have them coordinated.”

Herald Claim: “In May this year the DEP rescinded another proposed $8.9 million fine on Range Resources for alleged methane pollution after an appeal by the company. But the DEP has said that it is still investigating the matter.”

FACT: Range Resources actually withdrew its appeal of the proposed penalty on May 13 after DEP fully rescinded the proposed $8.95 million fine. Regulators had originally claimed a Lycoming County well leaked methane into drinking water supplies and streams, making the assertion despite findings from pre-drill water tests that show existing methane in the area and isotopic signatures that didn’t match those found in the natural gas well being blamed for the contamination. This could have something to do with DEP’s decision to rescind the fine.

Herald Claim: “In 2011 Range Resources, along with others, agreed a $750,000 settlement with a Washington County farming family after a bitter dispute about fracking. The agreement included a legal gagging order.”

FACT: This instance has long been characterized as an example of industry bullying a family into secrecy, but the facts reveal that narrative to be wildly inaccurate. The Herald fails to mention is that it was the family — and not the operators the family was challenging — who requested that the settlement agreement be sealed and kept confidential, including the affidavit stating there were no health impacts. It was also the family’s lawyer, not the judge, who introduced the term “gag order.”

Furthermore, there was no evidence to support the family’s claims of health impacts attributable to natural gas development, a fact that state regulators confirmed with their own investigations. The family actually admitted under oath that there was no medical evidence for their claims, and their children were not a part of “gag order,” which was originally widely reported.

If The Herald was truly concerned about the environment — and journalistic integrity, for that matter — one would think the paper would have noted that Range Resources set the standard for what is known today as FracFocus by becoming the first company to voluntarily disclose the chemicals used to hydraulically fracture natural gas wells back in 2010. The company also pioneered flowback water recycling and reuse in 2009.

#3: Article fails to note exports of U.S. shale gas can bring down global GHGs

As discussed earlier, the shale gas revolution’s contribution to decreased U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is undeniable. Quite simply, fracking is the reason that the U.S. is the only major country to see a significant decrease in CO2 emissions over the past decade, as the following EID graphic illustrates.

co2 emissions trends

So it only makes sense that if other countries were to begin burning more natural gas, just as the U.S. has in recent years, it would drive down their GHG emissions as well. And a record supply of natural gas made possible by the U.S. shale gas revolution makes the latter a distinct possibility.

A recent peer reviewed study from Carnegie Mellon University confirms this possibility, finding that exporting clean-burning natural gas from the United States would help reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. From the study,

“We went a step beyond just the emissions from exporting the natural gas and looked at how it might be used when it gets to its destination, such as to displace traditional fuels or other forms of natural gas.”

“From a global emissions perspective, this study has shown that exporting LNG can help to reduce life cycle GHG emissions from electricity generation and industrial heating.”

This is just the latest in a long line of evidence that dispels the notion that energy production and climate progress are mutually exclusive. That argument has been thoroughly debunked in the U.S. and — despite the efforts of activists anti-shale hit pieces like the story that ran this weekend in the The Herald — the same holds true for the UK as well.

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