This is a biggy of course, and as with many of the claims made about fracking we need to be careful of weasel words.
In this case the culprit is most often the word “fracking” itself.
If somebody tells you “fracking is safe” you probably think they mean the entire process of extracting gas from shale using hydraulic fracturing. If somebody from the industry makes this claim and you question it, you will often find that they are limiting themselves to the process of fracturing the shale, and not referring to blasting the shale with fracking fluid, or maintaining well integrity or the dozen other areas that we, the public all think of as “fracking”, but which they conveniently exclude when they say “fracking is safe”
In their newsletter, 30,000 copies of which were distributed, Cuadrilla claimed:
We also know that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to contamination of the underground aquifer.
on their website they do admit
In the US, only a handful of operations have led to the subsurface environment being contaminated with natural gas, with bad well design the cause – not hydraulic fracturing.
Now can you see what we are getting at – they are telling us fracking is safe – it’s just the well design that isn’t! But why should you or we care about which part of the process they are talking about. It’s not as if they are not responsible for the well casing is it? If our water gets contaminated we are hardly going to excuse them on the basis of these silly verbal gymnastics are we?
Sadly it’s not just Cuadrilla who are weasel wording their way into getting people to accept fracking. Even government ministers, who should certainly know a lot better, are at it.
John Hayes, the Energy Minister, who has shown himself to be very friendly to anyone who favours the dash for gas, embarrassed himself and the government in December 2012 by stating in an interview on Radio 5 Live reported in the Daily Telegraph that,
the idea that that water will get into the main water table has been categorically denied. The claim that the water used in fracking gets into the aquifer was categorically refuted by the Durham University study earlier this year
As the Telegraph went on to explain though this didn’t please the study’s author who had of course said no such thing.
However Prof Richard Davies, who led the study, said the water table can be contaminated if the drilling is too close to the water table.
“We have not proved it could not happen, what we have shown is the safety distance,” he said.
There may be little proven evidence of damage caused by the fracking process, but we need to remember that the damage we are learning about is relatively recent (even in America fracking like this has only been going on for a few years) and the wheels of the law do grind pretty slowly, especially when the industry employs non-disclosure agreements after settling complaints.
The people whose stories are captured here, on the ever-lengthening “List of the Harmed” don’t think that fracking is safe though. Far from it. The evidence may be anectdotal (i.e. not proven in court yet) but there is so much of it that we would be fools to ignore it and accept the bland reassurances of people who try to trick us with slick definitions and claims that nothing is “proven”. If that reminds you of the way that the tobacco industry claimed for decades that there was no proven link between smoking and lung cancer, ponder the fact that the same PR company that worked on keeping that fallacy alive a lot longer than some of the smokers works for the frackers today. Hill and Knowlton, have been hired by America’s Natural Gas Alliance to convince people that fracking, too, is safe. Does that not make them feel just a little bit dirty? It would seem not.
If we don’t want a similar “List of the Harmed” to be started for the Fylde we had all better start making sure Mr Menzies and his colleagues in the other constituencies stop being quite so self-congratulatory and start taking a long hard look at what regulation is really missing before they allow fracking to start again.
Of course not every public body is blind to the risks and wants to push ahead without due regard to the risks. Over in Northern Ireland the Institute of Environmental Health said in January 2013:
The risk posed by fracking remains significant, a leading environmental health expert in Northern Ireland has said. There are still too many unknowns and gaps in the evidence surrounding the emerging use of shale gas, said the director of the Institute of Environmental Health in Northern Ireland.
The important thing tat we need to grasp is that ee won’t get two chances here. Once we have a problem we won’t be able to make it go away.
For more debunking of the frequently repeated lies of the fracking industry this video is hard to beat.
It’s remarkable how often we hear the same weasel words isn’t it? If you watch that video you will know what to listen out for …