On the 11th of July, Frack Free Geraldton ran this ad (it didn't have the big red x of course) in the Geraldton Guardian. Frack Free Geraldton are associated with the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA).
10 days later, the Chief Operating Officer of the WA region of the Australian Pertroleum Production and Exploration Association Limited (APPEA) had a letter published in the Guardian.
He essentially refuted the claims of the ad.
Then on 29 July 2014, APPEA wrote to the owners of the Geraldton Guardian, West Australian Newspapers Ltd (SevenWest), formally complaining about the ad.
The CCWA responded, basically declaring the complaint by Michael Bradley and the APPEA vexatious and motivated by a desire to suppress the true nature of the gas fracking industry.
SevenWest ruled in favour of the Oil and Gas industry in many of the points.
1. The APPEA claims that shale fracking is not the “process of extracting gas”. It says that hydraulic fracking is a technology used to enhance the flow of gas from a well once the drilling is completed and the rig is removed from the scene.
SevenWest actually ruled in favour of the advertisers CCWA in this point, stating that
"While technically shale fracking is not a “process of extraction” but a method to enhance the extraction of gas, the ordinary reasonable reader will not be led into error by this description. The description is used generally to describe the process in an ordinary or garden variety way."
CCWA said that the APPEA doesn't own the word fracking, nor does it get to decide whether it's a noun, adjective or verb. "Fracking" is an umbrella term just like "mining" is an umbrella term used to describe many different processes that result in the extraction of minerals.
2. APPEA contends that “toxic chemicals” are not used “to crack deep rocks”. It's the pressure that cracks the rock.
But SevenWest says that's beside the point.
Toxic Chemicals are used in the process.
But we only use a little bit of toxic chemicals!
SevenWest says because the ad says "toxic chemicals" are used, along with a drink bottle of water that has mostly turned black, you the reader will be mislead to think that ONLY toxic chemicals are used. But only .05% to .5% of the fluid pumped into the ground is toxic.
Hope that helps you sleep at night.
So SevenWest says the statement "toxic chemicals" is an exaggeration.
CCWA says that as the total volume of water is so large (10-25 million litres per well) even if the toxic chemicals constitute as little as 0.05%, that's 50,000 to 125,000 litres of toxic chemicals being pumped into the earth to kill bacteria, break down minerals and initiate fissures. Per well.
The WA Health Department in their preliminary submission to the WA Inquiry on Unconventional Gas found 195 "chemicals of concern". Some are known as suspected carcinogens, others have been shown to have developmental or reproductive toxicity. Many of the chemicals have NO SAFE LEVEL OF ORAL INTAKE and many have been banned completely overseas.
But does that image really imply that ONLY toxic chemicals are used?
The image in the ad shows a drink bottle with a syringe. The drinking container is approx 1.5 litres.
The syringe with the black fluid has a capacity of 30mL.
The point of the image seems to be that it only takes a small amount of poison in your drinking water to render the entire amount non-potable.
What about this image?
The APPEA has this picture of a lush green field and a big healthy tree at the top of their website, implying that using gas mining or gas usage as an energy source would be associated with such an image. While burning gas might create less CO2 than burning other non-renewable resources, this image implies things that could also be challenged.
The claims of gas being cleaner are being refuted by recent studies. While it may be cleaner to burn, the methane released into the atmosphere during the extraction process is worse the CO2 and many now believe that overall, gas is worse than coal.
This study from Cornell University shows that when viewed on a 20 year time horizon after emission, the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is considerably greater than that for coal or diesel oil, when the full effects of the methane emissions are considered.
3. Frack Free Geraldton says that fracking can “turn our water into a dangerous chemical cocktail”.
The Oil and Gas Industry says using toxic chemicals in shale fracking will not turn our water into a dangerous chemical cocktail.
Frack Free Geraldton and the CCWA didn't say that it will, just that it can.
And the APPEA didn't say that it can't, just that it won't.
A paragraph in the SevenWest report quoted CSIRO saying the risks of water contamination are low, in most cases.
However, the CSIRO website adds that the risks are low WHEN MANAGED PROPERLY.
This is a self evident statement however, as any contamination that has occurred can obviously be chalked up in hindsight to poor management.
What the APPEA and the Oil and Gas Industry in general haven't convinced the world of is that "this time" they'll manage it properly.
In addition to this...
SevenWest state in their report:
"That illustration (the water bottle) would appear to reflect a substantial contamination of the water by the black “toxic chemical” fluid. In the order of 70% of the water appears to be substantially “contaminated” by the black fluid."
But again, they seemed to have missed the entire point of the image. 70% of the water isn't poisoned. ALL OF IT IS.
And it only took 30mL to do it.
Moreover, CCWA say that the APPEA's claims of water never being contaminated by fracking are based entirely on a narrow interpretation of the term "fracking". They say there is extensive documented evidence of fracking well failure and subsequent leakage (of gas and fracking chemicals) into ground water.
SevenWest concluded this point by stating:
CCWA have not produced any evidence that hydraulic fracking fluid has in the course of any hydraulic shale gas fracking process permeated a fresh water aquifer. Its contentions are against the scientific literature. The advertisement is misleading in this regard.
But by SevenWest's own acceptance of the term "fracking" applying to the entire process of gas extraction, the CCWA HAS produced evidence that fresh water has been polluted.
In fact, they linked to a very thorough study that you can read here:
Here's a taste:
"poor well integrity is a far more likely cause of elevated concentrations of thermogenic methane in shallow groundwater and water supplies than pathways induced solely by hydraulic fracturing. Examples of leaks in shale gas wells have been reported and fines imposed."
In other words, the upward propagation of hydraulic fractures may not be the direct cause of the contaminations of fresh water aquifers, but other parts of the overall gas extraction process have demonstrably contaminated drinking water numerous times in the past.
Why SevenWest chose to semantically interpret "fracking" in this case, but accept that it applies broadly to the entire process in point 1, is unclear.
4. “Research in the US has found that 6% of fracking wells leak into ground water in the first year”
CCWA has admitted that this statement is not materially correct.
And the APPEA are chalking this one up as a win.
But, they should have read the response from CCWA.
“We have reviewed the report and agree with Appea to the extent that Professor Ingraffea’s findings related to well barrier or casing integrity failure which does not necessarily mean that leakage into groundwater has occurred in all cases. On further consideration, a more accurate statement would perhaps be that “6% of fracking wells leak into groundwater, surface water, soil or air in the first year”
So instead the ad should have read:
6% of fracking wells leak into groundwater, surface water, soil or air in the first year.
It's not likely to make the public fond of fracking, to know that risks apply to groundwater, surface water, the soil and the air we breathe.
The CCWA states that the claims by the APPEA that fracking has not caused contamination of aquifers are misleading and rely on a narrow definition of fracking designed to exclude well casing failure, surface spills, wastewater re-injection, and other common causes of groundwater contamination due to the fracking processes.
But SevenWest still ruled that the original statement is "misleading and deceptive".
7. Once our water is contaminated, it will be forever
APPEA challenged this, saying someone probably would be able to clean up our drinking water if a fracking company accidentally poisoned it.
But the CCWA said that there are no regulatory requirements in WA for contaminated groundwater to be returned to its original state. They also assert that remediation measures do not actually exist for all of the chemicals which could pollute our ground water.
The CCWA also assert that while it may be possible for remediation of contaminated groundwater, it's not possible to bring it back to its original unaltered state, even if it is technically drinkable again.
The APPEA provided SevenWest with some links to publications of how to clean up contaminated ground water, which record that to a greater or lesser degree, and depending upon the particular circumstances, remedial steps can be taken to resolve or alleviate water contamination.
So to a "greater or lesser" degree, if your drinking water gets poisoned, it's technically possible, depending on the circumstances, maybe, to possibly make it usable again, even though there's no legal requirement to do so, and the companies who do engage in fracking have made no commitment to do so.