Anglican Environmentalists misguidedly challenge church report on fracking

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In January 2017 the Church of England published a briefing report on Shale Gas and Fracking https://www.churchofengland.org/media/3856131/shale-gas-and-fracking.pdf

. The church was slow to give a response to fracking so this was overdue. It was produced under the join chairmanship of the Bishop of Salisbury and Philip Fletcher CBE. Responses to it have varied; The industry representative body, UKOOG were favourable but the Green Party and Operation Noah slated it for being too supportive of fracking.
My take is that it is a very balanced and accurate report, and is what should have been produced five years ago.
With Operation Noah being so anti-fossil fuels I wondered how Green Anglicans would respond as anti-fracking is more important than faith in Christ to some. Or at least it feels like it 
Well here is the response from the Blackburn Diocesan Environment Committee. Since 2012 they have produced three previous discussion papers on fracking, which are somewhat flawed in their accuracy. The first referred to contaminants in fracking fluid including acetic acids (plural) and citric acids (plural). There is only ONE acetic and Citric acid and both are added to fish and chips. To make howlers like this it does seem the committee are short of scientific knowledge. I do not have space to discuss these, but a URL for my blog on The Challenges of Fracking, The Churches Response is given below.

In July the Social Responsibility Network https://srnet.org.uk/ published a rather negative blog; Shale Gas and Fracking https://srnet.org.uk/shale-gas-fracking/ The SRN describes itself as “A network of people passionate that the Church engages with the issues of our communities”. However from the website I could not work out who exactly they are as no names of organisers are listed, but it does seem to come from social responsibility sources in largely the Church of England. What is most concerning is the committee reject or ignore the careful work from academics like Paul Younger and Nick Riley (both Christians) and reports from government agencies including the British Geological Survey. As in this blog reviewed here, they seem to prefer those “experts” who are not recognised outside anti-fracking circles. It would be like a diocesan science and religion group advising church members to reject the work of Prof Tom Mccleish,F.R.S., Sir John Polkinghorne, Prof David Wilkinson and Prof Alistair McGrath in favour of creationists like Andy McIntosh and Ken Ham, who may even have doctorates but not in the field they are challenging.
The blog is brief and asked readers to comment on what they saw as the short comings of the Fletcher/Holtham paper.

Here is the blog post in full
SHALE GAS & FRACKING
JULY 26, 2017 SRNET221
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
We welcomed the Church of England’s December 2016 Briefing Paper “Shale gas and fracking”1 pulling together some of the key references on this topic and so stimulating debate within the Church on this controversial process.
Since then, a number of well-referenced papers2 have re-examined the evidence in various publications cited in the Briefing Paper and raised significant concerns about the reliability of the conclusions drawn.
We feel it imperative that the authors of the Briefing Paper seek expert advice on the strength of the evidence given and the conclusions drawn in these new publications and update the Briefing Paper as necessary so that Christian churches and others can participate in informed debate on the care of Creation and social responsibility in respect of shale gas.
We would be grateful for your response to this concern, to the email addresses below.
Blackburn Diocese Environment Group
• Revd Professor John Rodwell (Chair, johnrodwell@tiscali.co.uk )
• Revd Canon Ed Saville (Diocesan Environment Officer,
ed.saville@blackburn.anglican.org),
• Dr Stephen Garsed,
• Derek Estill.
1 Mission and Public Affairs Council and the Environment Working Group of the Church of England (2016) Shale Gas & Fracking;
2 Michael Hill (2017) Review of the Church of England Mission & Public Affairs Council and Environment Working Group Briefing Paper on Shale Gas and Fracking; Paul Mobbs (2017) Whitehall’s ‘Fracking’ Science Failure; David K. Smythe (2017) Submission to the Scottish Government consultation in unconventional oil and gas.
end of post

The blog challenges many aspects of the Church of England report. I would now like to consider their claims over its shortcomings.

The second sentence states;

“Since then, a number of well-referenced papers2 have re-examined the evidence in various publications cited in the Briefing Paper and raised significant concerns about the reliability of the conclusions drawn.”

The three cited publications are from Mike Hill, Paul Mobbs and David Smythe. All are well-known for their adamant opposition to fracking. Hill and Smythe have made exaggerated claims of their professional capabilities and experience. They are the ‘specialists’ of choice for the anti frack movement. Their claims are not matched by the mass of evidence from independent specialist studies, such as those done by the Royal Academy of Engineering, and many others.

Mike Hill is an electrical engineer from Lytham, Lancs and over the last few years has given presentations against fracking mostly in Lancashire but also throughout Britain. He has given presentations to church groups e.g. Canons and Area Deans in the diocese of Blackburn and was the main advisor for the Dean of Blackburn’s report The Challenges of Fracking, The Churches Response published in Nov 2014. His main argument is that the regulatory system of fracking is totally inadequate. He still complains that of the 10 recommendations made in 2012 to properly regulate shale gas operations, only one of these has been put in place. This is at odds with the industry representative body. http://www.ukoog.org.uk/about-ukoog/press-releases/144-the-royal-society-and-royal-academy-of-engineering-recommendations-review-of-progress He claimed to be an ‘EU adviser’ in a talk in Canterbury and a complaint to IPSO revealed that this was not the case. https://www.ipso.co.uk/rulings-and-resolution-statements/ruling/?id=02280-14 He stood as an antifracking candidate in the last General Election, and his independence was called into question in the publication of the ‘Medact Report 2015’ which was strongly antifracking. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/expert-report-on-fracking-risks-was-written-by-activist-q2wxp0jgj0t

Paul Mobbs is a freelance biologist with very green concerns who often publishes in The Ecologist. He was arrested for attempting to arrest the Prime Minister. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc1ESFg4fkA

David Smythe retired as Professor of Geophysics at Glasgow in 1998 and has not worked professionally since. He runs a B and B and lives in France. His recent paper in ‘Solid Earth’ was rejected, and described by one critical peer review as ‘Advocacy based science’. https://www.solid-earth-discuss.net/se-2015-134/ . Other comments are similarly dismissive. Smythe was told not to resubmit the paper. The Geological Society has instructed him not to describe himself as a Chartered Geologist. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/fracking-row-scientist-lied-about-his-credentials-vxtcrtsxczr This article also states that the University of Glasgow, where Mr Smythe worked 16 years ago, has also written to him asking him not to suggest that its academics share his views.

The blog simply gave the titles of the papers but no way of obtaining the papers and should have given URLs to enable readers to make a proper judgement. Having read the first two writings I was aware of the URLs for them, but was unable to access Smythe’s but am familiar with his writing.

I am baffled why these papers are given such a definitive recognition. None were peer-reviewed or from any recognisable professional source in any acceptable publication. Hill’s paper is published on his private website, Mobbs in a green magazine The Ecologist, and Smythe’s is simply a letter of submission to a Government consultation. Anyone, including a 6 year old, can submit to a consultation like that
Hill’s paper 2 Michael Hill (2017) Review of the Church of England Mission & Public Affairs Council and Environment Working Group Briefing Paper on Shale Gas and Fracking is to be found on his website Shale Gas Office.
https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/b0aabf_5902a55b06fd4338a56db38dd8687240.pdf
Hill makes a lot of charges against the inadequacy of the Church report, which would take a lot of discussion to analyse. However his choice of references is very revealing and show why he cannot be recognised as any kind of authority.
Here are his references from the paper with my comments
REFERENCES Nearly half are written by Mike Hill and have * by them. It is not acceptable or professional to cite your own UNPUBLISHED work as a source for you conclusions. My comments on the references are in BOLD

* 1. Presentation for the Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, Whaley Abbey Conference. Hill. M., May 2014.
I was not present and have not seen it. This is one of Hill’s self-published papers/presentations
As far as I can gather the Dean of Blackburn (Armstrong) had invited Hill to speak to the Area Deans. (A diocese is split into deanerys of 10-20 parishes and one vicar is appointed as Area Dean). I have not seen a copy
* 2. Briefing Note for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most reverend Justin Welby, Hill. M., April 2014.
This was an unsolicited paper sent to the Archbishop This is one of Hill’s self-published papers
*3. The Challenges of Fracking, The Churches Response, The Very Reverend Christopher Armstrong, Dean of Blackburn, Nov 2014.
This response is both inaccurate and biased. Hill put on his website that he had been the adviser. I reviewed it here https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/lancashire-churches-get-fracked/
Hill was the chief expert and advisor for this report chaired by the former Dean of Blackburn, according to Hill’s own claims…The internal evidence and the fact it repeats Hill’s false claims on regulation confirms it.
4. Dept. for Communities and Local Government Appeals Decision,

5. World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment (19tcf TRR, Cuadrilla estimated 200 Tcf GIP) and U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA/ARI World Shale Gas and Shale Oil Resource Assessment, September 2015.
6. London School of Economics http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/faqs/what-potential-reserves-of-shale-gasare-there-in-the-uk/ Aug 2014
7. Professor Andy Alpin, Unconventional Petroleum Development, Durham University. 4th March, 2014.
8. The Oil Drum – estimate of TRR for the Bowland shale
*. 9. Necessary Regulation in the Exploration and Development of Unconventional Fossil Fuels. Hill. M. January, 2014
This is one of Hill’s self published papers
*10. Shale gas regulation in the UK and health impacts of fracking. Hill.M. The Lancet. 28th June, 2014. P2211-2212.
Simply a letter to the Lancet, thus has no authority
*11. Medact “Health and Fracking – The impacts and opportunity costs”, McCoy. D. Dr., Saunders. P. Dr., Hill. M., Rugman. F. Dr., Wood.R. Dr.
Hill was a major advisor to the first Medact report published on 30 March 2015. I and a retired oil engineer were present at the launch. Hill had difficulty answering our questions. He waxed lyrical about seismic problems but showed he had no grasp of geology . I summarise some of Hill’s shortcoming s here; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/lancashire-churches-get-fracked/ Interestingly, after much criticism, Medact republished their report in 2016, and in their key points, stated that ‘Based on current evidence it is not possible to conclude that there is a strong association between shale gas related pollution and negative local health effects’.
https://www.medact.org/2016/resources/reports/shale-gas-production-in-england/
*12. Institution of Engineering & Technology Conference “Managing the Risks” – , “Brief Review of The Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Report and the present position of shale gas regulation” Hill.M.,
Another self-published paper by Hill
Reviewed by Slater.G., May, 2014. at the IET Meeting 20th May, 2014. Presented to the President of the OET and to Prof. Robert Mair’s (Royal Society Shale Gas Report Author) representative Prof. P. Younger.
13. Environment Agency Permitting Decisions. Issued Permits. Jan 2015. Sec 5.1.10.
14. Geomechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity. November 2011. Dr.C.Paer & Dr. S. Baisch. P27-28 Wellbore Deformation.
15. Shale Gas North West – Monitoring of Flowback. Environment Agency. Dec 2011. These results used drinking water as a metric as selected by the EA. The results showed that the Lead rose to 1438 times the average level found in mains water. All of the following figures relate to the amount more than mains water. Cadmium 150x, Chloride 6,874x, Chromium 636x, Aluminium 198x, Arsenic 47x, Iron 17,979x and Radioactive Material averaging 90x the safe level. This from just one fracked well and only to stage 5. 30 stage + frack jobs are now the plan and potentially rising to 100 frack stages.
This should have given a URL or a proper reference so that we could actually READ his claims. A proper academic and professional approach would provide a full reference
16. The Royal Society – Shale Gas Extraction in the UK: a review of Hydraulic Fracturing. June 2012. Prof. Mair. R. Page 7- Recommendations. GLOSSARY HVHF: High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing

6 out of 16 of the refs are by M Hill , Ref 3 advised by Hill, so thus nearly half refer to Hill’s unpublished writings

Mobbs
http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/musings/2017/20170524-whitehalls_fracking_science_failure.html
This is an article in The Ecologist trying to show that the late Prof Sir David Mackay’s report of 2012 has been overturned by work by Ingraffea. No expert agrees with Mobbs. This is simply an advocacy article.
Smythe

The committee referred to Smythe’s (2017) Submission to the Scottish Government consultation in unconventional oil and gas.

Here is the URL

http://www.davidsmythe.org/fracking/Smythe%20SG%20consultation%20submission%20on%20UOG%20may2017%20v1.0.pdf

This is a very long submission of 71 pages, which would take much space to discuss at length. He refers to his paper submitted to Solid Earth in 2016. https://www.solid-earth-discuss.net/se-2015-134/ . This was strongly criticised by other geologists and the paper was refused for publication. One must note very strongly that those who criticised Smythe’s paper ARE leading geologists working in this field at the present time eg Younger,  Verdon and others. Smythe is now writing from his house in France having retired in 1999, is not an active researcher and not an expert in this field.

It should be obvious to anyone that on issues like this you go to the leading authorities of the day and not to someone outside the field. further Smythe has attacked many of these geologists in a personal way. http://www.davidsmythe.org/professional/insolence.html

It is difficult not to see this as pure vitriol against leading geologists like Riley, Rutter, Davies, Lord Oxburgh, Selley, Shipton , Styles, Verdon, Younger. I have met and discussed matters with several of these. Incidentally Lord Oxburgh was one of my geological teachers, and very good was he – and entertaining in the pub at Horton in Ribblesdale, where he was teaching us geological mapping.

The appendix to this submission continues on attacks on geologists, which scarcely seems professional.

Here he raises various questions especially on the problems of faults. This is a long and technical section, but I prefer to go with the consensus from active geologists!!!

There is a section on disposal of waste water which fails to state that waste water from Preese Hall was cleaned up by Remsol to the satisfaction of the EA and that procedures are in place. This is a serious oversight

The Environment committee should have considered this before relying on a questionable document.

Smythe retired from Glasgow Univ in 1999 and has had no professional involvement in fracking.
He self publishes widely, including his blog.
His contributions are totally rejected by nearly all academics working this field.
It may seem cheeky for me to say so, but I question his geological competence as when discussing why there were no fracking licences in Witney – Cameron’s constituency – he was unaware that the sub-surface geological feature – the (Wales –)Brabant High meant that sediments would be too thin for fracking. This is first year geology teaching!!
His personal attacks on leading geologists, including one of my university teachers Lord Oxburgh, then a geology don at Oxford, and others of my acquaintance are in very bad taste.
As a result my blog on him https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/david-smythe-anti-fracking-geologist/, which gives details of his rejected paper in Solid Earth.
And the third sentence is
We feel it imperative that the authors of the Briefing Paper seek expert advice on the strength of the evidence given and the conclusions drawn in these new publications and update the Briefing Paper as necessary so that Christian churches and others can participate in informed debate on the care of Creation and social responsibility in respect of shale gas.
I think I have demonstrated that these publications are without any value, and thus cannot help anyone “participate in informed debate on the care of Creation and social responsibility in respect of shale gas.”. This appeal reflects the sheer incompetence of the writers of this blog. It does seem that they have selected only those who give an anti-fracking stance and ignore the vast body of work from leading academic bodies, govt bodies etc. At best the authors are guilty of culpable ignorance and are bringing the churches into disrepute
Perhaps they need to listen to St Augustine from 400AD

Augsutine

(This quotation is often cited against Creationists whose misunderstanding of science is legendary.)
The identity of the contributors
Though the blog does not specifically say so, it does seem to come from the Blackburn Diocese Environmental Group. Members of that group have been involved in producing three very inaccurate reports on fracking for the churches of Lancashire, both Anglican and Roman Catholic
This gives an indication;

We would be grateful for your response to this concern, to the email addresses below.
Blackburn Diocese Environment Group
• Revd Professor John Rodwell (Chair, johnrodwell@tiscali.co.uk )
• Revd Canon Ed Saville (Diocesan Environment Officer,
ed.saville@blackburn.anglican.org),
• Dr Stephen Garsed,
• Derek Estill.

The fact that two of these have Ph Ds in biologically related science is very concerning. Any scientist should be cautious going outside their sphere of competence and when they do should look very closely at the experts in the field. Some of the false arguments they accept are like someone claiming they found cacti in a peat bog on the tops of the Forest of Bowland. (If you ask about my qualifications, I have a degree in geology and worked as an exploration and mining geologist in Africa for 2 ½ years before ordination. Since then I have researched and published on the history of geology in major journals,and have led geological field trips. In recent years I have studied fracking deeply, visited sites and made my own field study of the Bowland Shales. I also benefit from experts who tell me when I go wrong!)

If this is produced by the Blackburn Diocese Environment Group, then they should be ashamed of themselves misleading other Christians about fracking. At best it is folly and at almost the worst, intellectually dishonest
CONCLUSIONS
Church of England Report
• A very careful study using decent authoritative studies from Government sources etc
• Were not gulled by the anti-fracking rhetoric
• Gave a fair and considered assessment along with some concerns

Blog article
• Rejected all authoritative studies from govt bodies, academics etc and ignored them.
• Essentially this shows a bias to extreme anti-fracking rather than a balanced and fair discussion.
• Accepted as gospel writings of anti-frackers , who though they have some technical background, have no actual involvement or experience in fracking
• Failed to see that self-published and self-referenced articles are of very limited worth. This is very much so of Hill’s paper
Finally I regard this blog as not only very misguided but liable to misinform and confuse others. It is not a responsible action.

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