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Do green claims hold up in court?

Friends of the Earth Scotland have an, ahem, interesting approach to informing the public about unconventional oil and gas.

Take this briefing note on coalbed methane (CBM):

CBM waste water is extremely salty and has been found to contain not only harmful chemicals from the drilling fluids used, but also highly toxic BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes) chemicals including known carcinogens, and naturally-occurring radioactive materials...

Air pollution has been demonstrated in a 2012 study, where 44 hazardous air pollutants were detected at gas drilling sites...Air toxics can cause cancer and other serious, irreversible health effects, such as neurological problems and birth defects...

Drilling muds, which are produced in large quantities due to well numbers, include toxic drilling additives, salt compounds, heavy metals, NORMs and hydrocarbons. They are often disposed of in landfill and more recently, in land-spraying on agricultural or rural lands.

Would any of this hold up in a court of law? Well, we have recently got the chance to test this questio, with Dart Energy's plans to expand their CBM operations near Stirling having culminated in a planning appeal after the local council failed to issue a decision on the case. As part of the hearing, Friends of the Earth have made a submission of evidence which can be seen here.

Their case against the planning application can be summarised by reference to their headings, with my paraphrasing of the argument:

  • Regulatory framework - in other words that regulation of unconventional gas is inadequate
  • Timescale of the development - this objects to commercial confidentiality in the plans for the field over the next few years
  • Restrictions on permissions (hydraulic fracturing) - the specific concern here is unclear. Dart say they don't plan to frack the site and that the well design is not suitable for the technique. FoE seem to want to object on the grounds that they might apply for permission to frack later on.
  • Monitoring - this could be difficult it seems
  • Restoration - who pays for it?
  • Buffer zones - FoE want these.

I think readers will be able to see that when there is a chance they might be asked to substantiate what they are saying about coalbed methane, Friends of the Earth adopt a very different approach to the one they use when they are campaigning and leafleting.

Their claims of health risks from CBM seem to be completely fabricated.

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Reader Comments (29)

The link to the FoE evidence does not work for me.

The six bullet points are irrelevant to the decision, which will be made by a Planning Inspector and based on planning grounds. Similar, if not identical issues (such as inadequate regulation, commercial confidentiality, the difficulty of noise monitoring, resoration, buffer zones) arise at wind farm appeals and are always dismissed out of hand by Inspectors. The FoE are out of luck on this one. I suspect they haven't had much practice at presenting evidence at appeals because FoE don't do evidence.

Mar 14, 2014 at 6:49 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Why are these so called progressive in words so often conservative in action?

Mar 14, 2014 at 6:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon

So are these the same greens who supported Arthur Scargill and were protesting this time 30 years ago to save 50 000 British Coal Mining jobs.

Mar 14, 2014 at 7:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspida

@ jamspida
Not exactly. 30 years ago coal was double-plus-good but now it's double-plus-ungood. And, 30 years ago the current crop of malcontents were either not even a twinkle in their parents eyes or mere babes in arms - no racial memory in greenery, you see.

Mar 14, 2014 at 7:54 AM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell


Well, to the extent that it's also the same Tories who were helping to set up the IPCC...

Mar 14, 2014 at 8:08 AM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

When the media made their claims about the dangers of fraccing in NZ on the instigation of the greens, the council involved hit them with both barrels

The council also had made a very detailed submission to the regulatory authorities on the issue.

Since then, there has been very little said. I wonder why?

Mar 14, 2014 at 8:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterChrisM

So are these the same greens who supported Arthur Scargill and were protesting this time 30 years ago to save 50 000 British Coal Mining jobs.

Can you provide any evidence of any support from "greens" (in the sense of the environmental lobby in general or of FoE and the like in particular) for the 1984 strike? Obviously, the odd piccie of a pasty-faced chap in a wooly hat looking slightly out of place on a picket line doesn't count.

Their attention was directed elsewhere. Within two years of the strike's end in 1985, the US government had passed the Climate Protection Act which directed the EPA and the DoS to develop international policies to address rising GHG levels.

Less than a year after that, an EU Communication, The Greenhouse Issue and the Community (COM [88] 656 Final) had formally notified the Council of Ministers of the scientific basis of the climate problem, Margaret Thatcher had made her now-notorious speech to the Royal Society, the IPCC had had its inaugral meeting and the UN had passed General Assembly Resolution 43/53 which determined "that necessary and timely action should be taken to deal with climate change within a global framework".

With all that attention from the great and the good, why would the "greens" have gone anywhere near the great unwashed? They were (and are) FOR the de-industrialisation that followed the 1984-85 strike. And, by George, they got it.

Mar 14, 2014 at 8:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

"Their claims of health risks from CBM seem to be completely fabricated."

The FOE fabricating, never!

They are wonderful people who are saving the planet from evil fossil fuel funded people. They should be given the Nobel Peace Prize!

They are followers of their prophet (or should that be profit) Al Gore.

Mar 14, 2014 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

It would be nice to have a copy of that report from Taranaki in the hands of every LA and Planning Inspector due to rule on applications, not to mention the relevant MPs and DEFRA (forget DECC; I'm not sure they can read!).
The evidence from around the world seems to be that properly regulated (and whoever suggested it shouldn't be) fracking is no more hazardous to the local population than any other form of hydrocarbon exploration.
But then it was only the eco-luddites who seriously thought it was.

Mar 14, 2014 at 8:47 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson


The same thought has often occurred to me.

It is in the same series as the shift of treehugging moving to burning 20k tonnes per day of trees at Drax power station.

This morning I have had another email imploring me not to print the message to save the trees - you couldn't make it up!!

Mar 14, 2014 at 8:57 AM | Registered Commenterretireddave

> But then it was only the eco-luddites who seriously thought it was.

Do you think they really did or was a scare story just an easy way to stop any progress?

Mar 14, 2014 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterNial


Never mind the trees...Save a cornfield - don't eat bread!

Mar 14, 2014 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe second Marion

Why are these so called progressive in words so often conservative in action?

Mar 14, 2014 at 6:53 AM | Jon
"Conservative" is often a reasonable and justified approach to whatever. The word I would use in this case would be "reactionary".

Mar 14, 2014 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

an you provide any evidence of any support from "greens" (in the sense of the environmental lobby in general or of FoE and the like in particular) for the 1984 strike? Obviously, the odd piccie of a pasty-faced chap in a wooly hat looking slightly out of place on a picket line doesn't count.

My recollection is that they were mainly anti-nuclear back then.

Mar 14, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

My recollection is that they were mainly anti-nuclear back then.

Exactly. For a glimpse of the movement's outlook at the time, see Peter Taylor's "Shiva's Rainbow" where he describes how Scargill spurned initiatives aimed at bringing the miners into the anti-nuclear fold. Taylor has (to my mind at least) some distinctly odd "philosophical" ideas but he is nevertheless a very fine scientist. His critique of the AGW agenda, Chill (A reassment of global warming), is devastating and remains among the best examinations of the core science. It is all the more powerful for coming from a Greenpeace pioneer.

Mar 14, 2014 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

The author, University of Reading activist lawyer Professor Chris Hilson, is another academic who likes to write about the "climate change denial movement" in his quest for grievance. It appears that being merely "sceptical, in particular about the science behind climate change" is enough to qualify for the epithet of denial.

He also muddies the water somewhat by then using the term "climate change denial counter-movement" in the same document, when apparently referring to the same. Rather imprecise for a Professor of Law, I would have thought.

I can't find the cited comments about pollutants in the linked document, but there are other interesting statements from third parties.

Mar 14, 2014 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

One reason why FoE and other greenies always gone about lack of regulation is because they've been fed a false line by Mike Hill of Gemini Control and Automation (@FrackingRegs on twitter) who repeatedly keeps on saying that there are no regs, and when pushed says no shale specific regs when all the evidence proves that there is regulation. Because Mike says he's in the industry the greenies believe him when he feeds them the false information.

Interestingly when you ask anyone in the oil industry if they've heard of Mike, no one seems to, not even his company.

Mar 14, 2014 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterSadButMadLad


Mike Hill? what a POS.

There are a group of ecotards comment bombing local newspapers across the UK - one turned up on fracking stories in my area and I challenged the twerp and his/her story fell apart after a couple of iterations. The wheeze is to claim to be a poacher turned gamekeeper - selling the inside dope - or variations on that theme.

After seeing this locally I spent a few hours (yes, very sad I know...) trawling - and they turn up wherever local rags run fracking stories - using various aliases claiming to be concerned locals with industry experience who've witnessed the true evils of the oil and gas business and have seen the light and want to share their insights before the planet is wrecked...

They should be confronted robustly as soon as they put in an appearance in. I was half minded (all that's left) to go the other way - but in the barminess that is CiF et al - there's no room for gentle mockery or parody.

Mar 14, 2014 at 1:21 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Friends of the Earth is an offshoot of the Sierra Club that broke away in the 1970s because the Sierra Club wasn't anti-nuclear. The SC board supported the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on the central California coast because they figured it would mean fewer dammed mountain valleys. (The Sierra Club was originally founded early in the 20th century to oppose these dams.)

Mar 14, 2014 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt

they turn up wherever local rags run fracking stories - using various aliases claiming to be concerned locals with industry experience

tomo - if you're sure this is true, can you point us to some examples?

Mar 14, 2014 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

I think I was being kind. Either that or I was only half-awake. As far as the greenies are concerned anything that will halt further progress or preferably roll it back a century or two is acceptable. Lies, protests, the sort of behaviour tomo refers to (very common in some areas, I understand).
"The end of civilisation as we know it" is not some potential disaster; it's the ultimate aim.

Mar 14, 2014 at 3:59 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson


I shouldn't have said it if I couldn't evidence it... but - early last year I had three altercations in comments at "" now morphed int a new web site - The Bath Chronicle with a character claiming to have offshore oil and gas employment history and bigging up the scary stuff however when challenged on both the operational detail and where he worked - "he" disappeared... I was subsequently looking at newspapers around Lancashire and looking at Cuadrilla related stories and in the comments at at least two local rags (IIRC) = oh, hello ... that looks familiar - different ID but v.similar proffered biog - some other random stuff in Brighton / Sussex too...

The Chronicle has this last month - not a fake worker - but they get around... I've had comments disappeared too from local rags (Newsquest UK)

Will exposing them make them wind their necks back in? - I doubt it - which is the reason I didn't record the who and the when and where. I will do in future though :-)

Damascene converts are powerful ju-ju - even when they're fake - which why I suggest that anybody seeing "revelation style" comments by "oil and gas insiders" vehemently attacking well enhancement techniques should challenge them robustly.

Mar 14, 2014 at 4:14 PM | Registered Commentertomo

These false flag posters- enviro-extremists pretending to be what they are not- is despicable but completely unsurprising on the part of the big green. In truth, nearly everything big green does is a scam.

Mar 14, 2014 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

The 1980s hated Thatcher but loved partying with the Yuppies.We were all young and idealistic we supported Scargill even though he never held a natioal ballot.

Bit off topic but interesting what would have happened if Kinnock had not backed Scargill and won the Election.No Tony Blair no Thatcher hailed a Hero in Moscow no Glasnost no John Major no Mastrict treaty no Lord Deben kept Coal ,nationalised Shale looser ties with the US no Micheal Mann influence .No Thatcher UN speech Possibly no Climate Change panic

Mar 14, 2014 at 7:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Well hey, pick an issue any issue, Brent spar, French nuclear tests, whatever, the Greens lie, every time...

Mar 14, 2014 at 8:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Ozanne

I can confirm that the anti energy protesters appear in local rags and twist their case by piling on the voting system used on the comment systems. They will down vote by massive numbers anything that is pro fracking, even if it's factual.

Mar 15, 2014 at 6:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterSadButMadLad

For my sins, I confess that I am an ExxonMobil shareholder and so receive their magazine ‘The Lamp’ which has articles on their various operations. In the spring 2013 edition there was an article called “Welcome Relief - A novel water program in the Colorado mountains” on Produced Water, the water extracted with the coal-bed methane produced by EM’s unconventional gas subsidiary XTO. Full magazine (article on p5) here:

The actual facts on Produced Water are a million miles from FoE’s propaganda, with the water quality tightly monitored and controlled. In fact, the article claims that it has a number of benefits for both nature and agriculture. Perhaps Dart Energy should get in touch with XTO and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and gather some real data from an established operator and regulator, so that they present factual information based on the real world?

See this extract:

XTO operates nearly 500 wells in its Raton Basin District, producing about 62 million cubic feet of gas a day. The wells average 2,000 feet deep and lift CBM from two zones, the Raton and Vermejo formations. XTO is the second largest CBM producer in the basin, and during the span of its operations has produced more than 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Coal-bed methane is known as “sweet gas” and contains little to no impurities. It’s different from conventional gas reservoirs in that the gas molecules are adsorbed (adhered to) on the surface areas of coal in highly efficient ways. For example, volumes of adsorbed gas can be 10 to 100 times greater than comparable conventional gas deposits because of the vast surface area of coal, which ranges between 200,000 and 500,000 square feet per pound – the equivalent of several football fields.

The extraction of CBM also produces a tremendous amount of water. This is because of the snow melt from the surrounding mountains that makes its way into the formations where the CBM gas is found. When the gas is produced, so is a large volume of associated water, which is very clean because it’s recharged often by the melting snow.

Initially, a typical CBM well will go through what’s called a de-watering stage where it produces more water than gas. As water production declines, gas output rises. However, most wells will still produce a great deal of water, and XTO’s Raton Basin wells discharge an average 1.5 million gallons a day.
“That’s a significant resource that would not be available if it weren’t for energy production in the region,” says Sam Montoya, regional environmental, health and safety supervisor for XTO’s Colorado assets. “The water produced along with CBM provides important benefits for agriculture, wildlife and recreation in the basin, especially considering the extremely dry conditions we’ve experienced here the last few years.”

What’s interesting about the way XTO manages its produced water is the effort the company has made to blend the discharges, called outfalls, into the natural environment.

“When we discharge our produced water,” Montoya says, “we make use of what were once dry arroyos and streambeds. If you were to visit our operations, you would hardly know that the water flowing through this once dry area is a direct result of energy production.”

Natural habitats
The company operates on property it owns and private leases, as well as in Colorado’s largest state wildlife area, the Bosque del Oso, public land administered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The outfalls in all of these areas create streams that often flow into retaining pools used regularly by deer, elk, fox, turkey, bear and a variety of other animals. Vegetation created by the outfalls is prolific – especially compared to the surrounding land dependent upon rainfall for its primary water source.

There are nearly 100 active outfalls on XTO’s producing property in the basin. The produced water is of high quality and released under state-issued discharge permits without the need for treatment. The company continually collects water samples from the outfalls for quality testing, and submits quarterly reports to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as well as to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On the main stem of the nearby Purgatoire River, where much of the water flows, monitoring stations continuously record a variety of data, including strength of flow, pH, salinity, temperature and the presence of trace elements. Real-time information is available online ( Downstream of XTO’s operations, farmers and ranchers depend on the Purgatoire River to grow alfalfa and pasture grass and raise cattle. Farther to the east, near the town of Trinidad, the river flows into Purgatoire Lake, a major fishing, boating and recreation area.

While the majority of the water produced by XTO’s CBM operations is released into the outfalls, approximately 12 percent is re-injected since it doesn’t meet the criteria for discharge.

Mar 15, 2014 at 10:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterwellers

The waste water from CBM is the same as coal mine waste water, which I assume goes into rivers and is diluted.
The drilling mud is the same as oil/gas drilling, or even deep water wells. Nothing new.
The air pollution argument sounds bogus - just dust and diesel fumes?

Just like fracking, the greens are trying to portray it different than traditional oil/gas, therefor new regulations are required.

Mar 16, 2014 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterEric Gisin

The tragedy is that there are plenty of real problems in the world, but too many 'save the world' campaigners put all there energy into ego-boosting publicity campaigns on the wrong problems - often non-problems.

Oct 14, 2015 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

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