A farmer from QLD came to our area recently to speak of his experiences with coal seam gas company representatives. “They look you in the eye, and they lie, lie, lie”, he said. “And if a man’s word is no good, he’s no good.”
Peter Henderson is the CEO of Metgasco, a company that is involved in coal seam gas mining in our area. He fronted up to a community meeting in Casino last week, to give a talk and answer some questions. Felice and I went along, to listen to his side of the story.
Now, far be it from us to call Peter Henderson a liar. You can make up your own mind about that. But these are some of the things Peter Henderson tried to tell the Casino community:
The typical amount of infrastructure to be installed on a farmer’s land
Peter showed a picture of the kind of equipment that Metgasco would install on a farmer’s land. It looked pretty insignificant, and he told us it was “about the size of a large chicken coop”. Some observant spark in the audience pointed out that the picture didn’t include the inevitable associated “produced water” pond, and asked how big that would be. Peter replied, “About 25m by 25m”.
Really? Mark Byrne of the Environmental Defenders Office pointed out that Metgasco’s own documents indicated it would be more like 12 hectares. Did Peter not know? Or did he look us in the eye and lie, lie lie? 12 hectares is one big chicken coop, and a lot larger than 25m by 25m.
**[Since I wrote this, it’s been pointed out to me (see comments below) that evaporation ponds are generally sited on land belonging to the gas companies themselves, not to farmers. That’s good to hear, at least. So why didn’t Peter Henderson point that out on the night? And even if the pond isn’t on land belonging to a private individual, why did he tell us it would only be 25m by 25m? More on this in the comments section.]
The quality of “produced water” 1
(Produced water is a waste product of coal seam gas mining. It contains toxic substances from within the coal seam, and often also contains toxic fracking chemicals. The Chesapeake Energy website says, “The natural formation water [in this case, water in the coal bed] and the water injected during the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process are collectively referred to as produced water.” Safe disposal of produced water is a major problem for everyone, including coal seam gas companies).
Peter had the text “The quality of water produced [by Metgasco] is as good, if not better, than elsewhere” printed clearly on his Powerpoint presentation. He also told us “The water produced is not toxic” and presented some test results to give the impression he had evidence for his claim. However, the test results he gave were only for harmless and common ions, like calcium and magnesium. Immediately prior to Henderson’s talk, Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith of the National Toxics Network had described a number of toxins that were likely to be present in any produced water. When Henderson was asked why he didn’t show us results for the toxic chemicals that are likely to be present, he admitted they hadn’t tested for them. So how can Metgasco be in a position to assure people their produced water is safe?
The quality of produced water 2
On a related note, Henderson also claimed that the salinity (as measured by conductivity) of Metgasco’s produced water met acceptable standards. When a woman from the audience presented the results of a test that she had commissioned on the water from a pond next to a Metgasco well in the local Kingfisher gasfield (showing very high conductivity – much higher than Henderson had claimed in his talk) Henderson told her “I think you’re getting confused”, and claimed that the Kingfisher well was not relevant to the meeting, because it wasn’t a coal seam gas well. He also implied that the water from the lady’s test couldn’t have been “produced water”, because no fracking took place there.
Not being familiar with Metgasco’s Casino operations, I left the meeting with the impression that Kingfisher must have been a conventional gas well only, and probably wasn’t anything to do with Metgasco, and that the poor woman probably just got the wrong end of the stick. Later I asked around some people who were there, and they left with the same impression.
But, bearing in mind the QLD farmer’s experience, when I went home, I googled Kingfisher, and it is a Metgasco well, and it does have unconventional gas, and they do frack, and it does create produced water. According to Metgasco’s own press release, in Kingfisher “several zones have been identified as “tight gas” which will require stimulation [fracking] to enhance productivity”. The same press release, from Nov 2010, states that “Metgasco…is pleased to advise that the trial stimulation [fracking] program for Kingfisher E01 is in progress”. Henderson was correct in saying that Kingfisher isn’t a coal seam gas well, but the distinction is spurious, because Kingfisher contains tight gas, a similar type of unconventional gas, which still needs to be fracked. The gas comes from impermeable rock or sand, instead of from a coal seam, so while there may not be coal bed water to contribute to the volume of produced water, there are still the fracking fluids and water to deal with. So the issue of produced water remains and is very relevant, especially if the salinity levels were “excessive” as the woman’s lab report stated. Again, from Metgasco’s own press release,
“After the stimulation treatment, the well was allowed to flow continuously for 4 hours to allow a flowback of frac fluids and sand proppant. The well is currently cleaning up and is returning gas, frac fluids and water from the stimulation treatment.”
“Frac fluids and water from the stimulation treatment” sounds awfully like produced water to me.
To give Henderson the benefit of the doubt, it could be that no produced water is stored at Kingfisher, and that’s why Henderson said the woman must have been confused. It may have been that the woman sampled water from a pond containing fluids yet to be used in drilling or fracking, rather than (technically) “produced water”. But a large pond full of highly saline water, whatever it’s called, is still a worry for local farmers.
So, on the night, Henderson presented his company’s waste as safe and harmless, and when confronted with laboratory evidence that contradicted his claims, he responded, not by addressing the concerns of the community, as you’d expect from a CEO with nothing to hide, but with what seemed deliberate fudging and misdirection, and by directly challenging the questioner’s intelligence.
By three-quarters through the night, the audience was getting the picture. I heard a couple of people begin to call Henderson “Peter Pants-on-Fire”, as in “liar, liar…etc”. When Henderson insisted that his company’s activities would be “good for the community”, he was met by a collective groan of disbelief from the audience.
Other claims made by Henderson which are demonstrably false :
“Methane is not toxic”
Methane (CAS# 74-82-8) is an asphyxiant (ie you can suffocate in it) and is flammable over a wide range of concentrations in air (ie it can easily burn and/or explode). The Sigma-Aldrich materials safety data sheet (MSDS) also says “May be harmful if inhaled. May cause respiratory tract irritation…. Beware of vapours accumulating to form explosive concentrations.” How is that not toxic?
“Fracking is a safe practice…It is already being managed safely with beneficial impact on the environment”.
I know that people say there are two sides to every story, but there really isn’t to this one. Here are some links that demonstrate that fracking has multiple and catastrophic effects on the environment, and people’s health.
Gas is “the cleanest fossil fuel”
This is an oft-repeated porky from the CSG industry. It might be true if you only count greenhouse emissions when methane is finally burnt. It isn’t true if you also take into account methane leaks, contamination of air, contamination of water, clearing of vegetation, loss of arable farmland and so on. See the links above. Or watch the movie “Gasland“, which is about a similar type of unconventional gas mining (shale gas) that has pretty much identical environmental consequences.
Oh, I can’t go on. It’s too flabbergasting that a grown man would even think to tell a roomful of grown men and women such a load of obvious porkies. Did he think we wouldn’t catch on? How can we ever trust anything Metgasco says, if this is how the CEO acts in public? Honestly. Bloody snake oil salesmen.