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Article published May 22, 2013
Disputing frack facts
Michael Bagdes-Canning Cherry Valley
I read with incredulous amusement the recent letter by Douglas Berkley; like a good PR man, Berkley does a great job of spinning the truth in an attempt to discredit the hard work of Joseph McMurry. Like any good snake oil salesman, Berkley, first, must convince us he’s an expert. Then he needs to convince us we need snake oil. Then, finally, because snake oil is questionable, at best, he must convince us that anyone who thinks snake oil is not worth pursuing is disreputable. True to form — Berkley claims he works in the shale industry. That sort of declaration carries some weight; it suggests some expertise. I did a little searching and found that Berkley’s “expertise” is in marketing and development. Selling shale gas is where his expertise lies. His bread is buttered by the industry; he’s got a vested interest in pumping it up. He is no more expert in the technical aspects of shale gas than McMurry (probably less so). Berkley tells us, “Science shows us the real benefits and blessings from shale gas.” Berkley would have us believe that science has reached a consensus: shale gas is good for us. That sort of statement should set off alarm bells when he doesn’t bother to back anything up. The truth is, McMurry provides us with an exhaustive list of doubters in the scientific community. Next, Berkley engages in a bit of subterfuge; he suggests that “reports” have been debunked and then goes on to cast aspersions about the authors of those “reports” — “noted anti-fracktivists” — and, for good measure suggests that there was no attempt to include “hard science.” Of course, he provides little evidence to support his claims of debunked science. Obviously, Berkley didn’t bother to read McMurry’s exhaustive report. There are a number of reputable scientific studies, not debunked. There are internationally known experts (read scientists) cited. Scientists are not partisans; scientists are systematic observers and subject to rigorous peer review. Unlike Berkley, they don’t shoot from the hip. In addition to the hard science, there are news reports. There are first-person accounts. There are summaries of DEP-issued violations. On and on, McMurry’s compendium boxes poor Berkley in. Berkley resorts to the only tool he has left: obfuscation. He hopes that if he sows doubt, people won’t bother to read McMurry’s report (http://www.scribd.com/doc/139366186/J-P-McMurry-Frack-Report). McMurry must have foreseen this avenue of attack. Right after the title page, McMurry quotes Mark Twain: “The most difficult thing in the world to do is to try to convince a man that something is true if his livelihood depends on it not being true.” I’d add this corollary to Twain’s observation: If a man’s livelihood depends on something, he’s going to try to convince you it’s good for you even if it isn’t.