Mobile phones then, Fracking now

As the ridiculous hysterical protests against fracking in the UK intensify toward an inconceivable hyperbole, I found this article from The Telegraph,  from 15 years ago:

It’s worth noting that the same scaremongering Luddites who were pulling down phone masts in 2003, are likely contentedly using their cellphones to arrange anti-fracking protests in 2018.

Who knows what they’ll be ill-advisedly protesting against in 2031…?

Botswana earthquake explanation

Botswana suffered its largest ever earthquake on Monday evening – magnitude 6.5. Tremors were felt as far away as Johannesbeagle.

Immediately, environMENTALists leapt all over it, including a scaremongery article claiming that fracking (which may or may not be taking place in that area of Botswana) was obviously responsible.

After all, Botswana had never had an earthquake that big, just like it had never had an earthquake as big as the one which set previous record, pre-hydraulic fracturing.


Well, Jeffrey Barbee (for it is he) admits in the very first line of his piece:

There’s not enough information to answer that scientifically

But… but… there is circumstantial evidence!!

Statistic likelihood would surely result from scientific investigation, though? And would be a result, meaning that there would be “enough information to answer that scientifically”. And you said… ag… never mind.

Also, because of the remote area in which this quake occurred, no-one can accurately say exactly where the epicentre was. Your 5km claim is therefore a bit of a stretch.

Fortunately, following the knee-jerk hysteria, there came informed, independent sanity, as Stephen Hicks, a postdoctoral research fellow in Seismology at the University of Southampton gave us this highly technical description of the real likely reasons for the quake.

We call these types of events ‘intraplate earthquakes‘. It is likely that the rupture occurred partly due to the gradual transfer of push and pull stresses from the East African Rift toward the more stable part of the continent. Occasionally, this stress is released along pre-existing weaknesses in Earth’s crust as earthquakes. It is fundamentally the same reason why quakes occasionally occur in other stable regions such as the United Kingdom and the midwestern states of North America.

Hicks doesn’t mention fracking at all in his detailed explanation of the factors leading to the earthquake, presumably because fracking was not one of those factors. However, predictably it does get brought up in the comments, where it is promptly debunked.

Still, if you’re the “director and founder of”, you’ve done work for Al Gore’s Climate Reality and you released a 2015 film about the alleged secret roll-out of gas developments in Southern Africa, wouldn’t you try to get some extra mileage out of a completely natural phenomenon? 

(There’s not enough information to answer that scientifically.)

World’s Biggest Windmill

Not really, but still – nice story: they’ve put a couple of VAWTs on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Well, they couldn’t really put them on the Eiffel Tower anywhere else, could they?

If you’ve ever seen the Eiffel Tower in real life, you’ll know that it’s not small. Here it is with its head in the clouds in the height of summer, 2012 with the boy wonder in the foreground, and a handy indicator of where the turbines have been fitted just above the 2eme étage:


Amazingly, despite their hugely elevated position, they’re not even at the height of the wind turbines in Caledon just up the road from Cape Town. Suddenly, Gustav’s big project doesn’t seem quite so huge. Or maybe wind turbines are just generally horribly invasive. Hey, you decide.

The 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity they’ll produce each year is about enough to self-sustain the commercial section on the tower’s first floor, but not much else.

Look, it’s something. And I do understand that this is really all just about visibility. To be honest, short of putting a set of huge blades on the top of the tower itself, it’s probably about as good as it’s going to get. Especially in a country which produces around 80% of its electricity from nuclear. But while wind is good because it’s renewable, it’s may not be quite as green as you think. Here’s an interesting “back-of-the-envelope calculation” by Popular Science magazine on which are the nastiest forms of electricity generation if you happen to be, say… a bird (as one of the endangered Blue Cranes near Caledon might self-identify, for example).


You can read more here, but the gist of it is that Coal is downright evil (we knew this), solar plants fry birds:

Rewire reports that during the test, operators fired up a third of the 110-megawatt facility’s mirrors, concentrating sunlight on a spot 1,200 feet off the ground. Over a six-hour period, biologists counted 130 “streamers,” or trails of smoke and water left behind as birds ignited and plummeted to their deaths. Rewire’s anonymous source said that at least one of the birds “turned white hot and vaporized completely.”

and we already knew that wind turbines kill birds and bats.

Sadly, despite our current (no pun intended) electricity woes, it seems like nuclear isn’t the er… cleanest option for SA either (although not necessarily for environmental reasons).

So we have the choice of evil coal (which we’re going to use), the horribly inefficient and not-ever-so-nice-after-all solar and wind, or the allegedly dangerously corrupt nuclear.

Or we could do fracking… Now there’s a good idea.

More Parisian flickritude

Fracking v Solar v Wind discussion

This from the Guardian:

Researchers at Manchester University have found that fracking causes less toxicity to humans and marine ecosystems and uses less resources than solar panels and wind turbines.
Their study, which measured the environmental impacts of fracking and compared it to other energy sources, prompted a story in the Times under the headline: Fracking ‘greener than solar panels’.

What follows is a discussion involving study authors, some experts, some interested parties and some of the general public. It makes for an interesting read, but it’s quite long, so I’ve taken a couple of points out of it which I think are of particular interest. The first being this question:

What do you think we can do to make the public discussion about fracking more rational, and less emotional? Do you think it [the discussion] needs to be more evidence-based?

I may have mentioned this exact thing over three years ago, right here. And as (report author) Laurence Stamford says:

Definitely. The shale debate is almost entirely based on rhetoric and hearsay (although this also applies to most topical issues e.g. nuclear). What we’re hoping to do here is simply to add some numbers and some neutral, evidence-based discussion to allow people to make informed judgements.

This is undoubtedly the best way to make informed judgements. But there are problems with this approach, namely that (predominantly) the bunnyhugger side know that in the struggle for hearts and minds, the hearts are generally the ones that win through. Appealing to people’s emotions will always be more successful in attracting supporters to your cause, so why bother with the uncomfortable truth of facts and figures that don’t support your case?

The flip side is that those facts and figures need to be independently sourced – or at least independently audited and verified – if we are going to consider them. All too often (and not just in the case of fracking), a bit of digging reveals that research, papers and reports have been funded by organisations with a specific interest in the subject under investigation.

Then there’s the interpretation of information by the media. The Times reported this study under the headline: “Fracking ‘greener than solar panels’, which Stamford says was not what he feels the study says:

“That makes it look like we are saying that solar panels are all around worse than shale gas, which… is not really what we’ve said. We are certainly not trying to say that shale gas is greener than renewables.”

He says it would be more accurate to say:

“For certain environmental problems shale is better than solar, whereas for others solar is better than shale.”

The lesson from this one? Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers. Who knew?

And then what factors should be considered when comparing electricity generation technologies? Well, ideally, all of them, but then how much weight should be given to each – once again, there’s no easy way of answering that.

Interestingly, the major environmental concern related to solar was not investigated in the study. According to the solar industry, the turning over of agricultural land to solar farms is the biggest environmental public and policy obstacle the industry faces.

Yep – 6000 miles… covered that one too.

All in all, it’s an interesting study – albeit that people’s views on it have already been tarnished by that Times story – and a worthwhile discussion. A reminder on what we should be striving for when considering various forms of electricity generation and that the case for “renewables” isn’t always as clear cut as the anti-frackers would have us believe.

Sodor latest place to be hit by fracking scandal

Toys are becoming ever closer to real life and the Thomas the Tank Engine range is desperate not to get left behind. I spotted this in a local toy shop just this last weekend:


We’ve seen plenty of robust argument, protest, misinformation and spin over fracking – not just in South Africa, but across the world – and Mattel are obviously seeking to capitalise on this, offering not just the Oil Derrick above, but also a Thomas the Tank Engine Protest Camp (complete without washing facilities), a Thomas the Tank Engine Industrial Chemical Leak Clean-up Kit and even the option of a Thomas the Tank Engine Aquifer, which comes polluted or unpolluted, depending on which side of the fence you choose to sit.

But it doesn’t end there: Sodor is also joining the alternative energy bandwagon and you can now kit out your kids’ playroom with Thomas the Tank Engine Wind Turbines, which do nothing for most of the time and very little for the rest of it, and Thomas the Tank Engine PV Solar Panels, which just take up most of the space on the floor, and are produced with a lifelike polysilicon byproduct toxic footprint.
Both the Wind Turbine and Solar Panel sets come with an obligatory 200% subsidy surcharge, which most people unknowingly pay while basking in the smug afterglow of their apparently environmentally conscious purchase.

I applaud Mattel in their efforts to keep Thomas and his friends up to date and I look forward to the upcoming release of the Thomas the Tank Engine Search Party for that moment when Jeremy the Jetplane allegedly gets hijacked en route from Sodor to Beijing.