Fracking and fiction

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On Tuesday, The Telegram published a letter to the editor entitled “Some truth about fracking wouldn’t hurt,” written by an oil and gas engineer from Calgary named Syd Peters.

It was a devastating personal confession by a fracking industry insider who said he had spent 28 years polluting the environment across the U.S. and Western Canada, and then “coercing landowners” and “silencing” towns to keep the industry’s dirty secrets. “This is what is coming to Newfoundland if fracking is allowed,” he wrote.

Except there is no oil and gas engineer from Calgary named Syd Peters. APEGA, Alberta’s professional association of engineers, has no record of him. He’s not in the Calgary phone book. His stories were fake, just like he is.


The letter signed "Syd Peters"

On Wednesday, The Telegram acknowledged they did not follow standard editorial procedures and could not verify the author.

But the identity of “Syd” as an evil oilman was essential to the whole letter. If anyone else — say, a professional environmental protester — had made the shocking allegations in the column, he would have been asked for proof. By creating “Syd,” that credibility problem was solved: it was his personal confession. It was like that “60 Minutes” bombshell from the 1990s where Jeffrey Wigand, an executive with the Brown

& Williamson cigarette company, “switched sides” and dished dirt on the industry. The story was so compelling it was turned into a movie starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

But Wigand was real. “Syd” is fake.

“Syd” said fracking leaks into “your source of drinking water” and “people are sick from the contamination and the chemicals.” But what does someone real say — a real expert, like Lisa Jackson, the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during Barack Obama’s first term?

She was called before Congress and asked, point-blank, if fracking can contaminate ground water. “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water,” was her answer.

More than one million oil and gas wells have been fracked in the United States since the 1940s, and hundreds of thousands more in Canada. But the EPA, and its state counterparts, have not found a single case, despite countless investigations.

“Syd” also claimed that fracking makes life unbearable — “flares, truck traffic, 24-hour noise, the smell of methane.”

Except that fracking is just a very short stage in the life of a well — typically three to 10 days. And methane doesn’t have a smell — that odour is added by the gas company, to help us detect leaks in our homes. “Syd” really doesn’t know a lot about fracking. But those details added to the hoax.

“Syd” claimed “fracking involves a lot fewer jobs” than other kinds of oil and gas. Back in reality, four of the five fastest-growing cities in the United States are fracking cities — two in North Dakota and two in Texas. North Dakota, which fracks for both oil and gas, has an unemployment rate of just 2.7 per cent. In the past 10 years, fracking has tripled the average income in the state from less than $25,000 a year to $78,000. The average salary in oil and gas is over $100,000.

But The Telegram’s readers already know all this. Because thousands of young men and women from the Atlantic region work in fracking right now. They just do it in places like Alberta and B.C.

Fracking in the Atlantic provinces could bring those young men and women back home to work. But not if liars like “Syd” carry the day.


 Ezra Levant is a political columnist. His book “Groundswell: The Case for Fracking” will be published by Random House in spring 2014.





Organizations: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Random House

Geographic location: United States, Western Canada, Calgary Alberta Newfoundland North Dakota Texas Atlantic

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Recent comments

  • Paul Snow
    December 16, 2013 - 07:25

    Under the circumstance I think the Telegram needs to more formally retract this Syd Peters article. Ideally some effort to research and print some facts would be good. I do not see any related article where this is done.

  • H Jefford
    December 09, 2013 - 07:53

    I seen a program on TV that showed a person lighting natural gas coming out of a household water tap, I can understand this happening, If someone has an drilled well down to the water table, and fracking for oil in that area put cracks in the water table and natural gas filled up that water pocket with natural gas, this could happen everywhere with the practice of fracking , this could pollute all drilled wells or dug water wells, the oil Companies are making enough money on drilled oil wells instead of using fracking to get more oil and destroying the natural water table in the ground which purifies the natural water running through the ground , the old people would say when water runs over so many rocks it was safe to drink.

    • Fred Z
      December 09, 2013 - 09:37

      What you 'seen' was either a fake or a case of naturally occurring water gasification. Repeat after me: There. Are. No. Known. Cases. Of. Fracking. Doing. This. As for the oil companies having enough money, you do realize that oil company stocks are largely held by pension funds. Is your mommy's pension big enough?

    • Rural Alberta
      December 09, 2013 - 12:31

      "or a case of naturally occurring water gasification." - Seems that "naturally occurring water gasification" is a huge problem. I believe CAPP did a study on it, but their title was a little different: "Migration of Methane into Groundwater from Leaking Production Wells Near Lloydminster." Of course CAPP isn't the only one to recognize that industry's gas migration is a huge unfixable problem (according to other industry reports), the regulators are also aware of the hazard. - "A Husky 1993 report states: 'Gas migration has received increasing attention in recent years ... industry and regulators have become more cognizant [of] the problem, in terms of the numbers of wells affected, the potential cost to address the problems and the technical difficulty of completely stopping the leakage ... the expected costs to eliminate gas migration are $300,000 per site overall.' Husky reported that 'roughly half the wells' in the area they studied were affected but 'little consistent data was obtained with respect to the causes of the problem or what might be done about it ... a technical solution which totally eliminates the problem may never be possible.'" -------------------- "The ERCB's Stephan Bachu and independent consultant Teresa Watson (later appointed to the Board) presented in Paris, France that an increase in the number of water wells in heavily fractured oil and gas fields increases 'the likelihood that gas, due to migration through shallow zones, can accumulate in buildings.'" --------------------- "Isotopic fingerprinting of several aquifer gas samples collected for Imperial Oil in the Cold Lake area 'indicate a contribution of hydrocarbons from deeper geologic strata that reflect known releases of production fluids from leaks in well casing.'" ---------------------- "In 2006, a water sampling company noted that natural gas leaks from surface casing vents in western Canada had 'the potential to contaminate ground-water, kill vegetation and become a safety concern.' A 2002 field study by Trican Well Service and Husky Energy reported that the percentage of leaking wells ranged from 12% in the Tangleflag area in eastern Alberta to as high as 80% in the Abbey gas field in southern Alberta." ----------------------- "In 2004, the ERCB reported that the number of leaking wells in the Wabanum Lake area increased from none in 1990 to more than 140 in 2004." ------------------------ "A peer-reviewed paper published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, co-authored by the ERCB, states that the regulator 'records well leakage at the surface as surface-casing-vent flow (SCVF) through wellbore annuli and gas migration (GM) outside the casing, as reported by industry' and maintains information on 'casing failures' but that details are 'not publicly available.' The paper reports that 'SCVF is commonly encountered in the oil and gas industry ... high buildup pressures may potentially force gas into underground water aquifers' and that soil GM occurs when deep or shallow gas migrates up outside the wellbore 'through poorly cemented surface casing.' - The paper concludes that factors affecting wellbore leakage 'can be generalized and applied to other basins and/or jurisdictions.'" -----

    • Rural Alberta
      December 09, 2013 - 13:11

      "Repeat after me: There. Are. No. Known. Cases. Of. Fracking. Doing. This." Levant, is that you? Again, I think some proper research is in order. Maybe delve into the regulator reports: ------ "A 2009 regulator report summarized 64 gas migration cases in 22 counties in Pennsylvania dating from the 1990’s to 2009 caused by the oil and gas industry; five cases were caused by hydraulic fracturing that contaminated numerous wells and two springs used as domestic water supply. The 64 cases resulted in 11 explosions, five fatalities, three injuries, a road closure, and numerous evacuations with residents in one community displaced for two months.” ----------

  • Jerry Morrison
    December 08, 2013 - 13:50

    Did you ever ask yourself,why would anyone protest something that would create jobs? THEY DO NOT WANT TO WORK. Why would they when everything is given to them.

  • Vulcan's Forge
    December 08, 2013 - 12:26

    Mr. Levant might be better off checking his own facts. A simple google search of Lisa Jackson pulled up her Wikipedia entry - in which it is noted that although she did testify in front of the Senate Hearing Committee that there was no evidence of any effect of fracking on drinking water, the EPA has released several reports since May 2011 which contradict this statement, and identified fracking as a potential source of drinking water contamination in several cases.

  • Rural Alberta
    December 07, 2013 - 13:32

    "But the EPA, and its state counterparts, have not found a single case, despite countless investigations." Levant should do some proper research, or is he gunning for the fiction market with his new book? New York Times: "This is a 1987 report to Congress by the Environmental Protection Agency that deals with waste from the exploration, development and production of oil, natural gas and geothermal energy. It states that hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, can cause groundwater contamination. It cites as an example a case in which hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminated a water well in West Virginia. The report also describes the difficulties that sealed court settlements created for investigators." EPA: "During the fracturing process, fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid, and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found. In 1982, Kaiser Gas Co. drilled a gas well on the property of Mr. James Parsons. The well was fractured using a typical fracturing fluid or gel. The residual fracturing fluid migrated into Mr. Parson's water well (which was drilled to a depth of 416 feet). according to an analysis by the West Virginia Environmental Health Services Lab of well water samples taken from the property. Dark and light gelatinous material (fracturing fluid) was found, along with white fibers. (The gas well is located less than 1,000 feet from the water well.) ... When fracturing the Kaiser gas well on Mr. James Parson's property, fractures were created allowing migration of fracture fluid from the gas well to Mr. Parson's water well. This fracture fluid, along with natural gas was present in Mr. Parson's water rendering it unusable."

  • Fillerup
    December 05, 2013 - 14:00

    Ezra once again speaks the truth. (notice those who can only do personal attacks on Ezra have nothing to say about a news publication publishing lies or the real matter at hand.) CAGW is a huge lie taxing us all into the poor house! Tsk tsk greenies, the jig is up. Ban the blue box and damn the lies!

  • david
    December 05, 2013 - 13:22

    Ya! We ain't got no intrus in no book reedin', or book lernin', and we ain't much fer buyin' stuff frum uppity mainlanders, needer !! Now git, whilst I takes anudder drink.....damn Harper.

    • Barb R
      December 07, 2013 - 18:56


  • Jeremy Hodder
    December 05, 2013 - 10:03

    Good job telegram, you went from publishing fake letters to the editor to publishing an idiot like ezra Levant, one of the knobs from fox news North aka sun news. If it was someone else Maybe just maybe I could believe a word he says but not ezra Levant. He's shown all to often he's not above lying to get people on side. Not to mention the amount of vitriol and bile he spouts on a weekly basis. Telegram I would recommend you do more checking on who you are publishing.

    • Geoffer
      December 05, 2013 - 20:17

      Ok Jeremy, I will bite can you provide one example where he has lied? In this article he has provided a number of facts that can easily checked so please enlighten me where in this article he has lied or in previous ones. Thanks

    • Kate
      December 06, 2013 - 01:47

      "That guy who exposed the obvious fake is obviously a liar!" Is that what you're going with?

  • Colin Burke
    December 05, 2013 - 09:54

    My congratulations to Mr. Levant on having picked up on this fake so quickly from, it seems, so far away; he deserves to have that perspicacity help with sales of his book.

    • Ed Armstrong
      December 06, 2013 - 19:54

      Ezra had some help from a lottle closer to home. We in NB spotted a tweet by a local extreme left Anti who attends rallies in a sealskin coat (or so it appears). He was the first and only one to tweet a lonk to "Syd's" story, I wonder what his connection was to NL other than stirring the pot about your own struggles with fracking. We were the ones who tipped off Ezra.

    • Vernon
      December 08, 2013 - 20:12

      You in cahoots with Ezra, Ed? Give your head a shake. It wouldn't surprise me if Syd was someone you guys in the oil lobby concocted. You know, I think it only appears as if lots of people see Levant as their champion.

    • Ed Armstrong
      December 09, 2013 - 16:53

      Sorry Vern, but we in NB have no time to fabricate anti rhetoric. We are spending all our energy mythbusting. As for Ezra, at least Sun News will challenge the naysayers as opposed to MSM who coddle them and always show the positive when possible. However it was impossible to portray the demonstrations on Rt.11 in October and December of this year. Again Vern sorry to burst your bubble but your parinoia got the best of you on this file.

  • Working Olfactory
    December 05, 2013 - 09:20

    And this is so unbiased, an author peddling a book yet to be released that goes against a flood of evidence to the contrary to cause controversy. Nice Telegram, good way to have a counterpoint expressed. Lets hear from some actual scientists and not a political hack with an agenda.

    • Greg Grandy
      December 05, 2013 - 13:38

      I note you did not provide evidence to the contrary, only an ad hominen attack using a ludicrous moniker. Nothing Mr.Levant said is not the truth. So I must ask what is your agenda and who do you represent? Certainly not any one of the many thousands of Newfoundlanders who work in the oil patch. I include myself in that number and I know from extensive experience and study that he is speaking the truth.

  • Paper tiger
    December 05, 2013 - 05:35

    I can't help wondering whether "Syd's" article was a plant by the industry to discredit the opponents of fracking.

    • david
      December 05, 2013 - 14:01

      Sweet mother of gawd. Someoen...take away his matches and shoelaces.

    • Kate
      December 06, 2013 - 12:18

      No need to plant what's plentiful in the wild.

    • Vernon
      December 08, 2013 - 20:15

      Yeah, attack that guy!