Fracking and fiction

Published on December 5, 2013

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.

Related:

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.