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Photo shopped

Chris Hope has an article about shale gas in The Conversation today, and regular readers will not be surprised to read that he concludes that any progress in this direction should be accompanied by a carbon tax.

I was going to shrug my shoulders and move on to something else, when I noticed one of the pictures the editors had chosen to accompany the piece:

That, I said to myself, is not a shale gas field. All those wells so close together suggests it long predates the horizontal drilling that has been such an important part of the shale revolution. A bit of googling took me to the Flickr page of the photographer, Amy Youngs, which revealed that she had originally captioned the photo as being of a shale field. To her credit, she had changed it when she received this comment:

This is NOT a picture of hydraulic fracturing. This is an old school oil field with vertically drilled wells, spaced so production can be maximized out of a tight formation. The wells may or may not have been fractured over their lives to stimulate production. If these had been modern fractured wells, the ones everyone is so up in arms about, draw a line from any one of those pads in any direction for a couple of miles out and count the wells that lay on that line or within a quarter mile either side of it. That's how many wells a single, modern, horizontally drilled and hydraulically fractured well can replace.

Ms Youngs had helpfully given the Google Maps reference for the field, which shows that it is just to the east of the small town of Groesbeck Texas. This suggests that it is the Mexia-Groesbeck oilfield, which dates back to the 1920s. You can take a closer look on Google Streetview.

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Reader Comments (40)

In fact, it looks more like what a windfarm big enough to (potentially) power a village completely would have to be like.

Definitely not a modern oil or gas field. Reminds me of when people used to show old black and white (you'd think that would have been a clue) pictures of the dirty derricks round Baku as an example of the scary awfulness that drilling would bring.

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Well done.

Of interest should be the website sponsored by Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development which has facts about fracking.

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

I notice that 3 out of the 5 comments to the original article have been deleted. I wonder why..?

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:07 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I too thouht it looks more like the footprint of a windfram.

Remind me why a windfarm that looks like that but with a height of 100 feet or more would be just fine and dandy.

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

By a remarkable coincidence, there is another fake picture in The Conversation, yesterday.

Yes, it's the return of photoshopped "Ursus Bogus", the picture that was used to illustrate An article by Gleick etal on "Climate Change and the Integrity of Science".

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:21 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

From the photographer's bio.............

"I am an ecologically concerned artist who looks out the window of planes .............."

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public


For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not suggesting the image is photoshopped. It was a pun.

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:31 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

If this is the general location, what's visible from the air are the concrete pads. And bases for agricultural buildings etc.

Zoom in.

Drop the 'Street View' icon on a road adjacent to any of the pads.

Is any extraction equipment visible above hedge height? Look to the horizon - 360 degree view - what's visible?

Even when there's no hedge between road & pad, probably 95% of the population driving by would be unaware of what they'd driven past.

Jan 21, 2014 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Photo "Shopped"


The Bish is being cleverly "humour"us again!

That's three times in the last week or so.


Jan 21, 2014 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterP M Walsh

There's an interesting comparison here:

Try finding all the yellow pins around Gainsborough on Google maps now. Of course, this was also mainly developed in the pre-horizontal drilling era.

Jan 21, 2014 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

He talks about the social cost of fracking but if using shale gas reduces the amount of CO2 produced compared to the currently available alternatives, as it does, then surely fracking is a money giveback situation; a bonus rather than a malus.

If the social cost is visited upon anyone producing CO2 then we'd better start also calculating the total life CO2 footprint of windfarms, wood pellets, hybrids etc. Apparently it isn't all as neutral as they'd like to believe.

And if the lukewarmers are indeed right and warming below 2.5 degrees is indeed good for the planet, as the IPCC points out - for those who bother to read it - then what then for the social cost of carbon? Another bonus? Methinks his government funded policy software (whatever that is) didn't include that possibility now did it?

Jan 21, 2014 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

First saw that pic tweeted by Chris Shaw in December

The person who took the photo says:

I doubt that people see these when driving on major roads – I never have – but they were very visible from a plane.

Jan 21, 2014 at 3:33 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

The editor of The Conversation has written a rather stubborn comment.

Jan 21, 2014 at 3:40 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Chris Hope protested vigorously when I described him as an activist on Twitter recently.

This piece, however, is a blatant piece of green activism in a journal with a history of encouraging activist academics like Lewandowsky, Gleick et al.

He recites the standard Frack-Off litany of earthquakes and water contamination - but his linked sources aren't reliable.

On water contamination, he links to a study by another bunch of environmental activist academics at Duke University -which has been substantially debunked here.

We seem to have a hard core of fairly senior academics in this country who have inserted themselves into quite prominent government advisory roles which they use to justify their strong personal political prejudices.

Kevin Anderson and his Tyndall Centre are another example - where taxpayer funded "climate change advice" has mysteriously transformed into outright demands for revolution and the overthrow of capitalism.

Jan 21, 2014 at 3:59 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

jamesp: the 3 comments were deleted because they were spam.

JamesG: Indeed, the social cost of carbon should be paid by all those who emit CO2. Including windfarms if they do.

Foxgoose: The article is about the climate change impacts of shale gas, not any of the other impacts, which are just mentioned for context.

The picture is only marginally relevant to this issue. I suppose you could argue that fewer wellheads mean less likelihood of fugitive methane emissions, so maybe it has some relevance. In the article I assumed a 2% fugitive emissions rate, not any of the higher rates that have been proposed by Howarth et al.

Jan 21, 2014 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Hope

- Welcome & well done for engaging here Chris.
But what are people supposed to think when you write an article about shale and hype it with a photo of something else, a photo of an old conventional oil field ?
- The opinion "proof once again you can't trust the greens" is evidence based thinking.

- Perhaps you will gain back some reputation by agreeing care must be taken to check such images in the future ?

Jan 21, 2014 at 5:11 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

stewgreen: I agree. I provided the text, but approved the whole article including the images. In our defence, it was originally identified as a fracking field. It's a shame it has deflected attention away from the argument in the article, which is about addressing the climate impacts of shale gas in a fair and balanced way.

Jan 21, 2014 at 5:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Hope

JamesG: Was that comment really aimed at the Sara Montague thread?

In any case, if, as we argue, that CO2 is hardly a contributory factor to CAGW - if at all, there is no point in arguing for any energy supply based on it being 'carbon neutral' - or any other greenie catchphrase.

Jan 21, 2014 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

No, Chris Hope, the 'social cost of carbon' has not be evaluated. As far as I am concerned it has no cost - other than that that you and yours slap on us as an eco-tax (windfarms, Fits, etc)

Jan 21, 2014 at 5:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

fewer wellheads

Yes. Much, much, fewer. Often about 1/100th of the wellheads for the same output. That deserves more than passing acknowledgement.

The picture is only marginally relevant to this issue.

Captioned "creeping industrialisation", presumably to illustrate "industrialisation of the countryside" which appeared to be one of your non-marginal objections.

Jan 21, 2014 at 5:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Chris Hope: "...which is about addressing the climate impacts of shale gas in a fair and balanced way."

Oh - the irony! Are you gonna put in an apology for the use of that pic in your next edition?

Jan 21, 2014 at 5:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Chris Hope

Thanks for joining in.

Has anyone involved in climate science & impacts ever looked at the social costs associated with building 6,000 wind turbines in the UK?

Jan 21, 2014 at 5:59 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Chris Hope: Howarth's study has been thoroughly refuted, by his colleagues, by the industry, and by the governmnet. Even the Sierra Club.

Howarths findings have been refuted by many other papers. (links in the article).

US Energy Department, University of Maryland, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Sierra Club-backed Carnegie Mellon University study and the Worldwatch Institute each reviewed the methane leakage issue and rejected Howarth’s findings as vastly inflated.

I would suggest that 2% leakage is an inflated number. This would equate to 20% of a companies profits. As a shareholder, would you invest in a company that leaked 20% of its profits?

I also note that in your article, you don't mention the 12% reduction in US CO2 emissions from 2005 levels. Almost all are due to using gas over coal.

Also of note, is that using gas for power instead of coal, saves a lot of water, even when fracturing is included, by up to a 50 to 1 ratio.

Should this not also be in the so-called social cost?

How about the social cost of NOT cutting down forests to heat homes? Or the social cost of millions of lives saved in winter, by using cheap energy to heat homes?

It appears you are only interested in the social costs, and not the social benefits.

Jan 21, 2014 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterLes Johnson

Industrialisation? No, Mr Hope, it's just a shale farm. Not like one of those wind factories.

If you'd like a more apposite comparison, please search for the picture that was going the rounds a few weeks ago, where the landscape was dominated by windmills and the shale sites were almost invisible.

I know why you hate shale, it's a get out of jail free card for our industrial civilisation, fifty years of low pollution, low CO2 (if that matters), low aerosol energy which means we can keep the lights on and tell the green bullies where they can stow their millennial troublemaking.

Shale is win win win.

And it means we won't have to send our children to fight in the Middle East at the behest of OPEC. Win win win win. Or jump to the dictats of Putin's Russia. Etc.

I really don't understand you people.


Jan 21, 2014 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJulian Flood

So Chris Hope, from Cambridge, supposedly an expert in the field, thought the photo was fine, but amateur blogger AM spotted that it was wrong. Maybe The Conversation should get him to write an article. He seems more knowledgable on the subject.

Jan 21, 2014 at 8:27 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Paul Matthews:

Ouch! That is going to bruise an awful lot of egos.

Jan 21, 2014 at 9:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

So an article which is meant to be "fair and balanced" uses a photo which is highly misleading, losing all credibility with any non-partisan reader.
It raises the obvious question:
Did they know the photo was misleading?
If not then their research and understanding of the subject were clearly deficient.
If they knew then this is just blatant propaganda.
Either way, it's only fit for the bottom of a birdcage.

Jan 21, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

I suspect people like Chris Hope are genuine when they argue that all hydrocarbon production is bad because it facilitates burning of hydrocarbon based fuels which is bad because it adds CO2 which is bad because it's causing or going to cause drastic changes to the climate which human ingenuity will not be able to cope with. Fine, argue that one out with the climate guys. There are plenty of them here.

What I really object to are the constant insincere and inaccurate accusations against the various aspects of drilling wells, as if you don't have a problem with the whole concept, just the fracking bit, or the possibility of water contamination, or, this is a new one on me, methane leaking from wellheads at a rate of 2% of something or other. It doesn't matter that it's marginal to your central argument, constantly dropping these fantasies into discussions as if they're accrpted facts is what turns me off anything else you have to say.

I'm beyond caring that activists are targeting drillers again - there's always been an element of that.

Jan 21, 2014 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Such riches in Texas! Just to the south east of that mass of wells is a coal fired power station with what looks like an open-cast pit within a mile of it!

Jan 21, 2014 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Right now there is a drilling rig visible from my back yard (maybe 5 km or so away). This is the third one in the last year that I can remember. I can only see it at night because it looks like a Christmas tree, all lit up! I expect it will probably disappear from sight within a few weeks as that is normally the case.

Within that 5 km when I go for pleasant country walks I will cross probably 20 to 30 different pipelines that travel underground. Everything from oil, sour gas, gas, propane butane and possibly other products. I only know they exist because of the discreet markings. They are neither troublesome or an eyesore and one hardly pays attention to the fact they are there and they cause no concern for anyone I know. They are one of the requirements of the quality of life we enjoy.

Jan 22, 2014 at 12:45 AM | Unregistered Commenterbob

Bishop Hill: Keeping the MSM and blogosphere honest, one erroneous and tendentious image at a time.

Jan 22, 2014 at 2:11 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Well that may be a picture of old school wells, but there is a lot of drilling at Eagle Ford Shale formation. It's south and east of San Antonio and then stretches up northwest of Houston. Of course before the recent wells, there was not much of anything out there.

Jan 22, 2014 at 2:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Norris

The 2% fugitive emissions from the EPA source does not refer solely to upstream production of natural gas. It includes losses from transmission and distribution systems. It is mostly made up of small losses from occasional gas leaks in old town distribution networks plus very occasional larger losses from a transmission pipeline leak before the leak is isolated.
The upstream production losses account for only about one third of this total and have been decreasing, in the US at least. It may be legitimate to use the 2% value if the question on the table is whether we should be using any gas at all in the energy mix, but it is not a valid number to use if the question is one of considering alternative upstream sources such as shale gas and other tight gas formations - where a value of 0.6% would seem to be a more relevant measure.

I was surprised that this value was so high. Some of it is associated with venting of small flowback volumes of methane during drilling and completion operations, which could be further reduced by flaring or recapture systems. There are practically no emissions from "well leaks" contrary to popular misconception, although it can happen if old wells are not sealed correctly because of poor practice on abandonment.

To get this emission volume into perspective, the total upstream losses from fugitive emissions amount to about one third of the emissions from what are politely described as "enteric fermentation", otherwise known more technically as cow farts.

Jan 22, 2014 at 7:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul_K

Who does one believe? The Alarmists who use scams like the pic. here, or the Skeptics who rumble them? Not too difficult to answer ....

Jan 22, 2014 at 7:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterGummerMustGo

In Marcellus shale gas Bradford Co Pennsylvania: production history and declines I was careful to select an agricultural rural landscape already overprinted by Man to illustrate the impact of shale development. The post has a couple of Google Earth images of shale development in Bradford County PA.

It is the case that shale development in already developed countryside is much less obvious than in areas like N Dakota where there was nothing before. In the latter case the access roads and drilling pads do make a much more significant impact.

Jan 22, 2014 at 9:57 AM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

Paul K; thank you for digging up that clarification of the 2% leakage claim.
It just proves that, if the intent was to be "fair and balanced", the article would have included that explanation. So now we have a key parameter which is misleading to accompany the dodgy photo.
Just another propaganda effort which unravels as soon as questions are asked.

Jan 22, 2014 at 10:41 AM | Registered Commentermikeh

"I am an ecologically concerned artist who looks out the window of planes .............."

I am ecologically concerned (as we all should be), not an artist and I look out the window of planes. I am always amazed at how much of the earth is untouched or very lightly touched by humans -- mostly farmers. Driving cross country only reinforces this view.

I take pictures too.

Jan 22, 2014 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpeed

Chris, your comment pitched at government greed -

"Applying climate change-based taxes like these to shale gas should be attractive to the government. It is a market-based approach which encourages cleaner development and innovation to reduce environmental impact. It offers the prospect of significant tax revenues, which start at US$100 per tonne of CO2 and US$1,500 per tonne of methane, but which will rise in real terms – all at a time of austerity when the budget deficit is still a concern."

how is this "a market-based approach" ?

private companies will just not invest/explore with these negative incentives, I wouldn't if I were in the same position.
so, to me (member of Joe public) in reality it really means you advocate "leave it in the ground"

why not just say it and stop beating about the bush ?

Jan 23, 2014 at 12:30 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

Hilarious that The Conversation still has not changed the photo or issued a correction/update showing how wrong the portrayal is. However one of their editors is trying to explain away its continued use and maintains pointing out the fraud distracts from the truth LOL.

Because science!

Jan 24, 2014 at 6:44 AM | Unregistered Commenterharkin

Hilarious that The Conversation still has not changed the photo or issued a correction/update showing how wrong the portrayal is. However one of their editors is trying to explain away its continued use and maintains pointing out the fraud distracts from the truth LOL.

Because science!

Jan 24, 2014 at 6:45 AM | Unregistered Commenterharkin

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