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« Quote of the day, predictability edition | Main | Stochastic Stern »

Tabloid academics

Don't you just love it when a bunch of academics goes the full Sunday Sport? You know, putting together an article that makes up in headlines what it lacks in intellectual rigour.

There was a case in point yesterday, when the ReFine group of researchers at Newcastle University published a paper on the traffic impacts of shale gas developments. They did lots of fancy-dan computer modelling and concluded that it was all going to be awful.

As ever the devil is in the detail. One of the main contributory factors to the impact is said to be the lorries that are going to deliver water to the drilling sites. The authors note darkly that as the number of wells that can be drilled from a pad increases, the number of deliveries is only going to increase.

There is just one slight problem with this argument. In the USA, water does indeed tend to be delivered by lorry -the country is large and sparsely populated and there is often no alternative to road transport. The UK on the other hand is densely populated. Water mains are everywhere. 

When you think about it for more than a second then, it's hard to credit the idea that rapacious capitalists would anything other than choose cheap and convenient mains water over expensive road deliveries. Cuadrilla's Preese Hall frack was done with mains water and that is the plan for their two new Lancashire sites too. 

Even more remarkably, the authors of the paper knew all this:

It cannot be ruled out that water transportation to the well pad during exploration, development or after production has commenced could be via pipeline, as was the case for the UK's first fracked shale exploration well at Preese Hall, Lancashire (Mair, 2012).

But they decided that they would go ahead and do a paper based on the assumption that road transport would be used.

Go figure. 

I'm sure they could have got more press coverage if they assumed that bottled water was delivered in transit vans towed by articulated lorries. You can't rule that out either.

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Reader Comments (24)

Surprised they didn't model for "not just any" M&S water or Waitrose Andean hand pumped cloud water.

Unfortunately this sort of thing does more harm to the reputation and integrity of academia than can be measured.

eye-roll up + head shaking stuff

review the culprits - I'd expect (know actually...) that some on the team will be embarrassed by their colleagues antics

Feb 25, 2016 at 10:26 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Apparently the ecological damage is even greater in the version they modelled that used half litre bottles of water individually delivered by trained eagles.

But they ruled that one out as they couldn't find enough eagles. They'd all been killed by wind turbines.

Feb 25, 2016 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Interesting that there isn't one real engineer in the Refine lot. Therefore it isn't strange that they can come out with such twaddle.

I think it is time for most academics to be tested on their knowledge and ability by the people actually working in their field everyday out in the world. If they don't pass that test they should be sacked (the universities have become little more than sad debating groups that are out of touch with the real world).

Feb 25, 2016 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered Commenterivan

Eau Dear.....

Feb 25, 2016 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

I like their conclusion :

Somewhat conversely, use of the model to explore hypothetical future technology timelines over a range of well development scenarios covering several decades, show that the overall impact to a region, or a country as a whole, appear somewhat negligible compared to general traffic or industrial activities

Feb 25, 2016 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Use Sparkling Evian and tell them it's Carbon Sequestration. That'll shut em up.

Feb 25, 2016 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterHyperthermania

Newcastle Uni are getting a bit of a reputation for this sort of thing:

When I was there, 81-84, it still knew that a spade was a spade.

Feb 25, 2016 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

Does anyone know the cost in ££'s of this level of expertise, and how it was funded?

Do certain Universities, Departments, Staff Advertise?
"Expert for hire, what do you want proved? No task too stupid"

Feb 25, 2016 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Heard somewhere they are now using Liquid Nirogen instead of water to Frack

Feb 25, 2016 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

The miasma of the climate obsessed mind is on display at the link to the Gloucester decision against fracking the Bishop has posted above. The anti-fracking folk are committed to ignoring facts, history or new information. Just like this faux study. Think on this: even if all supplies had to trucked in, how many good trucking and transport jobs would that generate? Also, fracking technology, unlike climate obsessed thinking, is progressing. New low water use techniques are being developed. What a strange ignorant world the climate consensus lives in.

Feb 25, 2016 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Yep the case seems as you say Bish, so

Investigating the traffic-related environmental impacts of hydraulic-fracturing (fracking) operations
Paul S. Goodman , Fabio Galatioto , Neil Thorpe, , Anil K. Namdeo , Richard J. Davies , Roger N. Bird

Is another paper stamped "PROPAGANDA not SCIENCE !"

Feb 25, 2016 at 1:16 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I thought all water used for fracking was delivered by aircraft.

Feb 25, 2016 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered Commentertoorightmate

@Tomo reports news on Fracking in US courts - The Gasland flaming pipe family aren't doing too well in court

Dimock has been characterized as “Ground Zero” for fracking contamination of water. It has featured in the documentaries Gasland 1 & 2 and has been the subject of national and international news reports.

"In a scathing, 29-page ruling issued Feb. 12,
Judge Carlson denounced Ms. Lewis and her clients for an “unprecedented” failure to abide by court rules that require attorneys for both sides to reveal evidence they plan to present well in advance of trial."
(preventing 'ambush with a trial-by-surprise.')

Phelim (Fracknation) is providing some blow by blow stuff from the court on Facebook

Feb 25, 2016 at 2:11 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

To be fair to the authors of this paper they've put a lot of time and effort into this project, done a thorough analysis, added caveats and, IMO, have given good value to their sponsors who've put their hands in their pockets.

Ok, their universities and the Natural Environment Research Council (UK) were their sponsors (red Flag?) but so were Shell, Chevron, Centrica and, err, Ineos.

Among the authors conclusion was that while there may be negative effects during key activities (particularly at a local level) these could be negligible at more regional levels in the long term.

It's hard to find much to fault them with (they did point out the use of mains water) so, well done, Paul S. Goodman , Fabio Galatioto , Neil Thorpe, , Anil K. Namdeo , Richard J. Davies , Roger N. Bird.

Feb 25, 2016 at 2:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

stewgreen, so this controversy in Dimock has been created by outright lies, and even their Lawyer has had to admit it?

Hopefully this case will get some publicity in the UK, I just can't imagine the BBC or Guardian covering it though, as it would go against their principle of biased reporting.

Feb 25, 2016 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie


fair comment - but the emphasis on perceived negatives in the "highlights" - when the model is *novel* and *unverified* would lead me to the conclusion that it was not worth the bother of publishing until the loop had been at least partially closed... The first table of movements assumes water delivery by truck and quite possibly no on site treatment of used return water discharged to local drainage.

At this state of the game - imho they should not have gone for worst case scenarios and waiting for one job to complete and comparing against observation would have been prudent.

I suppose while it's trendy and funding is available - why not whip up a model....?

NERC are notoriously PC - there was some stuff a while ago about their predilection for funding proposals with climate change, global warming and the usual lexicon of PC enviro-stuff in the scope of work summary.

Feb 25, 2016 at 3:42 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Weii ......

The water used for fracking has to be treated chemically before use to make it not react badly with the rock being fracked. Eh and pH and stuff. They may not treat it on site in more urban areas. The drain on local water main pressure might not be acceptable even if they wanted to source and treat on site.

Dunno. Need more info. However, argument is legitimate and common in oilfield activities. Very annoying and disruptive to locals. Restrictions are standard, as are financial compensations. Communities discuss with the Company and authorities.

Progress for both individuals and the nation come with some short and long term costs. No way around it, but the NIMBY problem is universal. Just like DiCaprio, most of us want the heavy lifting to be done by someone else somewhere else.

But the authors reveal more of their NIMBY self-interest than a solution seeking social interest.

Feb 25, 2016 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Proctor

Doug Proctor
you nailed it almost...

Dunno. Need more info

I'd add
"we'll have a go at a SWAG for a fee"

Feb 25, 2016 at 4:12 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Doug Proctor:

Frac fluids are prepared on site: the additives used are easily handled, and pose few risks. Water is drawn off the mains into tankage ahead of the frac job, much as a local might fill their swimming pool. In any event water supply is one of the issues covered at the planning stage, and supply contracted with the local utility. Mains pressure is not likely to be a real issue.

So far as the treatment of flowback water is concerned, I suggest this article at Frackland is a well (sic) informed starting point, that suggests that the problem has been thoroughly overblown, and mis-described, and the level of regulation in the UK already operating for many years for other onshore wells ignored.

Feb 25, 2016 at 6:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Out of interest

Does the fracking require potable water or can water from a nearby lake, river of spring be used?

As for pressure on the local water system and its pressure, if that were true how could the Fire Brigade ever do their job?

Feb 25, 2016 at 7:06 PM | Registered CommenterPcar


I wish to put it on notice that I'm modelling the water being delivered direct to the site by a huge increase in sea levels. In which case the fracking oil wells can be used to reduce the water levels, like pulling the plug in the bath.

It's sustainable!
It's water-neutral!
Just like that!

Feb 25, 2016 at 7:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRudolph Hucker

Firstly how does something like this warrant publication --has the publisher got a death wish for his/her journal?

How does it get through peer review or is this proof that peer review just a rubber stamp for anything agree with the Green machine , as many of us have thought ?

Feb 25, 2016 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss


Water needs to be of reasonably high purity. Cuadrilla commented:

So far, as additives to fracturing fluid, Cuadrilla has only used polyacrylamide friction reducer along with a miniscule amount of salt, which acts as a tracer. We have not needed to use biocide as the water supplied by United Utilities to our Lancashire exploration well sites has already been treated to remove bacteria, nor have we used diluted hydrochloric acid in fracturing fluid. Additives proposed, in the quantities proposed, have resulted in the fracturing fluid being classified as non-hazardous by the Environment Agency.

Of course, sand is also added. I'd surmise that direct supply from a reservoir might well be possible if that suited, with perhaps biocide added to treat prior to use: I noted a long while back that the Balcombe wellpad was only a few hundred yards from Ardingly reservoir. Extraction from rivers or boreholes requires licensing in the normal way.

Feb 26, 2016 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

It doesn't add up...

Thank you for the info.


Feb 26, 2016 at 11:23 PM | Registered CommenterPcar

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