“CSIRO” report misleads on fracking risks

A study purported to be from the CSIRO that showed that fracking was “safe for the environment” was actually overseen by the gas industry, and was based on just six of Queensland’s 19,000 coal seam gas wells, according to new analysis by The Australia Institute.

The report was published by the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) but was presented by the industry and Federal Resource Minister Keith Pitt as “CSIRO report confirms CSG fracking is safe for the environment”.

GISERA is an alliance of fracking companies, including Santos, Origin Energy, Shell, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Tokyo Gas, and the CSIRO.

Key findings:

  • Australia Institute analysis found that while the GISERA research may be able to provide data about fracking activities at the six Origin Energy wells examined in the research over a six month period, it says nothing about the wider population (99.97%) of wells of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) wells in QLD or even about those six wells before or after that period. That is because:
  • The selection of the sites was effectively outsourced to the target company (Origin Energy) and as such is subject to potential selection bias.
  • Even if the wells were randomly selected, the small sample of wells studied means that it would have little chance of finding serious cases of contamination and a has a 40% margin of error to its findings.
  • The research itself acknowledges the design of the study was specific to activity being carried out at those 6 wells.

The report highlights the perils of industry funding and overseeing research into its own activities.

Key issues include:

  • Gas companies Santos and APLNG (led by Origin) paid 75 percent of the $2.26 million research budget of the GISERA air water and soil fracking impacts research.
  • Gas industry executives make up almost half of the National Research Management Committee (NRMC) and around 30% of the Queensland Regional Research Advisory Committee (RCAC). These committees oversee the design the methodology and the research.
  • GISERA’s conflict of interest policy is inadequate for managing the conflict of interest with proponent companies, requiring only that they self-evaluate and discuss any issues with the GISERA Director.

The concerns have been echoed by leading scientists.

“It is particularly concerning that the gas industry, through GISERA, has influence over the communication of the results,” said Professor Penny Sackett, Former Chief Scientist for Australia.

“The GISERA media release frames the research as finding “little or no impacts” of fracking, while the reports themselves do not use this language. In fact, the reports emphasise that the results are not representative or scalable for QLD CSG operations as a whole, and express concern about significant adverse effects associated with potential spills of fracking fluids,” Professor Sackett said.

“What the GISERA research shows is that no short-term environmental problems were found at six sites chosen by the operator. It says nothing about either the long-term risks at those sites or the safety of the other sites among the 19,000 operated,” said Professor Ian Lowe of Griffith University.

“GISERA should publicly correct the inaccurate claim of Minister Pitt’s media release that the ‘CSIRO report confirms fracking is safe for the environment’.

“The credibility of GISERA is fatally compromised by having gas company executives on its research management committees. The way GISERA operates does not pass the pub test,” Professor Lowe said.

“Our research demonstrates why it is simply not good enough to have the fracking industry funding and overseeing investigations into its own impacts,” said Mark Ogge, principal adviser at the Australia Institute.

“If the asbestos industry funded research into the health impacts of its products and had James Hardy executives involved in designing the methodology and overseeing the research it would not be considered credible. This is no different.

“The CSIRO has built a global reputation for independent and impartial science. It should reconsider lending its brand to this kind of compromised research.”

The analysis of GISERA air, water and soil fracking report, by Mark Ogge, principal advisor at the Australia Institute can be found here.

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