Allen Gilmer is Co-founder and CEO of Drillinginfo. This post originally appeared on LinkedIn, where he has been posting a string of gems! Follow him on LinkedIn here.
Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
This Latin term succinctly describes a thought process that American humans, especially plaintiff attorneys, use in lieu of science, and, in fact, often confuse with science.
It means, literally, “It happened after an event, therefore, it is because of the event”. The most famous example being that the sun rises because the rooster crows.
Doctors and most scientists understand the fallacy of false cause, or coincidental correlation. I ran into early in my professional career.
You’re Killing Me, Seismic
Every dead cow in the area died because our seismic crew somehow poisoned them with dynamite or pin flags. Every cow was also a world class breeder in the prime of life up until the point the vet performed the autopsy to discover that the livestock owning professional’s prize beast was a diseased very old cow past breeding age. Imagine the shock!
My principle was to pay for every cow we actually killed.
Here was my workflow. I had a vet from two counties away do an autopsy. My rule was the autopsy needed to find dynamite in the gut, a torn gut from pin flags, pin flags in the gut, OR the cow actually being in the prime of life with no obvious cause of death. Pretty lax rules.
At least a dozen cows presented over the years, NONE met these very loose criteria.
Same thing happened vis a vis water wells. Seismic crews always “destroyed” water wells, it seems. We started measuring particle motion at water wells and buildings during our shoots. As soon as the particle motion was equal in scale to an 18 wheeler driving on the nearest roadway, we moved away.
In essence, the criteria I used was to stop everything assuming a big rig driving down their road would cause catastrophic damage. Record? The exact same number of complaints about damaged foundations and water wells.
Some of this was out and out fraud, some just the human need to place blame somewhere for unfortunate circumstance, especially if they figured there was a strange pocket around that might make them whole or make them a profit. Human nature, I guess.
Corn farmers were my favorite. Corn needs water. Expensive to grow, and high prices at the market. Droughts were tough on corn farmers in areas without irrigation.
A crew member was fired on one of the crews I managed and left town running cross ways across the seeded dirt rows that had not yet budded during one of these droughts. A justifiably irate and desperate farmer came by and told me (in a fairly terrifying way) to get in his truck to survey the damage. I sent the crew out afterwards to repair his rows.
According to him, it wasn’t going to be sufficient. He wanted $30,000 for lost crop. I called the county agent, and asked him if this was reasonable. He hemmed and hawed, because he didn’t want to lie, but he didn’t want to piss off his neighbor.
I suggested that we compare the yield at the end of the season of the damaged portion relative to the adjoining portion, and asked the agent whether he could be the impartial judge. He agreed, and that ended that.
Or the time a Michigan corn farmer told me we had destroyed X number of bushels in our 2-D program and he needed compensation, which was fair. I went to the library and discovered that our seismic crew had apparently cut corn from the richest corn crop on planet Earth, from a yield per acre point of view… it yielding more than 4 times the previous record areas according to the farmers almanac.
I gave him a check and told him the 18 wheelers were going to be coming the next day to take possession of the corn we had just bought. End of problem.
Life of the Party
In any case, all of these incidents came to mind recently when I mentioned I was in the oil business at a recent cocktail party. The woman I was talking to immediately began a discourse on how well frac’ing had damaged her friends water well.
When I mentioned that it couldn’t have been the frac’ing, since it was way to deep to actually interfere with the shallow aquifer, she told me I was wrong because here friends well had silted up and had flaming gas in it and frac’ing was clearly the cause. Because it happened before her friends noticed the silt. Or tested the water for flammability.
Let’s get this straight. A frac could conceivably frac into fresh water aquifer if it was shallower than 3,000′ or so OR within 1,500′ of a fresh water aquifer. Fresh water aquifers can also be polluted by old oil or gas wells with bad casing or that were never plugged, with or without frac’ing.
Well, her conversation steered towards it becoming increasingly clear that she didn’t understand the difference between frac’ing and water floods. In her case, her friends had a ranch on top of an old San Andres field that the operator had initiated a water flood.
They heard about the dangers of frac’ing and decided that frac’ing was the problem, not being very clear about what frac’ing really is.
Gasland Hot Air
This account is similar to one of the scenes in the show “Gasland” where they showed burning glasses of water that were pumped from a coal bed aquifer. This was attributed to frac’ing as well, instead of the true cause, well known today, of methane production from coal seams as they dewater, with methane production going up as more water is produced.
Since fracs were not the causal factor in either event, but were presented as such in both cases, and since regulators are falling over themselves to define regulations on how to mitigate these issues, don’t you think it reasonable to get the facts right?
It’s kind of like saying that blue wings on aircraft cause them to crash instead of a faulty flap assembly. And then passing regulations that aircraft cannot have wings. Ridiculous.
A Man Can Dream, Can’t He?
To exacerbate the issue, I listened to a spokesman for the EPA a while back say that the EPA’s goal in its seemingly arbitrary rule making was to “make both sides mad”.
I would posit that the EPA’s goal should be to pass regulations that could actually keep fracs from damaging aquifers, and, if they really do not, as every bit of real evidence indicates, leave well enough alone.
Passing regulations to ameliorate citizen outrage generated by… lying… seems wrong. The EPA is in perfect position to right the propaganda. Please elect to do so and stay away from deciding to play politics!
Of course, you might say, whats new? Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc.