Tagged: fracking

Abacus responds

On Thursday, I criticized local news organizations for credulous reporting of an Abacus poll, commissioned by the Company of Canadians and two local anti-fracking groups, purporting to show overwhelming public opposition to fracking. In reality, the only question the survey asked was framed in such a way as to insure that result.

David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, disputes my use of the term “push poll” to describe the survey. He has a point.

The poll question was not a push poll. Push polls are used by campaigns to influence or change the opinion of respondents under the guise of a survey. As such they are not considered legitimate research and therefore strongly frowned upon by the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, of which we are a member.

My terminology was imprecise. I did not intend to imply that the survey was a bogus poll whose real purpose was to influence public opinion. Rather, I believe the poll question was deliberately designed to influence the results of the survey.

Coletto again:



The question commissioned by the Council of Canadians and other groups was intended to measure public perceptions around the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Nova Scotia.

The question was meant to gauge support for maintaining the moratorium under strict conditions – that being the results of a review that found the procedure to have no impact on human health, etc. The preamble provided some context to respondents.

I believe the question fairly measured public reaction to the issue and a point of view that the moratorium should remain in place until a review is complete that found no risk of harm to the public or the environment.

Thanks again for the inquiry.

I responded:

Nomenclature aside, my core objection remains. You say the poll was intended to measure public perceptions around the moratorium, and the preamble merely supplied “some context.”

Didn’t the preamble do more than that? By selectively listing negative concerns about fracking, but omitting arguments for it, was it not specifically designed to drive an anti-fracking response?

You could have used a “some say this, some say that” approach: “Some say fracking endangers the water table and human health; others say fracking technology has improved so much that it offers a low cost energy supply with negligible risk. Do you favour retaining the moratorium even if the independent review now underway finds it poses no risk to the environment or human health?” Or even, “Do you favour lifting the moratorium if the independent review finds no risk?

My wording could no doubt be improved, but the Abacus wording was tendentious and designed to produce the client’s desired result. Don’t you agree it seems deliberately designed to produce the largest possible anti-fracking numbers?

Coletto again:

I take your point. Much of my work is balancing the needs of my client and the needs of good methodology. I think we did that in this case. I agree there are other ways to measure opinion on fracking but the question was specifically about the moratorium and the high standards the client wanted to keep.

I appreciate Abacus’s willingness to engage.

An opinion poll with an invisible thumb on the scale

A trio of Nova Scotia environmental organizations — the Nova Scotia Fracking Resource and Action Coalition, the Council of Canadians, and Sierra Club Atlantic — scored a public relations coup yesterday when local news organizations reported that “Nova Scotians overwhelmingly support a continued ban on fracking” in a poll commissioned by the group.

A news release said the poll, conducted by Abacus Data, a respected Ottawa-based polling firm:

…found strikingly solid support for a continued ban in all areas of the province –from a high of 72% in Cape Breton, to 70% in HRM and Annapolis Valley/South Shore, and 61% in the northern part of the province.

The overwhelming support crossed the political spectrum – 71% percent of those committed to vote Liberal, 72% NDP and PC and 82% Green either strongly supported or supported a continued halt to fracking. Support was equally strong among men and women, and held steady across all age groups.

There was only one problem. The single-question in the survey was asked in a manner so flagrantly biased as to render the results meaningless. Here’s how it read:

Fracturing or hydraulic fracturing, is a relatively new process for extracting shale gas. Concerns have been raised about water contamination, harm to human health, and negative effects on communities and the climate. The Nova Scotia government has a moratorium on fracking while an independent review is underway. Do you support keeping the ban on fracking in place, unless the independent review finds there is no risk to drinking water, human health, the climate or communities?

This is a classic “push poll,” a pseudo survey in which the tendentious questioner slips a thumb onto the scale so as to get the results she wants. In the guise of background, the question supplies respondents with arguments on one side of the issue, but not the other, and then seeks a response. In essence, this one warned that fracking contaminates water, harms human health, and hurts the environment and the climate, then added, it’s banned here now; should the government allow it?

None of the news stories I read quoted the question, or called foul on its blatantly contaminated methodology. They just regurgitated the fracking opponents’s analysis of the results, as if it were based on meaningful data. Shame on them, and shame on Abacus, whose website promises “objectivity” and cites “integrity” as a core value, for participating in this propaganda exercise. (I have asked the CEO of Abacus for a response.)

There are lots of reasons to be wary of fracking, and public opinion is one factor Cape Breton University President David Wheeler will have to weigh as he reviews the pros and cons of continuing the fracking moratorium. I can’t imagine Wheeler, a respected academic, giving this survey any credence.

I wonder if an honest poll wouldn’t have revealed lopsided opposition to fracking. We’ll never know, until someone conducts one.

Required reading: shale gas document dump

Nova Scotians could be forgiven for feeling confused about prospects for shale gas fracking in the province. Is shale gas a sensible short-term approach to reduced carbon emissions? Or an environmental calamity waiting to happen?

Those who stand to profit from shale gas, and governments desperate for energy solutions that won’t cripple the economy, are predictably bullish on our shale gas reserves. Many environmentalists oppose fracking with the unreassuring obduracy they bring to every issue (see: the nonsensical flap over biosolids).

I have no idea who’s right about shale gas, but today’s New York Times offers a massive dump of insider documents purporting to show promoters have wildly exaggerated shale gas reserves, while regulators and venture capital companies have averted their eyes. The candid assessments range from “bubble” to “Ponzi scheme.”

[Note: The Times document reader is hard to use, but easier if you click the text tab at the top of the page. See also here and here.]