Dr John Cherry says two key words dropped from report, Council of Canadian Academies says there was no government interference with final version

Fracking expert says two key words dropped from report, Council says there was no government interference with final version by John Spears, May 29, 2014, Toronto Star
The scientist who chaired an expert panel on the impact of fracking says that two significant words were deleted from the final version of the report, released a month ago. Dr. John Cherry said in an interview that the deletion removed a specific reference to the role of government, and “dulls the message” of the report.

But the Council of Canadian Academies says the wording was “tweaked” simply to ensure consistency through the report.

Cherry, an expert in groundwater, had led a panel for the council that examined the environmental impacts of fracking, and how to deal with them. He is director of the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Contamination Research. … The study said more research is needed in order to effectively regulate fracking.

Cherry says the panel agreed that the final sentence of the report should read:
“Whether or not shale gas development will turn out in the long term to have been a positive or negative influence on global well-being will depend on how society understands this technology and how government manages it.” … But in the published version, the words “how government” are missing. Cherry acknowledged that the edited version had been sent to him as part of a final draft, but he had missed the change when he reviewed it. “Once I saw that was missing I was of course disappointed, if not irate,” he said.

The change had been made by staff at the council. Cherry said the deletion couldn’t have been inadvertent. “I debated that sentence with the staff on many occasions and I indicated I felt strongly about that sentence on other occasions.”

The role of government is discussed throughout the report, Cherry said, so the deletion doesn’t eliminate the message; but a casual reader might miss the point. “If you just pick up the front and read the back page, it dulls the message,” he said. “I don’t know why it was edited out. In my view it takes the message so it’s not so direct and so edgy.”

Cherry said he asked council staff afterward why they had deleted the words and was told they were not needed. Cherry disagrees. “In my view it’s the last sentence in the report, and if there’s any place they were needed, it’s there,” he said.

Cate Meechan, the council’s director of communication, said the council’s reports are independent “Our reports do not contain recommendations but rather provide a picture of the state of knowledge from which policy-makers and others can work,” she said in an e-mail. “As such, it is not in the Council’s interest to ‘dull’ messages that come from the assessment process.
“I understand that the expert panel consensus was that managing development of the resource responsibly necessitates close collaboration among government, regulators, industry and others. As such, to ensure consistency within the report the sentence in question was tweaked.”

In an interview, Meechan said no external influence had been brought to bear on the council. She said the report had been produced under a 10-year global funding agreement with the federal government. This report had been requested by Environment Canada, she said, but the department had no influence on the content. “It wasn’t until the report was finalized and at the printer that they received the report,” she said. “That ensures there’s no undue influence or perception of interference. That’s a pretty important rule for us.”

Cherry said he’s disappointed with the council. “I wouldn’t participate in another panel by that organization unless they change their operating rules,” he said. He intends to write a report to the council’s board. [Emphasis added]

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