The curious case of the oil and gas engineer who really wasn’t

Every journalist’s nightmare is to use a quote from somebody who is not really who they say they are. And something like that has now come to the fracking debate.

The Telegram, a newspaper based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, last week ran a letter from a Syd Peters. He claimed to be an engineer based in Alberta who had worked with fracking, and oh, he can talk some trash.

According to the energy view of Syd, jobs produced by fracking are far less than claimed; damage to groundwater supplies is extensive; methane leakage is rampant. It’s the usual litany brought up by fracking critics.

You can see the letter here. That particular instance of the letter includes The Telegram being forced to admit that it hadn’t gone through its normal procedures to determine the identity of a letter writer. The statement was not much more than “mistakes were made.”

It took a column in The Telegram by a writer named Ezra Levant to declare what the paper itself seems loath to admit: there is no Syd Peters.

“Except there is no oil and gas engineer from Calgary named Syd Peters,” Levant wrote. “APEGA, Alberta’s professional association of engineers, has no record of him. He’s not in the Calgary phone book. His stories were fake, just like he is.”

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The site of this debate is particularly notable, because last month, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador put a temporary moratorium on granting fracking permits. The province has granted exploration permits to drill in a shale formation in the western part of the province, but had not yet received any fracking applications. Now if there are any, they must await the end of the moratorium, which will be dependent upon a government review.

The irony in the name of the apparently fictional letter-writer is that it’s awfully close to that of Sidd Finch. Baseball fans will remember him as a phenomenal pitcher who ultimately did not exist.

Neither, apparently, does Syd Peters.

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  1. Lynn Farmakoulas at December 18, 2013 9:00 am

    A similar thing happened last summer when a New Brunswick daily published a LTE from a “doctor” from Pennsylvania who, although she admitted she had no first hand of frac’ing , wrote a letter that contained all of the Anti rhetoric. The letter also made reference to a comparison of propoganda tactics of the tobacco industry to ads promoting O&G , a common ploy used by some of our NB Antis.
    I made a call to said doctor. She never wrote said letter, had never heard of the newspaper, and was dismayed.
    I then contacted the paper. The reply to my email was that they would be more careful in the future to check letter writers. I’m no Ezra Levant so therefore the paper published no disclaimer.
    It’s a terribly disturbing trend.

  2. Simon Jacques at December 17, 2013 8:44 am

    There’s a certain culture in our medias where “the mission” or Fracking mission is the most important thing.

    They don’t think like investigators and tend to be very trusting and accepting when you think like them.



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