Many readers familiar with the shale "debate" in the UK will be familiar with David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geology, retired (in 1998) from Glasgow University.
Prof. Smythe has been a regular contributor at planning hearings related to unconventional gas developments, usually flown in at the expense of the various anti-fracking groups. In a post last year I critiqued his comments about Cuadrilla's drilling operations at Balcombe.
In those comments he revealed himself to be unaware of modern drilling techniques that allow operators to image the surrounding rocks from behind the drill bit, meaning that they can accurately steer the well into the rocks they want to target. Prof Smythe argued that Cuadrilla would not be able to accurately put the lateral part of the well in the 30m thick limestone target. Anyone familiar with modern drilling would know that this is a laughable statement: drillers aim for thinner targets every day. As one anonymous commenter put it after my original article, "a 33m corridor is a simple proposition".
In a report in the Times today, it appears that both the Geological Society and Glasgow University have become concerned about they way in which Prof. Smythe has been using his connections with these institutions to burnish his credentials.
The Geological Society has written to ask that Prof. Smythe cease describing himself as a Chartered Geologist, which he appears not to be. In particular, the Geol. Soc. state that this title requires proof of "continuous professional development", with the clear implication that they feel that Prof Smythe falls short of this requirement.
This isn't particularly surprising, given that Prof Smythe has made no scientific contribution to the field since 1998. In his own words (at the Dart Airth planning hearing), this appears to be because he does not have "slaves" to do the "donkey work" (p. 72) for him (a somewhat concerning attitude to Ph.D and postdoctoral researchers such as myself).
Glasgow University has written to make it clear that Prof. Smythe's views do not represent the views of the University's geologists:
“Notwithstanding our support for freedom of expression, we respectfully request that you make it clear in all of your future publications and broadcast media appearances that the views which you hold and express are your own and are not necessarily representative of the views held by the university’s researchers.”Professor Paul Younger, current Professor of Energy Engineering at Glasgow put things more strongly:
"He has published nothing on [shale gas] in any proper scientific forum - no doubt because he knows he would never get past peer review with his pseudo-scientific scaremongering. He falsely claims to be a chartered geologist. That’s fraudulent. It’s wilful untruth. I am concerned about the damage to the reputation of the university by someone who never fails to use his university affiliation.”The words used by both the Geol. Soc. and Glasgow University are fairly measured. However, to my knowledge this is a fairly drastic step. One wonders what impact this might have on his appearances at future planning hearings and the like.
In closing, I'd particularly recommend reading the closing submission made by Dart's lawyer at the Airth hearing regarding Prof. Smythe (pp72 - 76). For example, when asked to provide evidence of fugitive methane emissions from faults (his main contention regarding unconventional gas), Prof Smythe was unable to provide a single example.
Update 1.8.2014: To see how Prof Smythe's comments have been covered prior to today, this report makes for an interesting read. Prof. Smythe is variously described as a "top geologist", a "leading academic", and an "academic regarded by many of his peers as a world-class star of geological research". For contrast, Prof. Younger has added a comment at the end of the article:
"Long-retired Prof Smythe is not in any way associated with the current research team at the Univ of Glasgow, who regard his claims as false".