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Frackademia: The People & Money Behind the EDF Methane Emissions Study

3:57 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted on DeSmogBlog

Norman Hackerman Building, University of Texas

The long-awaited Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)-sponsored hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fugitive methane emissions study is finally out. Unfortunately, it’s another case of “frackademia” or industry-funded ‘science’ dressed up to look like objective academic analysis.

If reliable, the study — published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and titled, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” — would have severely reduced concerns about methane emissions from fracked gas.

The report concludes .42% of fracked gas — based on samples taken from 190 production sites — is emitted into the air at the well pad. This is a full 2%-4% lower than well pad emissions estimated by Cornell University professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea in their ground-breaking April 2011 study now simply known as the “Cornell Study.”

A peek behind the curtain show the study’s results — described as “unprecedented” by EDF – may have something to do with the broad spectrum of industry-friendly backers of the report which include several major oil and gas companies, individuals and foundations fully committed to promoting the production and use of fracked gas in the U.S.

One of the report’s co-authors currently works as a consultant for the oil and gas industry, while another formerly worked as a petroleum engineer before entering academia.

The study will likely be paraded as “definitive” by Big Oil, its front groups and the media in the days and weeks to come.

DeSmogBlog exclusive investigation reveals the study actually stands to make its pro-gas funders a fortune in what amounts to industry-favorable data meant to justify shale gas in the public mind as a “bridge fuel” — EDF’s stance on gas — now and into the future.

Cornell’s Howarth Reacts

Howarth has issued a press statement unpacking the long-anticipated study, beginning by explaining a key caveat (emphases mine).

“First, this study is based only on evaluation of sites and times chosen by industry,” Howarth stated.

“The Environmental Defense Fund over the past year has repeatedly stated that only by working with industry could they and the Allen et al. team have access necessary to make their measurements. So this study must be viewed as a best-case scenario.”

Howarth next explains industry cooperation – while a nice sales pitch – isn’t necessary to “get the goods.” Read the rest of this entry →

UT-Austin Administration Distances Itself from “Frackademia” Study

9:23 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The UT clock tower rises behind a fountain.

Part of the UT Austin campus. The university is backing away from the 'frackademia' study it published.

Weeks after SUNY Buffalo’s upper-level administration gave the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) the boot due to its gas industry public relations effort masked as a “study,” University of Texas-Austin’s (UT-Austin) administration has somewhat followed suit for its own “frackademia” study.

The decision comes in the aftermath of an independent review of a controversial study completed under UT-Austin’s auspices.

Like SRSI’s “shill gas study,” UT-Austin brought itself attention when it published a “study” in February 2012 titled, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development.” UT-Austin’s study – conducted under the wings of its Energy Institute - claimed that there’s “no scientific proof” that unconventional oil and gas development can be linked to groundwater contamination.

As it turns out, the author’s lead investigator, Charles “Chip” Groat is on the payroll of the oil and gas industry via Plains Exploration & Production, a direct conflict-of-interest under the standards of academia (not to be confused with those of “frackademia”). “Groat earned more than double his University of Texas salary as a PXP board member in 2011 – $413,900 as opposed to $173,273 – and he has amassed over $1.6 million in stock during his tenure there,” Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) explained in a report.

The embarrassment created by these revelations moved Groat to retire after the spring semester, while the head of the Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, stepped down today as head of the Institute, though he’ll still remain on the UT-Austin faculty.

UT-Austin’s administration, in effect, has decided to distance itself from the report due to its numerous conflicts-of-interest, though unlike the SRSI, the Energy Institute won’t be ended.

“The school said it will undertake six recommended actions, the most significant being the withdrawal of papers from the Energy Institute’s Web site related to the report until they are submitted for fresh expert review,” explained The New York Times.

Kevin Connor, Director of PAI, issued this statement in response to UT-Austin’s decision:

The University of Texas has now joined the University at Buffalo in sending a strong message to the oil and gas industry: our universities are not for sale. This is another major blow to gas industry pseudoscience and a victory for academic integrity in the debate around fracking.

The University of Texas deserves credit for taking a difficult but important stand for transparency and integrity by releasing this review and pursuing these recommendations.

U of Michigan: The Next Frontier for “Frackademia”?

This announcement comes soon after University of Michigan-Ann Arbor stated it would be conducting its own forthcoming two-year studyon the ecological impacts of fracking in Michigan.

“Industry representatives, nongovernmental organizations, state government officials, academic experts and other stakeholders are providing input,” explained University of Michigan in a press release.

Members of the study’s Steering Committee include two representatives of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association and members of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s cabinet, along with several university-affiliated faculty members.

A Dec. 3 story by Energy and Environment News explained that Energy in Depth, the shale gas industry front group, will also be deeply involved with the study.

“Some of those stakeholders are being pulled in as resources for the UM study, said Energy in Depth Field Director Erik Bauss, whom UM researchers have already called on to help facilitate a visit to a Michigan frack site,” wrote E and E.

Given the recent state of play for “frackademics,” DeSmog will be keeping a close eye on the Michigan study in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned. Read the rest of this entry →

Whitewash: SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

SUNY Buffalo

On Friday, SUNY Buffalo’s President’s Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). The report was published in response to concern among journalists, advocacy groups, “fracktivists,” and SUNY Buffalo professors and faculty that the university is transforming itself from a center of academia to a center for “frackademia.”

In the spirit of “best practices” of politicially-astute public relations professionals, the report came out late on a Friday afternoon, when few people pay close attention to news and reporters have left the office for the weekend. This tactic is known as the “document dump” or “Take Out the Trash Day,” in reference to a title of an episode of The West Wing.

Buck Quigley of ArtVoice noticed the report is actually dated Sept. 27, meaning SUNY Buffalo’s been sitting on it for roughly two weeks, giving the public relations office plenty of time to craft a response narrative to offer to the press.

In actuality, the report is only 13 pages. The rest is Appendices.

The Meat and Potatoes of the Report

Writing with regards to SUNY Buffalo’s Academic Freedom and Conflict of Interest Policy, the President’s Office stated,

To ensure transparency and adherence to rigorous standards of academic integrity, we focus on identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest. If the conflicts are determined to be unmanageable, UB will not accept the funding.

As with all research at UB, regardless of the source of the funding, it is [not] the role…of the funding source to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty investigators. This core principle is critical to the preservation of academic freedom. UB recognizes that conflicts – both actual and perceived - can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results.

The report fails to discuss the Institute’s long history of courting oil and gas industry funding. As we recently reported, the gas industry explicitly acknowledged that it targets universities as a key front for legitimacy in the eyes of the public in the ongoing shale gas PR battle within the Marcellus Shale basin. This was revealed at the same conference in which the industry acknowledged it was utilizing psychological warfare tactics on citizens.

Later in the report, the President’s Office stated that it has “every expectation that the faculty will conduct their public and policy-related activities as professionals, basing their conclusions on rigourous evidence and methodology.” Yet, the President’s Office has little ground to stand on here, given the flawed methodology of the Institute’s first report, ruthlessly picked apart in May by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI).

Responding to PAI’s report, the President’s Office said, “No concerns were raised by the relevant scientific community about the data used in developing the report’s conclusion.” Given that the scientific community generally doesn’t do rapid-fire responses to reports, it’s not surprising that this is the case.

On the flip side of the coin, given that four of the five peer reviewers for that report were on the payroll of the oil and gas industry, it’s also obvious SRSI had its conclusions made before the “study” was ever conducted to begin with. In other words, it was an exercise in propaganda for the oil and gas industry, rather than science.

In page seven of the report, the President’s Office offers a revelatory nugget: SRSI has been in the works since 2007, predating what was then the looming rapid ascendancy of the North American shale gas boom. The Office wrote [PDF],

Read the rest of this entry →