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Revealed: Former Energy in Depth Spokesman John Krohn Now at EIA Promoting Fracking

9:11 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

For those familiar with U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) work, objectivity and commitment to fact based on statistics come to mind. Yet as Mark Twain once put it, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
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That’s where John Krohn comes into play. A former spokesman for the gas industry front group Energy in Depth (EID), Krohn now works on the Core Team for EIA’s “Today in Energy!

Krohn has been at EIA since at least January 2014, when his name first appeared on the EIA website. On his Twitter account, he describes himself as an EIA communications manager.

As DeSmog revealed in February 2011, Energy In Depth was launched with a heavy injection of funding from oil and gas industry goliaths such as BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell and XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil).

With its public relations efforts conducted by FTI Consulting, EID now serves as a key pro-industry front group promoting unfettered hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the U.S. public.

Krohn follows in the footsteps through the government-industry revolving door of the man President Barack Obama named to head the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for his second term, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology “frackademic,” Ernest Moniz. DOE is the parent agency for EIA.

Further, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski, another second-term appointee of President Obama, also passed through the same revolving door as Krohn and Moniz in his pathway to heading EIA. He formerly worked in the world of oil and gas finance. 

“From 1998 to 2005, he served as the director and energy strategist for Deutsche Bank’s global oil and gas equity team,” his EIA biography explains. “Prior to that, from 1988 to 1997, Mr. Sieminski was the senior energy analyst for NatWest Securities in the United States, covering the major U.S. international integrated oil companies.”

The revolving door, though, is as American as apple pie. What makes the Krohn appointment more alarming to some observers is what this means in the context of the potential looming shale gas and oil bubble.

This revelation comes after EIA downgraded its Monterey Shale oil reserves estimate from 13.7 billion barrels to 600 million barrels, a 96-percent decrease

EIA: “Seriously Exaggerating Shale Gas Production”

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Gulf Stream: Williams Nixes Bluegrass Gas Export Pipeline, Announces New Export Line

12:45 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Williams Companies logo

Under grassroots pressure, Williams pivots toward new pipeline plan.

Right before the champagne bottles began popping for activists engaged in agrassroots struggle to halt the construction of Williams Companies‘ prospective Bluegrass Pipeline project — which the company suspended indefinitely in an April 28 press release — Williams had already begun raining on the parade.

The pipeline industry giant took out the trash on Friday, April 25, announcing its intentions to open a new Louisiana pipeline named Gulf Trace.

Akin to TransCanada’s ANR Pipeline recently reported on by DeSmogBlog, Gulf Trace is not entirely “new,” per se. Rather, it’s the retooling of a pipeline system already in place, in this case Williams’ Transco Pipeline system.

The retooling has taken place in the aftermath of Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNGexport facility receiving the first ever final gas export permit from the U.S.Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the fracking era.

Both ANR and Gulf Trace will feed into Sabine Pass, the Louisiana-based LNGexport terminal set to open for business in late 2015. Also like ANR, Transco will transform into a gas pipeline flowing in both directions, “bidirectional” in industry lingo.

Bluegrass, if ever built, also would transport fracked gas to the Gulf Coast export markets. But instead of LNG, Bluegrass is a natural gas liquids pipeline (NGL).

“The project…is designed to connect [NGLs] produced in the Marcellus-Utica areas in the U.S. Northeast with domestic and export markets in the U.S. Gulf Coast,” itexplained in an April 28 press release announcing the project’s suspension.

With Bluegrass tossed to the side for now, Williams already announced in a press release that the company has launched an open season to examine industry interest in Gulf Trace. It closes on May 8, 2014.

“Although we recognized the suspension of the Bluegrass could impact non-conventional drilling here in Western Pennsylvania, we should all know better than to get too excited about this announcement,” Carrie Hahn, a Pennsylvania-based activist told DeSmogBlog. “There is too much at stake here for them to give up that easily.”

The announcement follows in the aftermath of the flurry of federal-level lobbying activity by Williams during the first quarter of 2014.

Williams Spends Big Lobbying for Exports

First-quarter lobbying disclosure forms indicate Williams spent $450,000 lobbying at the federal level for both shale gas exports and pipeline permitting issues. It has done so utilizing both its in-house lobbyists and outside lobbying firms.

In-House Lobbyists 

In-house, Williams spent $410,000 on its own to advocate for gas exports and pipeline permitting issues during the first quarter. Williams’ lobbying efforts were headed by its vice president for governmental affairs, Deborah Lawrence anddirector of governmental affairs, Glenn Jackson.

Outside Lobbying Firms

No smart corporation makes a big announcement of this sort without first greasing the skids and Williams is no different in that regard, utilizing the age-old government-industry revolving door to curry favor.

In that vein, meet Ryan, MacKinnon, Vasapoli and Berzok, LLP, which Williams paid $40,000 to lobby on its behalf during the first quarter.

Lobbyist Thomas Ryan formerly served as chief counsel for the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee. That committee has pushed forward shale gas exports in a big way so far in 2014. Ryan is one of the lobbyists listed on the firm’s first-quarter disclosure form on the Williams file.

Jeffrey MacKinnon, another lobbyist listed on the firm’s lobbying disclosure form, also has close ties to the Energy & Commerce Committee. MacKinnon formerly served as legislative director for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the climate change denier and former chairman of the Energy &Commerce Committee.

Add Joseph Vasapoli to the list, as well.

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“Our Energy Moment:” The Blue Engine Behind Fracked Gas Exports PR Blitz

11:52 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Our Energy Moment log

Blue Engine Media’s pro-fracking moment

Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there’s an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry’s push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) plays the same game.

And so on February 5, “Our Energy Moment” was born. The PR blitz is described in a press release announcing the launch as a “new coalition dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the many benefits of expanded markets for liquefied natural gas.”

Its member list includes industry heavy hitters such as Cheniere Energy, Sempra Energy, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and Freeport LNG.

Since its launch, “Our Energy Moment” has disseminated press releases about theU.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) conditional approval of Jordan Cove LNGexport facility in Coos Bay, Oregon and its conditional approval of Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana.

So the industry is funding a PR campaign clearly in its self interest. But so what? You have to read all the way to the bottom of the press releases to find what’s perhaps the most interesting tidbit.

At the very bottom of “Our Energy Moment’s” releases, a contact person named Tiffany Edwards is listed with an email address ending in @blueenginemedia.com. If you visit blueenginemedia.com you’ll find the website for PR and advertising firm Blue Engine Message & Media.

Further, a domain name search for ourenergymoment.org reveals the website was registered by another PR and web development firm called Liberty Concepts by its founder and president Jonathan Karush. Karush registered the site on May 8, 2013, a full ten months before the campaign’s official launch date.

Who are these firms and why do they matter? That’s where the fun begins.

Blue Engine Media

According to its website, Blue Engine helps “develop and implement strategic public policy campaign plans for corporations, coalitions, non-profits and national trade associations, particularly when reputation, brand or market position face a threat or opportunity.”

Clients past and present include Citibank, Ford, Delta, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and Obama for President in 2008 and 2012, among others.

The firm was founded by Erik Smith — self-described “recovering political hack & aspiring corporate hack“ — served as senior advisor for advertising and message development for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and former Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Smith also founded and helped coordinate the Common Purpose Project, set up to “discuss White House plans, priorities, and messages with [progressive] groups,” according to Mother Jones’ David Corn. “But some of the outside participants considered the meetings mostly sessions where the administration tossed out talking points and marching orders.”

Common Purpose has received strong criticism from both investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill and founder of FireDogLakeJane Hamsher.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 tax forms show Common Purpose was run out of Blue Media’s office as of 2012 (the phone number listed on its IRS 990 formsmatches the one listed on Blue Engine’s website, as well) and Erik Smith received over $1.3 million between 2009 and 2012 to work on this account.

Other Blue Engine luminaries include:

  • Adam Abrams: The former regional communications director and spokesperson for President Barack Obama, Abrams was also on the communications team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and sat on the communications staff for both the Obama 2008 and John Kerry 2004 presidential campaigns.
  • Amber McDowell and Jacob Sittig: McDowell formerly served as Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the new head of theU.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sittig was Landrieu’s former Deputy Press Secretary.
  • Jessica Borchert: Borchert worked on the Obama 2012 campaign. In that capacity, she did “production of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and [worked] on the ground in Colorado coordinating press operations.”
  • Catherine Lavelle: Lavelle worked on the Obama for President team in 2012 and also was the Media Logistics Manager for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Further, Laura Burton Capps — former Assistant to George Stephanopoulos in the Bill Clinton White House and speechwriter for Clinton — was a Blue Engine principal until 2013. Capps also formerly worked on the staff for the Common Purpose Project and is listed as the principal officer on its 2011 IRS 990 form.

Laura Capps is married to Bill Burton, former Deputy Press Secretary for Obama and co-founder of Priorities USA, a “dark money” Democratic Super-PAC set up to compete with Republican “dark money” Super-PAC Crossroads GPS.

And then there’s Tiffany Edwards, the point person for the “Our Energy Moment” file and where this whole inquiry began.

Before coming to Blue Engine, Edwards served as Deputy Press Secretary at the Department of Energy — the agency with final legal decisionmaking power overLNG export proposals — for the first two years of the Obama Administration. Prior to that, she worked for the 2008 Obama campaign’s press staff in the Chicago headquarters.

Roll Call reported she was hired on February 3, meaning “Our Energy Moment” was likely the first file on her Blue Engine account. Edwards hasn’t responded to questions sent to her via email by DeSmogBlog.

Liberty Concepts

Like Blue Engine, Liberty Concepts maintains tight ties with the Democratic Party and groups with close ties to the party, describing itself as a “full service digital communications agency that specializes in helping create brands and develop online communities around them.”

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State Department Keystone XL Study Done by Oil Industry-Connected Firm with Big Tobacco, Fracking Ties

7:42 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Tobacco

Transcanada and the oil industry are borrowing from the Big Tobacco playbook to spin their bad publicity.

On March 1, the U.S. State Department published its long-awaited Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the TransCanada Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline.

The KXL is slated to bring tar sands crude – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, it will be refined andexported to the global market.

Flying in the face of the slew of scientific studies both on the harms of burning tar sands and on the KXL itself, State determined that laying down the pipeline is environmentally sound.

Unmentioned by State: the study was contracted out to firms with tar sands extraction clientele, as revealed by InsideClimate News.

“EnSys Energy has worked with ExxonMobil, BP and Koch Industries, which own oil sands production facilities and refineries in the Midwest that process heavy Canadian crude oil. Imperial Oil, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, is a subsidiary of Exxon,” InsideClimate News explained. “ICF International works with pipeline and oil companies but doesn’t list specific clients on its website.”

Writing for Grist, Brad Johnson also revealed the name of a third contractor – Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - which TransCanada hired on behalf of the State Department to do the EIS.

“(ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document,” Johnson explained. “The statement estimates, and then dismisses, the pipeline’s massive carbon footprint and other environmental impacts, because, it asserts, the mining and burning of the tar sands is unstoppable.”

ERM, a probe into the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) Tobacco Archives reveals, has deep historical ties to Big Tobacco. Further, a key employee at ICF International – via familial ties – is tied to the future of whether hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale oil and gas becomes a reality in New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale.

TransCanada Utilizes Tobacco Playbook in Hiring ERM Group

ERM Group - headquarted in the City of London - a square mile sub-section of London infamous for its role in serving as a tax shelter for multinational corporations - has aided the tobacco industry in pushing the “Tobacco Playbook.”

Many fossil fuel industry public relations flacks learned the tactics of mass manipulation by reading the “tobacco playbook,” meticulously documented in Naomi Oreskes’ and Erik Conway’s classic book, “Merchants of Doubt.”

Doubt is our product,” a tobacco industry document once laid out the playbook, “since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

ERM has done studies on behalf of both R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, penning a report titled “Fundamentals of Environmental Management” for the latter.

It was also a former member of the American Tort Reform Association, a group that fights to limit the tort law rights of citizens to sue for damages inflicted upon them by corporations and featured in the documentary film, “Hot Coffee.”

ERM: In-Service to Big Oil, like Big Tobacco

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Breaking: NY Assembly Passes Two Year Fracking Moratorium, Senate Expected to Follow

5:17 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

New York Sate Capitol, Albany

In a roll call vote of 95-40, the New York State Assembly has passed a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is procured that’s found within shale rock basins across the country and the world.

The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed off by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would close the state’s doors to the oil and gas industry’s desire to begin operating in New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale basin until May 2015. New York has had a moratorium on the books since 2008.

This is the third time the Assembly has passed such a bill, with similar moratorium bills passing in 2010 and 2011, but then dying a slow death in the Senate and never reaching the Governor’s desk, meaning the de facto moratorium has remained in place.

Could the third time be a charm in 2013 in the Empire State?

Signs point to “quite possibly,” because the bipartisan Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) bloc of the Senate - which shares control of the Senate with the Republicans – has come out in support of the bill’s passage, according to the Associated Press (AP).

“We have to put science first. We have to put the health of New Yorkers first,” Sen. David Carlucci (D-38) and an IDC member told the AP.

Activists see it as a temporary reprieve and a victory for now. Alex Beauchamp of Food and Water Watch told the Albany Times-Union:

Hundreds of New York health professionals agree with the State Assembly that we should not move forward without a full, comprehensive examination of the health impacts of fracking…Moving forward would simply enrich oil and gas companies that want to ship their gas overseas and their profits to Texas at the expense of New York’s public health and environment.

The oil and gas industry, unsurprisingly, is up in arms. New York Petroleum Council Executive Director Karen Moreau told the Times-Union:

Today’s vote by the State Assembly to further delay natural gas development is tantamount to telling the people of the Southern Tier to ‘Drop Dead.’ Once again, Albany politicians are putting politics before science, and the special interests before the people. The people of New York deserve better, to say the least

Given New York’s ability to fend off the industry’s desires to enter the state for going on five years, all eyes in the fracking stratosphere will be on the Senate and Cuomo – a potential 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidate - in the coming days and weeks. Read the rest of this entry →

NY Fracking Decision Delayed by Cuomo, Too Early to Pop Champagne Bottles

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Andrew Cuomo

Fracktivists stand firm while Cuomo waffles.

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration – led by a potential 2016 Democratic Party nominee for president - has announced it won’t achieve the late-Feb. deadline it set on whether or not it would green light shale gas drilling, known by most as “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing).

This announcement fell a day after DeSmogBlog released what “fracktivists” have now dubbed the “New York Fracking Scandal” documents, also housed on NYFrackingScandal.com.

These documents reveal that Cuomo’s chief-of-staff, Larry Schwartz, has thousands of dollars in stock portfolio investments in oil and gas corporations with a financial stake in fracking proceeding in New York, a possible violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest law and potentially a form of insider trading. The documents also detailed that lobbyists from these very same corporations have also had VIP meetings with Cuomo’s top-level aides in the past several months, granted prime access to the Administration to influence-peddle in the run-up to the looming fracking decision.

Yesterday, citing the necessity to “let the science determine the outcome,” NY Department of Health Commisioner (DOH) Nirav Shah wrote that the DOH ”will require additional time to complete based on the complexity of the issues” in a letter to NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner, Joe Martens.

Shah closed his letter by stating, “Whatever the ultimate decision on [fracking] going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.”

Martens offered a brief response, concurring with Shah and writing that ”the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.”

Front-line fracktivists see the Administration’s reprieve as a positive development – at least for now.

“Commissioner Shah is correct that the state needs to take the time to do a comprehensive study of the health effects of fracking to protect the public health,” said Sandra Steingraber, previously interviewed on DeSmogBlog in late-2011 about her latest book, “Raising Elijah.”

“As he notes, no comprehensive studies have been done to date and New York must do so before making a decision about fracking. We are confident that such a review will show that the costs of fracking in terms of public health are unacceptable.”

A recent webinar hosted by one of the outside peer reviewers of the delayed DOH study, though, reveals that the water here is a bit muddier than it appears on the surface.

Concerned Health Professionals of NY: DOH Review Fatally Flawed

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NY Fracking Scandal: 7 Groups Demand Conflict of Interest Investigation of Cuomo Administration

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

New York could soon become the newest state in the union to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the controversial technique used to enable shale oil and gas extraction. The green light from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could transpire in as little as “a couple of weeks,” according to journalist and author Tom Wilber.  

That timeline, of course, assumes things don’t take any crazy twists or turns.

Enter a press conference today in Albany, where seven groups, including Public Citizen, Food and Water WatchFrack Action, United for ActionCatskill Citizens for Safe Energy, and Capital District Against Fracking, called for an Albany County District Attorney General investigation of the Cuomo Administration.

They are asking “whether Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has a conflict of interest between his stock investments and his involvement in the state’s decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.”

Schwartz – dubbed “the ringleader” of Governor Cuomo’s administration – potentially has what these groups describe as a legal conflict-of-interest. A months-long DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Cuomo’s chief-of-staff actually has a direct financial interest in fracking going forward in New York state, potentially falling under the sphere of insider trading.  

Above and beyond Schwartz’s annual oil and gas industry stock holdings in corporations ranging from Occidental Petroleum, Williams Companies, ExxonMobil/XTO, and General Electric (GE) for the past decade, the Cuomo Administration has also held numerous meetings with lobbyists representing some of these same corporations dating back to when Cuomo assumed office in Jan. 2011, records obtained under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) by DeSmogBlog reveal.

Dirty Details: Oil/Gas Industry Stock Holdings, Meetings with Lobbyists from Same Corporations

The details are dirty, both figuratively and literally.

A September 2012 investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) examined Schwartz’s past three financial disclosure forms. That probe revealed that he had stock holdings of $1,000+ each in Occidental, Williams, Exxon/XTO, and GE in both 2010 and 2011, respectively. All four of these corporations possess a financial stake in Cuomo approving fracking in New York.

2009 saw much of the same, a year in which Schwartz had $1,000+ in his stock portfolio invested in GE, Williams, and Burlington Resources (purchasd as a subsidiary by ConocoPhillips in 2005).

DeSmogBlog followed in the footsteps of the EWG investigation by filing both an Executive Chamber FOIL request, as well a FOIL request to Schwartz’s former employer, the Westchester County Executive Office, asking for his financial disclosure forms dating back to 2002.

That latter request revealed that Schwartz has had stock holdings in the oil and gas industry dating back to 2002. At that time he was working as chief-of-staff to then-Westchester County Executive, Andrew J. Spano.

In 2002 and 2003, Schwartz had over $1,000 in stock holdings in Chevron and GE. Until 2001, Texaco – purchased in 2000 as a subsidiary by Chevron – was headquarted in Westchester. The Westchester County Executive Chamber did not possess Schwartz’s forms for 2004 or 2005.

His 2006 filings reveal $1,000 or more in his stock portfolio invested in Burlington Resources, GE, and Williams Companies.

Records obtained from Cuomo’s Executive Chamber also revealed that lobbyists from the very corporations Schwartz has thousands of dollars of stock holdings in have earned the ear of Cuomo in the form of exclusive meetings with his high-level aides.  

One case in point: Both in April 2012 and in Sept. 2012, Williams Companies lobbyists had meetings with Cuomo aides on the status of its proposed Constitution Pipeline, a joint venture between Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and Williams Companies. That 120-mile long, 30-inch prospective pipeline, if approved, will carry gas produced in NY’s section of the Marcellus Shale to markets throughout the northeastern U.S.

The latter meeting was held between two Williams’ lobbyists – Tonio Burgos and John Charlson – and upper level Cuomo aides.

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New Gas Industry Astroturf: Landowner Advocates of NY Buses Activists to Albany Pro-Fracking Rally

6:54 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A pro-fracking rally held on Oct. 15 in Albany, NY was described by about a dozen local media outlets as a gathering of roughly 1,000 grassroots activists from all walks of life.

All came out to add their voice to the conversation regarding the extraction of unconventional gas from the Marcellus Shale basin in New York state. But the marchers weren’t concerned landowners worried about losing their water supplies or property values. Their demand: to lift the current moratorium on fracking, which was prolonged by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30.

One rally attendee, Doug Lee, described the ongoing fracking moratorium as a “communist act” to the Albany Times-Union. Another described anti-fracking activists as “well-funded and organized activists masquerading as environmentalists, who often do not need to make a living in our communities.” Republican Sen. Tom Libous, observed that Hollywood stars Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger weren’t on the scene, telling them to ”Stay in Hollywood. We don’t want you here.”

Unmentioned by any of the news outlets that covered the event was a crucial fact: these weren’t actual “grassroots” activists, but rather astroturf out-of-towners bused in from counties all across the state. Their journey was paid for by the legitimately “well-funded” oil and gas industry, which raked in profits of $1 trillion in the past decade.

According to the Associated Press, the pro-fracking rally and march were organized by a brand new front group called the Landowner Advocates of New York formed in the immediate aftermath of the recent Cuomo decision to stall on opening the fracking floodgates.

The well-known industry front group, Energy in Depth (EID), announced the launch of the Landowner Advocates of New York in an Oct. 3 blog post, mere days after the Cuomo announcement. Lee (the same man who accused Cuomo of partaking in a “communist act” by extending the fracking moratorium) wrote about the rationale behind the group’s genesis – which he is the head of and which he registered the website for – in the EID post announcing the Landowner Advocates’ launch:

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Frackademia: Controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute’s Reputation Unraveling

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Don't Frack NY signs at protest

Photo: CREDO.Fracking / Flickr

A storm is brewing in Buffalo and it’s not the record snow storm typically associated with upstate New York. Rather, it’s taking place in the ivory tower of academia and revolves around hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for unconventional gas in the Marcellus Shale basin.

Public funding has been cut to the tune of over $1.4 billion over the past five years in the State University of New York (SUNY) public university system under the watch of current Democratic Party governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo and his predecessor, David Paterson.

These cuts have created new opportunities for the shale gas industry to fill a funding vacuum, with the SUNY system’s coffers hollowed out and starved for cash.

“It’s a growing problem across academia,” Mark Partridge, a professor of rural-urban policy at the Ohio State University, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Universities are so short of money, professors are under a lot of pressure to raise research funding in any manner possible.”

The oil industry’s eagerness to fill the void for its personal gain can be seen through the case study of what we at DeSmog have coined the ongoing “Shill Gas” study scandal at the State University at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo).

Among other findings, a DeSmog investigation reveals that one of the lesser-known offshoots of the Scaife family foundations, key bankrollers of the climate change denial machine, may potentially soothe SUNY Buffalo’s budget woes with funding for the university-connected Shale Resources and Society Institute.

The Prelude to the Storm

A prelude for what’s now transpiring occurred in Spring 2011, when SUNY Buffalo played host to the Marcellus Shale Lecture Series. Throughout the eight-part series, not a single speaker was a university-based scholar and all speakers but one were employed by some element of the oil and gas industry. The Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) arose out of the series, as Daniel Robison of WBFO in Buffalo wrote in a recent article:

The decision to greenlight SRSI came after SUNY Buffalo hosted the Marcellus Shale Lecture Series in mid-2011…Last fall, enthusiasm stemming from the lecture series grew into informal discussions among the speakers, natural gas industry representatives and members of SUNY Buffalo’s geology department.

On Sept. 21, almost a year and a half after the completion of the Lecture Series, the UB Spectrum revealed the Series was also funded in large part by the gas industry, which gave SUNY Buffalo over $12,900 to host it. $5,000 of that cash came from the coffers of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA).

“If the talk series is not part of the institute – if it’s just an independent talk series – then it is unlike any such series I have ever organized or attended in that it fails to acknowledge the moneys that paid for it,” Jim Holstun, Professor of English at SUNY Buffalo and the Chair of SUNY Buffalo Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, told the UB Spectrum.

Speaking at a gas industry public relations conference thought to be exclusively “among friends” in Houston on Oct 31-Nov. 1, 2011 – the same conference where it was revealed the gas industry is employing psychological warfare tactics on U.S. citizens – S. Dennis Holbrook of IOGA of NY confirmed the SUNY Buffalo relationship. Holbrook stated that it’s crucial for industry to “seek out academic studies and champion with universities—because that again provides tremendous credibility to the overall process.”

Explaining that the gas industry is viewed “very skeptically” by the public, Holbrook said that to gain credibility, IOGA of NY has “aligned with the University at Buffalo (aka SUNY Buffalo)—we’ve done a variety of other activities where we’ve gotten the academics to sponsor programs and bring in people for public sessions to educate them on a variety of different topics.”

Shady SUNY Buffalo Study Opens Backlash Floodgates