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The Geopolitics of Energy: An Interview with Steve Horn

9:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from Frack the Media

If there is an up-and-coming investigative journalist to follow, it’s Steve Horn of DeSmog Blog. If you follow any of Frack The Media’s social media, you’ve been exposed to Steve. What draws us to Steve (and others like him) is his attention to detail surrounding the energy issue. It’s a multifaceted, highly complex and propagated geopolitical issue — regular reports often miss these intricacies (as mainstream media outlets tend to gloss over complex topics ). Long story short, we got to pick Steve’s brain and highlight some of the important investigative work he does.

Frack The Media: A lot of your reporting has focused on fracking and tar sands. What draws you to these particular issues?

Steve Horn: I focus on these issues for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the majority of the reporting on these issues by U.S. and Canadian reporters only grazes the surface, treating them as only environmental issues or only as energy issues. That’s not the case.

Given my academic background is in sociology and history and my keen interest in geopolitics, there is far more to these issues than meets the eye at face-value. I use my “sociological imagination,” as C. Wright Mills put it, when doing reporting on these issues. That means being an ecologist and looking at how the local interconnects with the global and looking at energy as not only an environmental issue, but also as a geopolitical issue.

In the case of fracking and tar sands, they’re the two biggest sources of energy that have transformed the U.S. and Canada into the “New Saudi Arabia” for oil and gas, huge players in the geopolitical “great game,” as Zbiginiew Brzezinski once put it. Not only are these important issues because they’re ravaging ecosystems and racing us to climate change catastrophe, but they’re also reshaping geopolitics as we know it.

There will still be wars for oil of course, as it’s a cornerstone of U.S. geopolitical planning. But given tar sands and fracking are both seen as political pawn chips on the “Grand Chessboard” to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market and Saudi/Russian dominance of the global oil market, these issues aren’t going away anytime soon without a hell of a fight by grassroots activists, regardless of the idealism of some well-meaning environmentalists. That means busy times for an investigative journalist and endless stories to tell, an incredible time to be in the business to say the least.

FTM: You’ve reported on the industry influence of academic research on fracking (“frackademia”). Can you explain this issue and it’s significance?

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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 →

“Frackademia” By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

With the school year starting for many this week, it’s another year of academia for professors across the United States — and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law.

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”).

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.”

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding – $100 million per year – between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005′s ”Halliburton Loophole” — which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” — is by far the bill’s most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, almost no focus – comparatively speaking – has gone into scrutinizing Section 999, which subsidizes biased pro-industry studies for a decade and in turn, further legitimizes unfettered fracking nationwide.

Speaking at an industry public relations conference in Houston, TX in 2011 - the same conference in which it was revealed the shale gas industry is using psychological warfare tactics on U.S. citizens and recommending the military’s “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” for “dealing with an insurgency” of Americans concerned about fracking – S. Dennis Holbrook of Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York 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.”

Section 999: In Service to Big Oil

RPSEA’s “FAQ” section makes its raison d’être crystal clear.

“The objective of RPSEA is to leverage research dollars along with the technical expertise and experience of RPSEA Members to conduct industry led research and development work to help commercialize domestic…Unconventional Onshore Hydrocarbon Resources,” RPSEA’s website explains. “RPSEA will focus on innovative technologies to reduce the costs of production, expand and extend the nation’s hydrocarbon resource base…” Read the rest of this entry →

Bogus State Department Keystone XL Climate Study the Basis of David Petraeus’ CUNY Seminar

1:24 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Portrait of David Petraeus

The ongoing adventures of David Petraeus, frackademic.

Former CIA-head David Petraeus’ City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College seminar readings include several prominent Big Oil-funded “frackademia” studies, a recent DeSmogBlog investigation revealed.

Further digging into records obtained via New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) also reveals “a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course” – as stated in an email from Petraeus to an unknown source due to redaction – utilizes the U.S. State Department’s Keystone XL environmental review written by Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group) to argue that Transcanada’s tar sands export pipeline deserves approval.

“[Redacted], atttached is a document that my Harvard researchers and I put together for the seminar I’ll lead at Macaulay Honors College of CUNY,” wrote Petraeus in the email. “It is intended to be a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course…[It] will have considerable value, I think, for the undergrads in the course.”

The “Global Economy” survey was penned on behalf of Petraeus by Vivek Chilukuri, one of Petraeus’ researchers at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Public Policy, where Petraeus sits as a Non-Resident Fellow. Chilukuri serves as Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy, and worked for Obama For America before the 2008 election.

It was at the Harvard Kennedy School where all of Petraeus’ troubles began. His biographer, Paula Broadwell, whom he had an affair with, met Petraeus while a Harvard graduate student, a scandal that ultimately drove him out of the CIA.

His CIA departure landed Petraeus his current gigs on Wall Street at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and as an adjunct professor at CUNY Honors College and University of Southern California - and coming full circle – back at Harvard, where the spool began to unravel.

Petraeus’ seminar survey includes an implied endorsement of industry-written fracking chemical disclosure via President Obama’s industry-stacked Energy Department Fracking Subcommittee, and the mythical “clean coal” – otherwise known as carbon capture and sequestration, as well as a cap-and-trade scheme that would include carbon trading of emissions from dirty coal plants for even dirtier shale gas production.

Petraeus’ Keystone XL Endorsement: No Mention of Men Behind Curtain

A call for the approval of Keystone XL’s northern half – the southern half is almost fully built via a March 2012 Obama Administration Executive Order - appears in the “Proposed Policies, Programs, Practices, Laws & Regulations” portion of Petraeus’ seminar survey. One of the proposed policy prongs: “accelerate domestic energy production consistent with environmental concerns.”

Prong “A” of “energy production consistent with environmental concerns,” according to the syllabus? “Authorize Keystone XL project given State Department’s favorable report,” states the survey.

Key context about the “favorable report” completely lacking from the course survey: it was written by API dues-paying member Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group). Since the June 2008 proposal of Keystone XL, API has spent over $22 million lobbying for it.

ERM Group was chosen by TransCanada to do the report with the blessing of the State Department, and may have committed a federal crime by lying on its conflict-of-interest form when it said it did not have an ongoing business relationship with Transcanada. In fact, ERM has ongoing business ties with Transcanada in Alaska, contrary to what it said on its conflict-of-interest form, and is helping the company’s attempt to recieve approval of its South Central LNG pipeline project.

Beyond its claims that Keystone XL will have negligible environmental impacts, ERM has also given the “environmentally sound” rubberstamp to a Delaware tar sands refinery project, a Caspian Sea-area pipeline project and a Peruvian pipeline project. All of these projects ended up having negative impacts on the environment.

None of this information of “considerable value” will likely be included in Petraeus’ seminar, but ERM’s Keystone XL environmental review for the State Department will be one of the readings on his syllabus.

FracFocus Façade, “Embedded Environmentalists”

Prongs “B” and “C” of the energy portion of Petraeus’ overview of the global economy pertain to the controversial and ecologically toxic hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process for oil and gas embedded deep within shale rock basins.

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Revealed: Gen. David Petraeus’ Course Syllabus Features “Frackademia” Readings

12:32 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Records obtained by DeSmogBlog pertaining to City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College’s hiring of former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus to teach a seminar this coming fall reveal that his syllabus features two of the most well-known “frackademia” studies.

“Frackademia” is shorthand for oil and gas industry-funded research costumed as independent economics or science covering the topic of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the controversial horizontal drilling process via which oil and gas is obtained deep within shale rock basins.

According to the syllabus, Petraeus will devote two weeks to energy alone, naming those weeks “The Energy Revolution I” and “The Energy Revolution II.” The two “frackademia” studies Petraeus will have his students read for his course titled “The Coming North American Decade(s)? are both seminal industry-funded works.

One of them is a study written by industry-funded National Economic Research Associates (NERA) concluding liquified natural gas (LNG) exports are beneficial to the U.S. economy, despite the fact that exporting fracked gas will raise domestic home-heating and manufacturing prices. NERA was founded by “father of deregulation” Alfred E. Kahn. The study Petraeus will have his students read was contracted out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to NERA.

The other, a study written by then-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research professor Ernest Moniz - now the head of the DOE – is titled “The Future of Natural Gas” and also covers LNG exports. DOE oversees the permitting process for LNG exports. That study was funded by the Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for Chesapeake Energy and covered in-depth in the Public Accountability Initiative’s report titled, “Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?

Noticeably absent from the reading list: studies tackling the climate impactsair quality impacts, over-arching ecological impacts such as water contaminationwastewater impacts and supply issues (aka diminishing supply).

Together, the two crucial studies on the syllabus reading list – and the lack of critical readings on the topic of fracking – offers a gimpse into the stamp of legitimacy industry-funded studies get when they have the logo of elite research universities on them. It’s also another portrayal of the ascendancy of the corporate university.

From “Petraeusgate” to “Frackademia”-gate

In the case of Petraeus, the original “Petraeusgate” scandal centered around the $200,000 fee the Honors College planned on paying him for his role as an adjunct professor set to teach one course. A normal CUNY Honors College adjunct receives $3,000 per course.

Recently, Petraeus – who the late Rolling Stone investigative journalist Michael Hastings pejoratively referred to as “King David” in reference to the role he played in implementing counterinsurgency doctrine in U.S.-occupied Iraq – took a pay cut down to $1 to teach the course. That doesn’t include the money he’ll still get from an unidentified “private donor” referred to in other documents.

That scandal sat on top of the scandal that led to his resignation from the CIA in the first place: an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, who at the time of the affair was writing a biography about him titled, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.”

Petraeus Teaches Frackers Counterinsurgency, Psychological Warfare

Petraeus has also taught the shale gas industry some important things, as well.

Namely, Petraeus was one of the co-authors of the “Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual” that Anadarko Petroleum PR hand Matt Carmichael said he has employees read at the “Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011” conference in Houston, TX in 2011.

“Download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual because we are dealing with an insurgency,” said Carmichael at the conference. “There’s a lot of good lessons in there, and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.”

One of the key COIN tactics covered in the Field Manual is psychological operations (PSYOPs), also discussed at the Houston conference by Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

“We have several former PSYOPs folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments,” Pitzarella said to the audience in Houston.

“Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of PSYOPs in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”

As Hastings covered in another Rolling Stone investigation, the U.S. military employed PSYOPs tactics on members of Congress. That’s illegal within U.S. borders under theSmith-Mundt Act of 1948, though it seems rather unlikely the co-author of the COIN Manual – “King David” himself - will cover these details in his course.

Petraeus’ Wall Street Job Description Mirrors His Course Description

Petraus also has a teaching gig at University of Southern California (USC) and a day job working at the Wall Street firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR).

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Frackademia: University of Tennessee Set to Lease Forest For Fracking, Enriching Governor’s Family

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Gov. Bill Haslam

8,600 acres of the Cumberland Forest owned by University of Tennessee-Knoxville will be leased off to the oil and gas industry this August in a new form of “frackademia” – and one of the top financial beneficiaries will be the family of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who sits on UT-Knoxville’s Board of Trustees.

“Frackademia” is usually thought of as “studies” conducted by university-based “frackademic” researchers and funded by Big Oil, the old “Tobacco Playbook” in action. But UT-Knoxville has taken the game to a whole new level, leasing off land it owns so that it can study “best practices” for fracking in the Volunteer State.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a New York Times article on the proposal.

The deal with the oil and gas industry for the acerage includes an initial fee of $300,000, plus $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and aminimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville.

The 8,600 acres sits within the Chattanooga Shale basin, a field still untapped by the industry via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins. Atlas Energy – purchased as a subsidiary by Chevron in Nov. 2010 - owns 105,000 acres in the Chattanooga, a clear example the industry has its cross-hairs on the untapped Chattanooga basin.

UT-Knoxville’s new “leasing agency” program will be run under the auspices of the university’s Institute of Agriculture, officially referred to as the UT Institute of Agriculture Gas and Oil Research Initiative and a pre-bid proposal conference for prospective industry partners is set for June 21. Leases will be five years long, with a maximum allowance of three renewals, or 20 years total.

Fracking could become a major source of revenue for UT-Knoxville during a time of severe budget cuts to the UT System. In 2010, the state government slashed $56 million from the UT-Knoxville budget, following another $75 million in budget cuts in 2009 for the UT System at-large.

And one of the top beneficiaries of the fracking frenzy – overlooked thus far – will be the powerful Haslam family.

Haslam Family: Leveraging UT-Knoxville Ties for Fracking Profits

Gov. Haslam, the former Mayor of Knoxville, took $398,110 from the oil and gas industry before his Nov. 2010 gubernatorial race victory.

The Haslam family is an oil and gas family through and through, standing to profit immensely from a fracking boom in Tennessee and nationwide.

In 2012, the Haslam family – owners of Pilot Flying J truck fueling stations, a corporation where Bill Haslem used to serve as president - purchased Western Petroleum and Maxum Petroleum. Both Western and Maxum are major suppliers of fuel and lubricants for fracking operations. Pilot Flying J is the nation’s No. 1 retailer of diesel fuel and is the 6th most profitable corporation in the U.S., earning over $29 billion in 2012.

Pilot Flying J also has 63 of its stations nationwide retrofitted with natural gas pumpsfor 18-wheelers owned by T. Boone Pickens‘ Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF) as part of CEF’s “America’s Natural Gas Highway.” Some perspective: CEF currently has 67 U.S. fueling stations in total.

By the end of 2013 - an article in EcoWatch explains - Pilot Flying J ”plan[s] to have 100 truck stops capable of fueling 18-wheelers with … natural gas.”

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Ties That Bind: Ernest Moniz, Keystone XL Contractor, American Petroleum Institute and Fracked Gas Exports

9:53 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Ernest J Moniz

Ernest J Moniz, Obama's candidate for Secretary of Energy, has many conflicts of interest due to energy industry ties.

Congress will review the Obama Administration’s nomination of Ernest Moniz for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) in hearings that start today, April 9.

Moniz has come under fire for his outspoken support of nuclear powerhydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas and the overarching “all-of-the-above” energy policy advocated by both President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent in the last election, Mitt Romney.

Watchdogs have also discovered that Moniz has worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He has also received the “frackademic” label for his time spent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At his MIT job, Moniz regularly accepted millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry to sponsor studies under the auspices of The MIT Energy Initiative, which has received over $145 million over its seven-year history from the oil and gas industry.

MIT’s “The Future of Natural Gas” report, covered by many mainstream media outlets without any effort to question who bankrolled it, was funded chiefly by the American Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for the shale gas industry’s number two domestic producer, Chesapeake Energy. That report concluded that gas is a “bridge fuel” for a renewable energy future and said that shale gas exports were in the best economic interests of the United States, which should “not erect barriers to natural gas imports and exports.”

As first revealed on DeSmogBlogMoniz is also on the Board of Directors of ICF International, one of the three corporate consulting firms tasked to perform the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for TransCanada’s Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. KXL is slated to bring tar sands – also known as “diluted bitumen,” or “dilbit” - from Alberta to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market.

Moniz earned over $300,000 in financial compensation in his two years sitting on the Board at ICF, plus whatever money his 10,000+ shares of ICF stock have earned him.

Moniz’s American Petroleum Institute Ties to Shale Gas Export Advocacy

Another controversial oil and gas industry export plan exists for fracking.

Read the rest of this entry →

“Frackademia” Strikes Again at USC with “Powering California” Study Release

7:35 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Frackademia” – shorthand for bogus science, economics and other research results paid for by the oil and gas industry and often conducted by “frackademics” with direct ties to the oil and gas industry – has struck again in California.

It comes in the form of a major University of Southern California (USC) report on the potential economic impacts of a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom in California’sMonterey Shale basin that’s hot off the presses, “Powering California: The Monterey Shale and California’s Economic Future.”

California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown recently gave his cautious support to fracking, the toxic process via which oil and gas embedded deep within shale rock basins made famous by the documentary film “Gasland,” currently a topic of contention in California. The new report gleefully says we could be witnessing 1849 all over again, the second-coming of a “Gold Rush,” a term the co-authors utilize 9 times in the Preface.

The report, co-authored by a Los Angeles-based public relations firm, The Communications Institute (TCI), concludes that “development of the 1,750-square-mile formation in central California could generate half a million new jobs by 2015 and 2.8 million by 2020,” as reported by The Los Angeles Times, which blared the headline, “Tapping California shale oil could add millions of jobs, study says.”

Given California’s population of 37,683,933 people, this would mean 7.4 percent of the state’s citizens can gain employment and economic uplift from the industry. It would also shrink the 20.3-percent unemployment rate in the Golden State down drastically, to 12.9 percent.

“The Monterey shale would help stimulate the California economy to a significant extent,” USC professor and co-author Adam Rose told The Times. “It’s not just a benefit to the oil industry. These impacts ripple throughout the economy.”

While a nice sentiment, the age-old questions quickly arise: who are the authors and who funded this study?

The answers to these questions, a DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed, paints an entirely different picture of the report’s findings and how it came to such rosy conclusions.

Study Funded by Big Oil, Co-Author’s Industry Connections Tell the Story

Off the bat, the report acknowledges financial support – though failing to disclose how much funding - from the Western States Petroleum Asssociation (WSPA). WSPA, “the oldest petroleum industry trade association in the United States,” has a membership list that includes Chevron, ExxonMobil, Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation and Shell, to name several. All of these corporations are actively involved in exploration and prospective production of the Monterey Shale.

Just as importantly, one of the co-authors of the “study” - Fred Aminzadeh - is currently an oil and gas industry employee.

Aminzadeh serves as a Research Professor and Executive Director at USC’s Global Energy Network (GEN) and Executive Director of USC’s Reservoir Monitoring Consortium (RMC) and worked in various technical and management positions at Unocal – purchased by Chevron in 2005 - for 17 years.

GEN, credited as one of the report’s lead conductors, does not list its funders, but given the steep membership fee - ranging between $25,000-$500,000 per year - one can safely guess that at least some of its funding comes from the deep pockets of the oil and gas industry. In fact, BP America, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Anadarko and General Electric all have members sitting on GEN’s Advisory Board.

GEN, according to its website, pays The Communications Institute to do PR work on its behalf, and TCI registered the website the report was originally set to be published on, poweringcalifornia.org. In essence, this piece of the puzzle serves as Exhibit A of this study serving moreso as industry PR salesmanship than as legitimate scholarship.

RMC also does not list its funders, but its personnel, like GEN, are also directly tied to the oil and gas industry. All three members of its Technical Advisory Board have industry jobs. Andrei Popa works for Chevron; Kurt Strack is the President of KMS Technologies, an oil services corporation whose clients include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Saudi Aramco; and Wang Shangxu is a professor at the China University of Petroleum.

Prior to coming to USC and after his Unocal stint, Aminzadeh was the CEO of dGB Earth Sciences USA, self-described as a firm that offers ”innovative seismic interpretation solutions to the oil and gas industry.”

Though he conveniently leaves it out of the biography he included in the report, Aminzadeh, alongside the paycheck he earns at USC, also serves as Founderand President of FACT-Corp. FACT is a global oil and gas industry consultancy firm whose technology partners include dGB Earth Sciences, where he used to be the CEO, as well as clients such as Chevron, BP, Saudi Aramco and Eni.

Aminzadeh is also Chairman of the Advisory Board of both Western Standard Energy Corp. and is also on the Advisory Board of Saratoga Resources and formely served on the DOE Unconventional Resources Technology Advisory Committee from 2007-2008, right as the fracking boom was beginning in the U.S.

The latter committee was created under the dictates of the Energy Policy Act of 2005in Sec. 999, which calls for the DOE to work with oil and gas industry stakeholders to “carry out a program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of technologies for…onshore unconventional natural gas.”

John Martin – former head of the now-shuttered SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), peer reviewer of the Inglewood Oil Field environmental impact assessment (done by the same contractor the Obama State Department used for the first TransCanada Keystone XL environmental review, Cardno Entrix) that concluded fracking in Los Angeles would have no negative ecological impacts, and head of his oil and gas consultancy firm JP Martin Energy Strategy - currently serves on the DOE Unconventional Resources Technology Advisory Committee.

Outside Reviewers Tied to Big Oil

The non-peer-reviewed “study” wasn’t published in an academic journal, but rather was published “in association with” TCI – a PR firm - on its website. Though not peer-reviewed in accordance to conventional legitimate academic standards, the co-authors did thank three people for “taking the time to review this study.”

Two of those three people, it turns out, also have direct ties to the oil and gas industry.

One of them is Harvard’s Henry Lee. His CV details his past work as a consultant for General Electric, Gulf Oil and Texaco, the latter of which Chevron purchased as a wholly-owned subsidiary in 2002.

The other: Hillard Huntington, Executive Director of Stanford’s Energy Modeling Forum (EMF), is one of 200 members of the National Petroleum Council (NPC). The NPC is a federally-chartered, corporate-funded advisory committee started by President Harry Truman in 1946, now overseen by the DOE under the dictates of the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972. Its purpose is “to advise, inform and make recommendations to the [DOE] with respect to any matter relating to oil and natural gas, or to the oil and gas industries.”

NPC’s membership includes former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, Chevron CEO John Watson, ExxonMobil former CEO Lee Raymond and current CEO Rex Tillerson, former Shell North America CEO John Hoffmeister, and TransCanada (of contentious Keystone XL fame) CEO Russ Girling, among many others.

Huntington’s EMF is funded by the oil and gas industry as well, with partners including the likes of Saudi Aramco, American Petroleum Institute, BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil and others.

Public Relations and Advocacy Costumed as Scholarship

USC’s report is now the second case of “frackademia” in the state of California in the past half-year and another example of the oil and gas industry’s public relations strategy espoused at the Nov. 2011 “Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative” conference held in Houston, TX.

At that same Houston conference in which Range Resources PR flack Matt Pitzarella admitted his company utilizes psychogical warfare personnel and techniques in the communities in which Range operates, New York Independent Oil and Gas Association’s S. Dennis 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” because the gas industry is viewed “very skeptically” by the public.

SUNY Buffalo came under fire in the second half of 2012 for partaking in the industry’s shady PR game made public at that Houston conference, ending its SRSI after months of outside agitation from critics. With time we’ll see if the same endgame is in-store at USC.

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

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 →