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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 →

Breaking: SUNY Buffalo Shuts “Frackademia” Center, Shale Resources and Society Institute

7:40 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

SUNY Buffalo

Today, SUNY Buffalo closed the doors of its Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), what we at DeSmog have described as an epicenter for “frackademia” and a public relations front for the oil and gas industry to promote hydraulic fracturing (“fracking“) under the guise of scientific legitimacy that a university offers.

A letter from SUNY Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi said that the nail in the coffin for SRSI was what we coined its “shill gas study,” the first paper published by SRSI. All of the co-authors of this paper had direct ties to the oil and gas industry, as did four out of five of its peer reviewers.

Tripathi explained his rationale behind slamming the door shut on SRSI, writing,

The university upholds academic freedom as a core principle of our institutional mission. With that being said, academic freedom carries with it inherent responsibilities…The May 15, 2012 report…led to allegations questioning whether historical financial interests influenced the authors’ conclusions. The fundamental source of controversy revolves around clarity and substantiation of conclusions. Every faculty member has a responsibility to ensure that conclusions in technical reports or papers are unambiguous and supported by the presented data. It is imperative that our faculty members adhere to rigorous standards of academic integrity, intellectual honesty, transparency, and the highest ethical conduct in their work.

Because of these collective concerns, I have decided to close the Shale Resources and Society Institute.

Tripathi’s announcement comes on the heels of the upcoming SUNY Board of Trustees meeting set to take place in Albany, NY on Dec. 3-4.

New Yorkers Against Fracking proclaimed the announcement a “victory for real science over junk science peddled by the gas industry.”

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Report Shows Fracking in PA Poisoning Communities as Floodgates Open for Drilling on Campuses, Public Parks

6:00 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

IMG_1283

(Photo: Marcellus Protest/flickr)

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Pennsylvania recently passed Act 147 – also known as the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act - opening up the floodgates for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on the campuses of its public universities. As noted in a recent post by DeSmog, the shale gas industry hasn’t limited Version 2.0 of “frackademics” to PA’s campuses, but is also fracking close to hundreds of K-12 schools across the country, as well.

We noted the devastating health consequences of fracking close to a middle school/high school in Le Roy, New York, where at least 18 cases of Tourette Syndrome-like outbreaks have been reported by its students. This has moved Erin Brockovich‘s law firm to investigate the case, telling USA Today, “We don’t have all the answers, but we are suspicious. The community asked us to help and this is what we do.”

Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability‘s just-published report, “Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania, makes the case that the decision to allow fracking on PA’s campuses has opened up a Pandora’s Box stuffed with a looming health quagmire of epic proportions.

The health survey and environmental testing conducted by Earthworks took place between Aug. 2011 and July 2012 and the report opens by stating, “Where oil and gas development goes, health problems often follow.” The summary report explains, “Many residents have developed health symptoms that they did not have before—indicating the strong possibility that they are occurring because of gas development.”

Surveying 108 residents in 14 Pennsylvania counties, the report found ”that those living closer to gas facilities reported higher rates of symptoms of impaired health.”

Earthworks reports,

[W]hen facilities were 1500-4000 feet away, 27 percent of participants reported throat irritation; this increased to 63 percent at 501-1500 feet and to 74 percent at less than 500 feet. At the farther distance, 37 percent reported sinus problems; this increased to 53 percent at the middle distance and 70 percent at the shortest distance. For severe headaches, 30 percent reported them at the farther distance, but about 60 percent at the middle and short distances.

And how about the health impacts of fracking for young people, who will be attending the K-12 schools and universities set to be situated right next to where drilling is set to occur?

“Surveyed children averaged 19 health symptoms, including some that seem atypical in the young, such as severe headaches, joint pain, and forgetfulness,” wrote Earthworks. ”Among all the survey respondents, it was children living within 1500 feet of facilities who had the highest occurrence of frequent nosebleeds (56%),” also noting severe throat irritation as a reported ailment by 69-percent of people younger than the age of 16.

Schools and campuses, of course, require fresh running water to drink and use for other purposes such as showers for lockers rooms, as well as water for students to wash their hands with in the bathroom. Fresh air to breath in, as opposed to the alternative, is also always a plus.

That being the case, the water and air tests conducted by Earthworks demonstrate that students, teachers, professors, faculty and staff should be on high alert, to say the least.

“More than half of the water well samples had elevated levels of methane and some had iron, manganese, arsenic, and lead at levels higher than the Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) set by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP),” the report stated. “All of the air samples were taken in rural and residential areas; in several, higher levels of the BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which are known carcinogens) were detected, as compared to samples taken by the DEP in 2010.”

Pennsylvania For Sale, Open for Bidding To the Oil and Gas Industry

It’s a dim outlook in PA to put it mildly, with a recent cherry on the top: Anadarko Petroluem Corporation is in the midst of “talks” with PA’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about fracking in the Rock Run area, site of a state-owned park. Republican Governor Tom Corbett recently fired the Director of its state parks system, John Norbeck, who was diametrically opposed to fracking in PA’s parks.

“Pennsylvania…[is] forging ahead with oil and gas development without considering the public interest,” said Nadia Steinzor, Marcellus Shale Organizer for Earthworks, in a press release. “That needs to change. And they can start by refusing to permit new drilling until regulators can assure the public that they’ve taken all necessary to steps to prevent risks to their health.”

It’s a nice thought in theory.

But the current reality in Pennsylvania under the Corbett Administration is far darker, with whatever’s left of the state’s public assets currently being auctioned off for fracking - in what author and activist Naomi Klein described as “shock doctrine” fashion - to the oil and gas industry’s highest bidders.

Photo CreditGlynnis Jones | Shutterstock