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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

Keystone XL Contractor and SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute Conduct LA County’s Fracking Study

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A huge report was published on Oct. 10 by Los Angeles County that’ll likely open the floodgates for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional oil and gas in the Monterey Shale basin. The report, as it turns out, was done by LA County in name only.

As the Los Angeles Times explained, the study found “no harm from the method” of fracking as it pertains to extracting shale gas and oil from the Inglewood Oil Field, which the Times explains is “the largest urban oil field in the country.”

In the opening paragraphs of his article, Ruben Vives of the Times wrote,

A long-awaited study released Wednesday says the controversial oil extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would not harm the environment if used at the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills area.

The yearlong study included several issues raised by residents living around the field, such as the potential risks for groundwater contamination, air pollution and increased seismic activity.

It’s not until the middle of the story that Vives says the study wasn’t done by LA County itself, but rather what he describes as a “consulting firm that conducted the study” by the name of Cardno Entrix.

Cardno Entrix isn’t any ordinary “consulting firm.”

It’s the third party contractor that conducted the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), ran the public hearings and made the website all on behalf of the Obama State Department’s review process for the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Cardno Entrix, in turn, was hired by TransCanada to do the EIS, a conflict-of-interest blatant enough that it’s yielded an ongoing Office of the Inspector General investigation of State’s entire review process.

Study By and For Gas Industry, Connected to SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute

Though published under the auspices of LA County, the study wasn’t even paid for by the County at all. Rather, as Vives explained in his Times article, the oil and gas industry paid for the entire enchilada:

Plains Exploration and Production Co., the owner and operator of the oil field, paid for the review as part of a settlement agreement with Culver City and environmental and community groups. The report was reviewed by two independent firms selected by the company and Los Angeles County.

Vives never identified the “independent firms” serving as the peer reviewers, but the study itself, which contains the five-page peer review paper, reveals two reviewers: JP Martin Energy Strategy LLC and Peter Muller.

JP Martin Energy Strategy is a consulting firm run by John Martin. Martin also serves as Director of the increasingly controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). He is credited with publishing “the initial research on the natural gas potential of New York’s Utica Shale that helped stimulate significant industry investment in this resource,” according to the biographical sketch on his consulting firm’s website.

Muller formerly served as a Senior Geologist for Alpha Geoscience, where from Jan. 2010-March 2012, he researched “shale gas development issues” including “flowback treatment, stray gas, [and] permitting,” according to his LinkedIn page. He now serves in a consulting capacity for various hydraulic fracturing projects for the shale gas industry.

Miller and Muller closed their five-page peer review paper by writing, “Upon review, we both feel, based on information provided us and our own experience, that the report is adequate, complete and accurate and reflected thoughtful consideration for our comments and suggestions.”

This situation parallels what DeSmog wrote about in our first ever article on the SRSI, as the “peer review” panel for its first ever study had four out of five members on the payroll of the oil and gas industry.

Stars Aligning for Shale Gas Industry’s California Dreamin’

Concerned that the Inglewood study was conducted by and for the shale gas industry, Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote, “we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study’s outcome.” But the recent history of the Keystone XL pipeline review process shows that’s highly unlikely.

The stars, it seems, are aligning quickly in the City of Angels for the oil and gas industry, with “this area…quietly becoming the hottest potential investment in the West,” according to an August 2011 story in San Luis Obispo’s New Times, which reported that the Monterey Shale has upwards of 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

It’s “California Dreamin‘” for the oil and gas industry in the Monterey Shale. Will that mean a “California Nightmare” for everyone else?

Update: In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Paul Ferrazzi, Co-Founder of Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, stated the following:

“Unfortunately, given the Settlement Agreement terms acceptable to all parties involved and the history of the implementation of the agreement by both the County and PXP one could only assume the results would be favorable to the oil operator and industry. We wish we could have some confidence in this study but given the study preparing company’s as well as the peer reviewer’s direct advocacy for the industry we do not feel it was adequately conducted, properly reviewed, or that the public should take comfort in the conclusions of the study.

If anything, this study raises more questions than it answers. The public should be able to ask for clarification and further support for the authors’ contentions. CCSC urges the County to use the study as a starting point for further discussion, and allow public participation and informative responses to test the validity, assumptions and conclusions of the study.”

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 →

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