higher education

Mon, 2013-09-16 12:50Steve Horn
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Frackademia: The People & Money Behind the EDF Methane Emissions Study

Update: UT-Austin has released the Steering Committee roster for the study. It consists of lead author David Allen, two EDF employees, and nine oil industry representatives, including lobbyists and PR staff from ExxonMobil, Shell, Southwestern Energy and more. See DeSmog's follow-up coverage.

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.”

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.  

Thu, 2012-12-06 17:00Steve Horn
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UT-Austin Administration Distances Itself from "Frackademia" Study

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 developement 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 (PAIexplained in a report.

The embarassment 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.  

Fri, 2012-11-23 13:58Steve Horn
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Fracking Your Future: Campus Drilling Extends Far Beyond Pennsylvania

The oil and gas industry plans to perform hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on college campuses in Pennsylvania, just as it currently does in close proximity to K-12 schools nationwide

But as NPR demonstrated in a recent report, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

“More than a dozen schools in states as varied as Texas, Montana, Ohio and West Virginia are already tapping natural resources on college campuses,” the report explains. “The University of Southern Indiana recently started pumping oil.”

Like Pennsylvania - which has seen higher education budget cuts totaling over $460 million since Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took office in 2010 - nearly all of these states have faced massive cuts in their most recent budgets. 

Texas, led by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, saw a $1.7 billion funding cut in its most recent budget cycle. Indiana, led by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, was hit with $150 million in higher education cuts in its most recent budget.

Montana, led by Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer, was handed $14.6 million in higher education cuts in the most recent budget. And West Virginia, led by Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, saw $34 million evaporate from its higher education war chest in its most recent budget cycle.

Mon, 2012-11-19 13:22Steve Horn
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Breaking: SUNY Buffalo Shuts "Frackademia" Center, Shale Resources and Society Institute

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 shortly before 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.” 

Fri, 2012-11-02 15:03Steve Horn
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SUNY Buffalo Faculty, Staff Tell Shale Institute to Go

The battle royale being waged against ”frackademia” at SUNY Buffalo has reached a tipping point.

On Oct. 31, the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research (UB Clear), a consortium of faculty, students, alumni and other community members, issued a letter and accompanying report declaring that it's time for the increasingly controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) to skedaddle. UB Clear concluded the report, requested by the SUNY Board of Trustees and published under the auspices of the office of President Satish K. Tripathi, was a whitewash.

UB Clear explained

Sun, 2012-10-21 06:00Steve Horn
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Fracking in PA Poisoning Communities as Floodgates Open for Drilling on Campuses, Public Parks

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.

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