Public Accountability Initiative

Wed, 2013-09-18 05:00Steve Horn
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Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking. 

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle. 

Webster's Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study - based on the oddly rosy findings - it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.  

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.  

Tue, 2013-03-05 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Pennsylvania Failing to Sanction Drillers for Fracked Well Failures

For the past several years, the shale gas industry has argued that oversight of fracking is getting tighter and that the amount of methane gas leaking from their wells is less than some have speculated.

In Pennsylvania, however, the opposite is true, according to a white paper delivered to New York state regulators by Cornell engineering professor, Anthony Ingraffea. Inspection data from the state indicate that over 150 Marcellus shale wells in Pennsylvania had severe flaws that have led to sometimes large leaks and yet the operators of those wells were never issued violations by regulators for these breaches of state law.
 
By failing to cite drillers when things go wrong, Pennsylvania environmental regulators have for the past three years obscured the rate at which Marcellus wells leak, creating a falsely optimistic picture. Leaks at dozens of wells were described by state inspectors in their report notes, but violations were never issued.

Thu, 2013-02-07 12:36Guest
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Frackademics: Shale Institute’s Jacobi hired to do seismic study for DEC

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has chosen Robert Jacobi, a University at Buffalo geologist with ties to the natural gas industry, to study the link between fracking and earthquakes, a DEC spokeswoman told Bloomberg’s Jim Esftathiou, Jr. Jacobi, who is a senior advisor to gas driller EQT Production and who runs a geoscience consultancy, was a co-director of the University at Buffalo’s short-lived Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), which was closed in November 2012 following a controversy over an industry-friendly study that downplayed fracking’s risks. “Jacobi has a vast range of experience that makes his expertise useful,” the DEC said in a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg. Jacobi’s experience includes a long career with the fossil fuel industry, to which he still has ties, and recently reviewing the report that led to SRSI’s closure.

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.  

Sun, 2012-10-14 09:06Steve Horn
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Whitewash: SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

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).

Thu, 2012-10-11 22:39Steve Horn
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Frackademia: Controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute's Reputation Unraveling

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.

Fri, 2012-05-25 10:44Steve Horn
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Public Accountability Initiative Produces New Report on SUNY Buffalo's "Shill Gas Study"

The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) has upped the ante on DeSmogBlog's reporting on what we coined a “Shill Gas Study” recently conducted by SUNY Buffalo.

In our critique of the “study” we pointed out the fact that all of the authors and nearly the entire peer review board of the study, other than one person, was or has been connected to the oil and gas industry.

The study, published by the brand new SUNY Buffalo's Shale Resources and Society Institute and titled “Environmental Impacts During Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies,” was also, as we pointed out, based on likely purposefully flawed methodology. We wrote:

The Shale Resources and Society Institute ”study“ concluded that between Jan. 2008-Aug. 2011, ”1,844 of the [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)] violations [by the gas industry], or 62 percent, were administrative and preventative in nature. The remaining 1,144 violations, or 38 percent, were environmental in nature.”

Left out of the study is the fact that, as a May 10 Cleveland Plain Dealer report shows, a majority of wells are not even inspected in the state of Pennslyvania by the DEP. In 2009, the DEP inspected 23% of its wells, 24% in 2010 and 35% in 2011, with 84 hired inspectors to examine what grew to 69,000 wells by 2011 in the state.

Taking our reporting a step further, PAI published a study this week titled, “The UB Shale Play: Distorting the Facts about Fracking,” which offered additional critiques of the methodology of SUNY Buffalo's “study.” PAI explained in a press release:

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