frackademia (fræk・ə・di・mi・ə)

n. The complex of oil-and-gas-allied academics, think tanks, consulting firms, and public relations shops producing misleading and flawed research to win public and political support for hydraulic fracturing.

Beginning in 2012, PAI has compiled and released a large quantity of research on the phenomenon now known as “frackademia,” by which the oil and gas industry and its allies have funded and advanced research promoting fracking as environmentally safe and economically beneficial.

This guide is intended to serve as a resource for anyone – journalists, policymakers, activists, and members of the public – seeking additional context on these studies and their industry ties, context that is often missing from press releases and reporting. Below are links to a database of frackademic research with information about the industry ties of more than 100 studies, in-depth reports examining individual studies, professional profiles of prominent authors and their academic institutions, and outside reporting on the phenomenon. You will also find maps of some of the networks behind this research that were created with LittleSis, PAI’s power research tool for documenting and visualizing networks of influence.

Recent Frackademia News

April 7, 2016
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management cites industry-tied studies to justify offshore drilling plan

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management relied on reports funded by the oil and gas industry or by think tanks, consulting firms, and dark money advocacy groups that draw money and leadership from the industry to justify its controversial proposal to offer leases for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico.

Of the nine studies named in the studies named in the economic analysis portion of BOEM’s proposal, eight came from industry-tied sources, four were directly funded by oil and gas companies or lobbying groups, and none had been subject to peer review. One study referenced by BOEM had been prepared by an industry-tied economist for a secretive front group led by Richard Berman, a notorious astroturf lobbyist.

Click here to read “Offshore Shilling,” PAI’s report on the drilling proposal

January 12, 2016
Industry-tied DOE study endorses LNG exports without consideration for climate change

A study published in October 2015, commissioned by the US Department of Energy and conducted by Rice University’s James A Baker III Institute of Public Policy and a consulting firm called Oxford Economics, predicted that exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) permitted by the Obama administration would result in lower natural gas prices in Asia with marginally higher prices in the United States. The economic harm of these higher prices would be offset by the benefit of increased gas drilling and higher profits for oil and gas companies, according to the analysis. The report did not examine the economic effects of climate change driven by increased natural gas drilling and burning.

PAI examined the oil and gas industry ties of Oxford Economics and the Baker Institute in a December 30 blog post on LittleSis News. These ties were discussed in greater depth in a post by Itai Vardi at DeSmogBlog.

Briefly, the Baker Institute has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil and gas companies, including BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and – relevant to their discussion of LNG exports – Cheniere Energy, the first company to receive a permit to export LNG from the lower 48 states. Further, the Institute’s director is a former director of Occidental Petroleum and Baker Hughes.

Click here to read the LittleSis News post on the DOE study

Click here to read the full DeSmogBlog article

December 10, 2015
Scientists at Penn State, Princeton offer to write pro-fossil fuel studies while hiding funding

Posing as consultants for a coal company and an oil and gas company, Greenpeace investigators contacted academics at Pennsylvania State University and Princeton about commissioning industry-friendly research to be published without disclosing the funding source.

Frank Clemente, a former professor at Penn State, offered to write an 8-10 page report “counter[ing] damaging studies on Indonesian coal deaths” for $15,000. Clemente told Greenpeace that there was no requirement to disclose their funding and brought the undercover researchers’ attention to testimony he gave opposing the closure of coal plants, saying: “Note that in none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar.”

William Happer, an emeritus professor of physics at Princeton, offered to write a report touting the benefits of carbon dioxide emissions for Greenpeace investigators posing as advisors to a Middle Eastern oil and gas company. Happer asked that his fee be paid to a nonprofit, the CO2 Coalition, on whose board he serves. He put the researcher in touch with a staffer at the Donors Trust, an organization called the “dark money ATM” of the right, that anonymizes donations for donors who do not want to be linked to their contributions.

Click here to read Greenpeace’s full investigation

Coverage from the Guardian

Coverage from the Intercept

December 9, 2015
Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy funded by ExxonMobil

The Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, an organization that has produced research beneficial to the oil and gas industry, headed by a former climate change advisor to President Obama received funding from ExxonMobil, the supermajor oil producer under investigation for covering up what it knew about climate change as far back as the 1970s while funding climate denial organizations.

DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn reports that the CGEP received $25,000 in funding from ExxonMobil in 2014. The oil company has recently exchanged heated letters with the Columbia School of Journalism over a series of stories by students that appeared in the L.A. Times that led to the current scandal.

Click here to read DeSmogBlog’s full story

Frackademia Syllabus

A database of industry-tied studies promoting fracking

This interactive table links to over 100 studies and briefly describes the type and degree of their ties to the oil and gas industry.

Expanding each entry will reveal details about the authors of each study on the list, notes on the study’s industry ties, other notes about the study or its authors, and links to either PAI or outside reporting on the study’s ties. You can also filter the table by Strength of Industry Ties, Type of Industry Ties, Peer Review, and Topic or search for terms in any field.

If there is a study that you feel is missing from our database, please contact us at [email protected].

Frackademia Topics

Frackademic studies tend to focus either on the economic benefits associated with fracking or the relative environmental safety of the practice. Fracking is promoted as a pathway to increased employment and GDP as well as a bridge away from coal and toward renewable power sources. Concerns about the environmental impacts from fracking are diminished as flukes that can be disposed of through best industry practices and misleadingly divorced from “fracking itself.”


  • Employment benefits
  • Perhaps the most commonly referenced benefit from fracking is the promise of jobs, both in the drilling industry itself and in other industries due to the increase in economic activity spurred by oil and gas development. As the fracking boom took off in earnest in the mid- to late-2000s, communities that had been hit hard by the global financial crisis and, in Appalachia, by the decline of the US steel industry, were promised thousands of well paying jobs from fracking by the oil and gas industry, which pointed to numerous economic impact studies as evidence.

    Particularly influential in the early days of the fracking debate was a study published in 2009 by Pennsylvania State University that claimed that, unimpeded, fracking would bring 175,000 jobs to Pennsylvania by the year 2020. The study, funded by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based oil and gas lobbying group, also argued that adopting a severance tax on oil and gas would doom the nascent industry. This report became the center of the first major frackademia scandal when an environmental group revealed that author Timothy Considine had failed to disclose he was funded by the industry lobby (more on this in the section on scandals below). Still, the Penn State report was widely cited, both in Pennsylvania and in other communities debating whether to permit and how tightly to regulate fracking. For example, the study was referenced in a report commissioned by the government of Broome County, New York, a report funded by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and a 2013 study contracted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

    Other industry-tied economic impact reports have employed the Penn State study’s methodology, generating unrealistically optimistic predictions of economic benefits using a modeling program called IMPLAN. Using IMPLAN to reliably estimate economic impacts has been criticized, both generally and with respect to fracking studies in particular, for being easily manipulated by users to arrive at their desired outcome. For example, while the 2011 update of the Penn State study estimated employment in and spurred by the oil and gas industry at nearly 140,000 jobs rising to 256,000 jobs by 2020, the state of Pennsylvania’s current estimate (also derived using IMPLAN) is 90,000 jobs related to drilling.

  • Expanding US oil & gas exports
  • In the wake of natural gas and oil price crashes spurred by the increased production attributable to fracking, many frackademic studies have concentrated on expanding US exports of oil and gas. Industry-tied reports have concluded that expanding exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is in the United States’ economic and security interest, claiming that approval of more LNG exports will, counterintuitively, reduce the cost of natural gas for US consumers as well as improve global security by diversifying the energy supply and making it more resilient to disruption. Other studies have made similar arguments about lifting the ban on crude oil exports, making assertions that exporting crude oil again will reduce US gasoline prices, raise the country’s GDP, and create thousands of jobs.

    Perhaps the most influential study advocating expanded exports was the MIT Energy Initiative’s 2011 report “The Future of Natural Gas.” Funded by a variety of oil and gas interests, including a front group created by Chesapeake Energy to cloak natural gas advocacy in environmentalism, and led by future Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, “The Future of Natural Gas” touted natural gas’s purported climate benefits and described environmental impacts as “challenging but manageable” in addition to promoting the expansion of LNG exports.

    Read PAI’s full investigation into “The Future of Natural Gas” here.

    Claims that pushing more US LNG into the global market will reduce natural gas prices in the US are not generally endorsed, even by many industry-funded studies, and hypotheses about benefits to global security remain untested; however, the push for heightened LNG exports was largely successful. Since 2011, several proposed LNG export terminals have been approved by federal regulatory agencies, with five currently under construction as of July 2015.

    Despite similarly untested hypotheses and a lack of consensus, even among traditional industry allies, about what benefit would materialize from lifting the crude oil export ban, industry messaging around the issue has taken a strong foothold. The Government Accountability Office issued a report, based on industry studies, advocating an end to the ban in November 2014, and in August 2015 the Washington Post ran an editorial calling for crude oil exports.

    Uncontested in the discussion over LNG and crude oil exports is that an increase in both would be beneficial to the fracking industry, allowing companies to bring more fuels to the market and, in the case of LNG, obtain a higher price. Both will also lead to increased drilling and consumption, indeed increased drilling and consumption is the point, along with which comes an attendant increase in environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions and toxic spills.


  • Water contamination
  • The most iconic image associated with fracking criticism has been the flaming water faucets of Dimock, Pennsylvania made famous by the documentary Gasland. Since then, the oil and gas industry and its allies have exerted an extraordinary amount of effort to refute claims that fracking operations have contaminated water supplies.

    Industry claims that fracking has not contaminated groundwater tend to turn on interpreting the word “fracking” as referring only to the stage in oil and gas drilling where fluid is pumped into wells to break apart the shale underground as opposed to the more common usage referring to the entire oil and gas production process. Focusing on only this one step in the process, frackademics have repeatedly issued versions of the claim that “there is no conclusive evidence that fracking has contaminated groundwater.” News media tended to follow the cues of study press releases, prominently featuring the conclusion that fracking has not contaminated groundwater and attributing instances of pollution to faulty well casing or surface spills. These carefully parsed conclusions carry the implication that, contrary to environmental activists’ claims, fracking is safe and mistakes like flawed well casings and chemical spills are anomalies rather than an unavoidable reality of drilling.

    The paradigmatic example of the “fracking itself” claim in action is a 2012 University of Texas at Austin report called “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Drilling.” The report, a 400-page collection of white papers examining public perception of fracking, its representation in the media, current state-level regulations, and environmental impacts, was released with the headline “New Study Shows No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing.” This was repeated in the mainstream media for months until PAI revealed that the study was not even a complete draft when released and that its principal investigator had failed to declare that he was a paid board member of a fracking company.

    Read PAI’s full investigation into “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Drilling” here

    There have been numerous instances of water pollution attributable to fracking operations. Faulty well casings have led to methane contamination in water supplies (the cause of Gasland‘s famous burning taps) as well as contamination from toxic fracking fluid, and blowouts and chemical spills at drilling sites have poisoned streams and wells. Fracking waste has also contaminated water supplies through intentional illegal dumping.

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • The promise of reduced carbon dioxide emissions from replacing natural gas for coal as an energy source is another selling point used to pitch fracking. Natural gas, it is argued, emits far less carbon dioxide than coal when burned for power generation, and for this expanding gas drilling and consumption is an important component in the fight against climate change. Natural gas was billed as a “bridge fuel” that could be burned more safely than coal during the time it takes for renewable energy sources to build market share. The gas driller Chesapeake Energy, then under the leadership of former Chairman and CEO Aubrey McClendon, even established a non-profit organization, the American Clean Skies Foundation, to promote natural gas from this angle.

    The purported climate benefits of natural gas won buy-in from many policymakers and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, which both endorsed the “bridge fuel” concept at the beginning of the fracking boom. However, the Sierra Club changed positions on fracking when it was revealed that the group had taken $25 million in donations from McClendon for its “Beyond Coal” campaign.

    In 2011, Cornell University researchers Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea published a study in the journal Climatic Change that concluded that, while burning natural gas produced less carbon dioxide emissions than burning coal, the entire greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater than coal’s due to the greater potency of natural gas, i.e. methane, as a contributor to the greenhouse effect. This study was widely derided by fracking proponents at first. The researchers were attacked by pro-fracking blogs and then-MIT Energy Initiative Director and current Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz appended a rebuttal of the Cornell study to the MITEI report “The Future of Natural Gas.”

    A growing body of evidence, however, supports Howarth, Santoro, and Ingraffea’s conclusion. The Environmental Defense Fund, which receives significant funding from people with ties to the oil and gas industry, began sponsoring research into methane emissions from the oil and natural gas supply chain. The 16-study series has not been completed, though several studies that have been published have found that methane emissions from the natural gas industry exceed industry and Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Another study suggests that the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions the US has experienced since the fracking boom began is not due to the increased use of natural gas, but rather to reduced consumption caused by the global recession. A further study found that the use of natural gas as fuel for large trucks, also promoted as a climate change strategy, will not produce the large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions predicted.

Frackademia Mapped

Ties between researchers and the oil and gas industry diagrammed using Oligrapher

Frackademia Research

PAI has issued several reports and published numerous blog posts highlighting industry ties, methodological shortcomings, and misleading conclusions of a number of high-profile frackademic studies and profiling the compromised researchers behind them.

PAI Reports
The UB Shale Play
An analysis of a study released by the University at Buffalo’s short-lived Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) that erroneously concluded that major environmental impacts from fracking were on the decline in Pennsylvania. The study was incorrectly identified as peer-reviewed when it was first released, a claim that the university walked back. SRSI was shuttered shortly after the report’s release amid an inquiry by the SUNY board of trustees into the circumstances surrounding its founding and funding.

Contaminated Inquiry
A 2012 report from the University at Texas Energy Institute presented at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference provided seemingly independent support for the misleading claim that “fracking itself” has not caused any cases of water contamination – downplaying instances of pollution due to deficiencies in well cementing and in other necessary steps in unconventional oil and gas drilling. PAI’s investigation revealed the study’s principal investigator had failed to disclose his seat on the board of a fracking company, which led the university to convene an independent panel to review the study. UT retracted the study when the panel concluded that it “fell short of contemporary standards for scientific work.” The principal investigator then retired and the Energy Institute’s director resigned.

Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?
PAI examined a study, led by current Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative. That study characterized the environmental impacts from fracking as “challenging but manageable” and called for the approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to advance the United States’ economic and geopolitical interests. We found that the study was funded by a front group, the American Clean Skies Foundation, created by the gas driller Chesapeake Energy, and was led by an advisory group stacked with industry representatives.

Frackademia in Depth
An in-depth analysis of a set of nearly 150 studies provided by the industry lobby Energy in Depth to policymakers considering leasing public lands for fracking. The majority of studies compiled by EID – 76% – had some degree of industry connection, and only 14% were peer-reviewed. EID also included several discredited and retracted studies among those presented to legislators as supporting fracking.

Select shorter PAI reporting
“Frackademics: Timothy Considine – Analyst or Advocate?”
“Frackademics: The Ohio Shale Coalition Team”
“Penn State faculty refuse to co-author frackademic report”
“Frackademics: Shale Institute’s Jacobi hired to do seismic study for DEC”
“Petraeus joins pro-fracking choir at Harvard’s Belfer Center”
Los Angeles Times interviews fracking expert, fails to disclose industry ties”

General outside resources
DeSmog’s frackademia reporting
SourceWatch’s frackademia page
Food & Water Watch’s frackademia fact sheet
Retraction Watch notices of retracted and corrected fracking studies

Select outside reporting
“Frackers Fund University Research That Proves Their Case”, Bloomberg (July 23, 2012)
“Natural Gas Fracking Industry May Be Paying Off Scientists”, Wired (July 30, 2012)
“A Deeper Look at Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest in ‘Frackademia’”, New York Times (August 1, 2012)
“‘Frackademia’: how Big Gas bought research on hydraulic fracturing”, The Guardian (January 9, 2013)
“Frackademics in UK pushing industry spin”, Extreme Energy Action Network (April 10, 2013)
“Shell funds shale gas research at Oxford University”, Extreme Energy Initiative (May 9, 2013)
“‘Frackademia’ By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed”, DeSmogBlog (September 3, 2013)
“‘Frackademia’: Climate Science for Sale, KCET (November 18, 2013)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

PAI statement on Energy in Depth’s response to “Frackademia in Depth”

For the amount of money the oil and gas industry pays FTI Consulting to run its Energy in Depth campaign, the quality of work it gets in return is remarkably poor.

PAI’s latest report, released last week, examined a list of research compiled and disseminated by Energy in Depth to support the industry’s claim that there is a settled scientific consensus on the safety and benefit of hydraulic fracturing. We reported how the industry’s case for fracking, as managed by EID, was marred by conflicts of interest and a lack of peer-reviewed research. We also found that the list of research that EID produced for its clients, and which was used by the industry to influence policymakers, was sloppily composed, listing several studies multiple times and relying on studies that had been discredited and retracted by the institutions that issued them.

That shoddy workmanship has carried forward to EID’s response to our report. In their response, EID claims that PAI singled out “only four studies that EID has used in the past,” bizarrely criticizes PAI for scrutinizing a study led by current Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and accuses PAI of “trying to instill doubt about scientific concepts” rather than “exposing real conflicts of interest.” EID did not provide its readers a link to “Frackademia in Depth,” and was either unwilling or unable to address any of the actual findings in the report, which we stand by.

Regarding EID’s first claim, in preparing our report we examined over 130 documents that EID included in its list “Hydraulic Fracturing: Tightly Regulated, Extensively Studied,” not four. What EID calls our “blanket statement” about most of their studies being industry tied is our finding that 104 of the studies EID listed had oil and gas industry connections. We documented those connections and released a data table along with our report with detailed notes on the type and extent of the industry ties in every study where they were found. That table is available here:

EID’s assertion that “PAI suggests that conclusions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, the National Academy of Sciences, and even the president himself are all incorrect because they have some sort of ‘industry’ connection” is harder to make sense of because it is patently false. PAI reported no oil and gas industry ties among the reports we reviewed from the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the DOE, or from the National Research Council, which was pointed out by EnergyWire’s Pamela King in her coverage of our report. We did profile a study from EID’s list that was led by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz before his appointment to that post. That study, funded by the oil and gas front group American Clean Skies Foundation and released by the oil and gas-funded MIT Energy Initiative, had enough industry conflicts of interest that we devoted an entire report to it in 2013. To imply, as EID does, that conflicts of interest are not worth considering if they occur at the highest levels of government demonstrates a shallow comprehension of the concept, indeed.

Finally, Energy in Depth accuses PAI of “trying to instill doubt about scientific concepts” rather than “exposing real conflicts of interest.” It is a bold claim for EID to make considering its response spends more than 300 words attempting to convince readers to ignore the conflicts of interest that PAI reported. In saying that PAI is trying to instill doubt about scientific concepts, EID seems to be standing by the content of its research list as scientific, even those studies which could not be called such by the most charitable of spin doctors. PAI has been covering this issue for nearly three years and has uncovered far more than the peer review issues EID uses to frame its attempted smear. It is the height of arrogance (or perhaps of sloppy, inattentive work) for EID to repeatedly ignore the gross conflicts that have compromised the research they peddle as science and then accuse PAI of not doing enough to expose conflicts of interest.

Click here to read “Frackademia in Depth: An analysis of the oil and gas industry’s case for fracking”

Click here to view the data table detailing the industry ties and peer review among EID’s studies

Posted in blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conflicts of interest in new fracking emissions study

A new study of the methane emissions associated with hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking, is being published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study claims that methane emissions associated with fracking are 0.42% of gross gas production. Other studies have previously contended that leakage rates are much higher, and therefore destructive from a climate perspective.

While a full review of the methodology and results of the latest study is in order, a preliminary look at the key players involved suggests an improper degree of industry influence and an insufficient level of conflict of interest disclosure.

Most significantly, at least one author of the study has a significant conflict of interest that went undisclosed in the article. The authors of the study declared no conflicts of interest, according to the article, but one author, Jennifer Miskimins, is currently the employee of a petroleum engineering firm, Barree & Associates, and has been since 2012. The firm offers a range of consulting services related to fracking. The paper lists her affiliation as Colorado School of Mines. The lack of disclosure is a red flag that suggests that the authors of the study did not adhere to PNAS’s conflict of interest policy, and that other authors may have consulting arrangements and other industry connections that should have been disclosed in the article. According to PNAS’s conflict of interest policy, the journal may publish an erratum or restrict authors from publishing in the journal for a period of time if they are found to be in violation of the conflict of interest policy.

Beyond authorship, the industry sponsorship of the study raises conflict of interest questions, as well. While the sponsors are disclosed in the body of the article, no information is offered about how conflicts of interest were managed to assure the independence of the research. The involvement of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), is also cause for concern, given its role in endorsing flawed pro-fracking studies from the University at Buffalo and the University at Texas. Sponsors of EDF’s methane emissions work also have industry ties and deserve critical scrutiny.

This article offers preliminary information about each of these issues.

I. Undisclosed Conflict of Interest & Possible Violation of PNAS Policy

a. Authors & Industry Ties

The PNAS article states that “The authors declare no conflict of interest,” but at least one author appears to have a significant financial conflict of interest: Jennifer Miskimins is currently a senior consulting engineer at Barree & Associates, a petroleum engineering firm which offers “consulting services for companies worldwide, specializing in stimulation and well performance optimization.” The firm offers fracturing related services, including “performance optimization,” “horizontal well stimulation design,” and “fluid and proppant selection.”

Miskimins joined the firm in 2012, prior to the completion and submission of the study, but her affiliation is listed only as “Department of Petroleum Engineering, Colorado School of Mines” in PNAS. According to LinkedIn, her associate professorship at the school was not current as of 2012.

At the Colorado School of Mines, Miskimins was the director of the Fracturing Acidizing Stimulation Technology (FAST) Consortium from 2004 until joining Barree & Associates. (Miskimins still has a Colorado School of Mines website that lists her as the FAST Consortium director). The FAST Consortium is a joint industry and university research center focused on oil and gas well stimulation. Membership in the consortium costs $15,000 plus an unspecified initial buy-in, according to Miskimins’s bio, for which companies receive “access to all FAST Consortium project results through annual meetings and executive style reports.” Member companies come from all oil and gas industry sectors and include Anadarko Petrolum, BG Group, Barree & Associates, Encana Oil & Gas, and Shell.

Other authors also have industry ties, though Miskimins’ industry connection is the most significant on its face. According to University of Texas conflict of interest disclosure forms which PAI obtained through a freedom of information request, lead author David T. Allen reports some industry compensation, including travel sponsored by ExxonMobil, apparently to advise it on its “corporate strategic research” program. ExxonMobil’s fracking subsidiary XTO Energy is a sponsor of the study.

Two study authors, Matthew Harrison and Al Hendler, work as project managers for URS Corporation, a service provider to the oil and gas industry. In 2012, URS acquired Flint Energy Services, an oil and gas construction firm. On its website URS identifies itself as “a leading provider of of design, construction and production services across the upstream, midstream and downstream supply chain,” with expertise in conventional and unconventional plays, including shales and oil sands, as well as “established long-term relationships with some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies.” Hendler is a specialist in air quality monitoring and data analysis and Harrison is a senior greenhouse gas project manager according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Another study author, A. Daniel Hill, is chair of the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M. His online profile lists a number of fracking-related “research and consulting” activities, but it does not say whether he is consulting for any industry entities. His profile also states that he holds five patents for various “oil recovery and well injection processes.”

b. PNAS Conflict of Interest Policy

The failure to disclose Miskimins’ conflict of interest and other industry ties may constitute a violation of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conflict of interest policy. The policy states:

Authors are required during submission of their manuscripts to complete the online declaration form and to disclose any conflict of interest. The corresponding author must ensure that all authors have been asked to disclose any conflicts of interest.

PNAS’s definition of a potential conflict is broad, including everything from honoraria to personal friendships and public associations, and would appear to cover many of the relationships detailed above:

Divulging a potential conflict usually does not invalidate the research or the comments of a referee or editor; it simply provides the reader information necessary to independently assess the work. A conflict of interest includes a financial association or relationship that could influence the objectivity, integrity, or interpretation of a publication. Such conflicts of interest include relationships with corporations whose products or services are related to the subject matter of the article. These relations include employment, substantive ownership of stock, membership on a standing advisory council or committee, service on the board of directors, or public association with the company or its products. Other areas of conflict of interest could include receiving consulting fees, patent filings, serving as a paid spokesperson, or providing services in exchange for honoraria. Other examples of possible conflicts include a close personal friendship, past or present association as thesis advisor or thesis student, or a family relationship.

According to the policy, when conflicts of interest are disclosed, a footnote is added to the published article:

When a conflict of interest is disclosed either by the author or editor, a footnote describing the conflict will be included with the published article.

The conflict of interest policy also outlines sanctions for authors who fail to comply:

PNAS reserves the right to publish an erratum disclosing conflict(s) of interest related to a previously published paper. Authors, referees, or editors who have deliberately or recklessly failed to disclose conflicts of interest may receive sanctions, including being banned from publishing in PNAS for a period of time.

It seems that the disclosure of Miskimins’ consulting work would be required by PNAS’s policy, and that other relationships may have warranted disclosure, as well. The circumstances may require the publication of erratum or sanctions on the authors of this study.

II. Environmental Defense Fund

a. Role in “Frackademia”

EDF has played a significant role in two scandals, at the University of Texas and the State University of New York at Buffalo, wherein public universities lent their names to scholarship of questionable merit that downplayed the environmental impacts from fracking, while failing to disclose conflicts of interest. In both cases, EDF acted as a reviewer, offering its environmentalist brand to the seriously flawed reports.

At the University of Texas, the school’s Energy Institute published a report in February 2012 that made the claim that fracking posed no threat to groundwater. The Energy Institute claimed the study was peer-reviewed, and it was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Later that year it was revealed that the report’s study of fracking’s environmental impacts was still in draft form, not meant for public release. Moreover, the study’s prinicipal investigator had failed to disclose, both to the school at to the public, that he was on the board of directors of Plains Exploration & Production, a natural gas company. When these issues were made public, UT convened a panel that, after reviewing the study for impropriety, slammed it for its poor scholarship and conflicts of interest. UT retracted the study in December 2012, the director of the energy institute resigned, and the study’s principal investigator retired.

In March of 2012, the Shale Resources and Society Institute at the State University of New York at Buffalo published a study that claimed fracking was becoming safer thanks to increased regulation and improved gas industry practices. This claim was not supported by the researchers data, which actually showed that the rate of environmental impacts attributable to fracking in Pennsylvania had increased in the period studied. After SUNY trustees opened an investigation, UB closed the Shale Resources and Society Institute in November 2012.

Both of these studies were reviewed by Scott Anderson, EDF’s “point person on policies related to natural gas development.” In Texas, Anderson “helped the University of Texas at Austin define its scope of work and reviewed drafts during the course of the project,” and at Buffalo he reviewed the report, though noted in a blog post that “this does not mean that all of [his] suggestions were taken or that [he] agree[d] with all of the report’s findings or conclusions.” Regardless, it seems that in both cases Anderson either missed or ignored fundamental problems with the reports that led to their later retraction. In both cases, the reports were released with the imprimatur of their respective universities and with EDF’s implied approval.

b. Oil and Gas Ties

According to the PNAS article, EDF’s methane emissions work is funded by the following individuals: “Fiona and Stan Druckenmiller, Heising-Simons Foundation, Bill and Susan Oberndorf, Betsy and Sam Reeves, Robertson Foundation, Tom Steyer, Kat Taylor, and the Walton Family Foundation.”

Several of these individuals have ties to the fracking industry:

Additionally, EDF has ties to the oil and gas industry through its board. Katherine Lorenz, the granddaughter of the “father of fracking,” George Mitchell, serves on its board, and other board members are active oil and gas investors.

III. Industry Sponsorship

The study was sponsored by a number of industry sources, in addition to the Environmental Defense Fund: Anadarko Petroleum, BG Group, Chevron, Encana Oil & Gas, Pioneer Natural Resources, Shell’s subsidiary SWEPI LP, Southwestern Energy, Talisman Energy USA, and ExxonMobil’s subsidiary XTO Energy. In addition to providing financial support, the companies gave the researchers access to the well sites and provided technical advice.

These companies, of course, have a significant financial stake in ensuring that fracking continues in the United States. Their sponsorship of and influence over the study constitutes a clear conflict interest. Disclosure of this sponsorship, on its own, does not equate to adequate management of this conflict. The non-random, industry participant-selected location and time of well evaluations and small sample size are two potential issues with the study’s gas industry sponsorship raised by the group, Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy.

Did the various players behind the study take steps to manage this basic conflict of interest, and ensure that the industry sponsors did not exercise improper influence over the study? Were industry sponsors given a first look at the preliminary results from the study?

Posted in blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New disclosures raise more questions about Obama’s Energy pick

Recently-released financial disclosures are shedding additional light on the severity of conflicts of interest surrounding an influential MIT natural gas study led by Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s choice to lead the Department of Energy. The Public Accountability Initiative first raised questions about the widely-publicized study, titled “The Future of Natural Gas,” in a report released last month. In that report (available here), PAI examined “The Future of Natural Gas” and found that the study promoted fracking and gas exports without noting that several key report authors, including Moniz, had paid industry positions. The PAI report prompted responses from the White House and MIT last month.

Now, on the eve of Moniz’s confirmation hearing, new disclosures are raising further questions about the independence of the MIT study:

* In financial disclosure forms filed with the Obama administration, Moniz reported paid consulting jobs for BP, GE, and energy private equity firm Riverstone Equity Holdings in addition to his lucrative board membership at ICF International. Moniz has consulted for Riverstone since 2008, and received $75,000 in compensation from the firm in 2012. As the Boston Globe reported, Riverstone is a major oil and gas investor, with more than $1.5 billion invested in fossil fuel companies worldwide. Moniz also made $5,850 consulting for BP; “more than $5,000″ from General Electric, which announced today that it was purchasing the oil pump maker Lufkin; $15,000 combined from Schlumberger and the IHS; and more than $13,000 from a non-profit foundation created by the Italian petroleum company Eni, which is also a sponsor of the Moniz-directed MIT Energy Initiative.

* Canadian financial filings show that the gas company Talisman Energy paid MIT study co-chair Anthony Meggs $4.5 million in 2012. (Source: see Talisman Management Information Circular, available here.) Meggs downplayed fracking’s environmental impacts at the press conference announcing the MIT report, but failed to disclose that he had taken the lucrative position at Talisman the month prior. PAI’s review of the MIT study’s environmental impacts section found little scientific data to back his claims, which Moniz echoed in congressional testimony. Meanwhile, Talisman has racked up numerous violations from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for its operations in the Marcellus Shale. The recent Talisman filing shows that about half of Meggs’ $4,482,708 compensation package from 2012 was clawed back when he left the company in January 2013. However, he did “receive a severance amount as determined by the terms of his employment contract.” Talisman’s financial filing suggests that Meggs was entitled to a severance payment of over $2.5 million.

Some press reports have downplayed Moniz’s oversight of fracking as energy secretary, but he will play a critical role in doling out research funding and overseeing the federal permitting process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. The oil and gas industry is clamoring for expanded exports, which will allow it to access markets where natural gas fetches a higher price. The MIT report argued for expanded LNG exports on the basis of thin evidence, but failed to disclose that study author John Deutch sits on the board of directors of Cheniere Energy, which was awarded the first (and so far only) permit to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the lower 48 states. Deutch currently owns Cheniere stock worth $1.7 million. Cheniere’s stock price has risen over 150% since the MIT report was released in June 2011.

The report argued firmly for LNG exports, contending that an integrated global gas market “advances [U.S.] security interests through diversity of supply and resilience to disruption,” which Moniz repeated when he testified before a Senate committee. However, PAI found that the report provided little justification for this conclusion and offered no serious analysis of the economic consequences of market integration.

Moniz is being introduced at his nomination hearing by Brent Scowcroft, who has strong ties to the MIT natural gas study’s advisory chair, Mack McLarty. Scowcroft manages a business advisory firm, the Scowcroft Group, which lists McLarty Associates, managed by Mack McLarty, as one of two principal partners on its website. McLarty Associates lists Chevron and London-based oil and gas company Chevron among its clients and the Scowcroft Group advertises an energy and mining lobbying practice. Former Senator Jeff Bingaman is also introducing Moniz.

Press Release »

Posted in blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment