The University at Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) released a report last week that concluded that the practice of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is becoming less risky.
PAI conducted an analysis of the report and identified a number of problems that undermine its conclusion: data in the report shows that the likelihood of major environmental events has actually gone up, contradicting the report’s central claim; entire passages were lifted from an explicitly pro-fracking Manhattan Institute report; and report’s authors and reviewers have extensive ties to the natural gas industry.
PAI’s analysis states: “Taken together, the serious flaws in the report, industry-friendly spin, strong industry ties, and fundraising plans raise serious questions about the Shale Resources and Society Institute’s independence and the University at Buffalo’s decision to lend its independent, academic authority to the Institute’s work.”
The executive summary and press release are below.
Universities have an important role to play in examining the critical social, economic, and environmental issues of our day. The practice of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is one such issue: an extremely controversial method of drilling for natural gas that is touted by the industry as the key to the country’s energy future, and opposed by many activists who cite risks to the environment and public health.
Academic institutions should be able to step in to this debate from a neutral position to collect important data, offer unbiased analysis, and help the public reach informed opinions about the issue based on the facts.
Unfortunately, a report on fracking’s environmental risks released recently by the University at Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) falls far short of this standard of academic inquiry. Serious flaws in the report suggest that the brand-new institute is not so much a venue for the independent study of fracking-related issues as it is a vehicle for industry-friendly propaganda, taking advantage of the University at Buffalo’s independent brand in order to advance a very particular agenda.
The report, a study of environmental violations associated with natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, concludes that the rate of environmental violations associated with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” declined from 2008 to 2011. The report’s authors attribute this to increasingly effective regulation and oversight. Subsequent press coverage hailed the report’s findings; Forbes’ headline, for instance, read “Fracking Safety Improves Dramatically, Says Independent Study.”
The report contains a number of significant errors and problems which seriously undermine its central claim: that fracking is getting safer and causing fewer environmental violations. While masquerading as independent, academic research, the report’s errors all point in the direction of heavy pro-industry bias and spin:
The analysis also documents the authors’ strong ties to the natural gas industry:
The report’s pro-industry spin is not surprising, as the majority of the report’s authors and reviewers have strong industry ties. Two authors of the report, Timothy Considine and Robert Watson, authored a controversial 2009 report funded by the natural gas industry group known as the Marcellus Shale Committee but issued under the auspices of Penn State. Penn State retracted the initial version of the report because it did not disclose its funding source and “crossed the line from policy analysis to policy advocacy,” according to the school’s Dean of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
The co-directors of the Institute, John Martin (a co-author of the report) and Robert Jacobi (a reviewer of the report) also have strong industry ties. Jacobi is currently employed by EQT, a natural gas company active in the Marcellus Shale. Martin has his own consultancy, JPMartin Energy Strategy, and has also recently been described as a senior advisor to Ecology and Environment, an environmental consulting firm active in the natural gas industry.
University officials have been evasive on the question of SRSI’s funding, but have claimed that the report did not receive industry funding. In a UB Department of Geology Alumni Advisory Board meeting the day the report was released, Martin and Jacobi reported that the fundraising process had been proceeding slowly, and that “sponsors have not committed yet.” The meeting notes do not identify the pending sponsors. The Institute’s website states that it is seeking $1.14 million in startup funding, and touts UB’s lack of “institutional conflicts” in a section titled “Why host SRSI at UB?” which details the rationale for housing SRSI at the University at Buffalo.
Taken together, the serious flaws in the report, industry-friendly spin, strong industry ties, and fundraising plans raise serious questions about the Shale Resources and Society Institute’s independence and the University at Buffalo’s decision to lend its independent, academic authority to the Institute’s work.
For Immediate Release: May 24, 2012
Contact: Kevin Connor, 718-916-0925, [email protected]
New Analysis Identifies Critical Errors in University at Buffalo Fracking Study
Data in UB Report Contradicts Its Own Conclusions About Fracking’s Environmental Risks * Entire Passages Copied from Pro-Fracking Think Tank Report * Report Authors Have Extensive Ties to Natural Gas Industry
Buffalo – Significant errors and distortions in a recent University at Buffalo study of fracking’s environmental risks undermine the report’s central conclusions, according to a new analysis from the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI).
The analysis raises questions about the university’s new Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), which issued the study, and its independence from industry influence. The report, “Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling,” concluded that fracking in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has become less environmentally risky since 2008.
The PAI analysis identified significant problems with the study. The SRSI report concluded that major environmental risks associated with fracking have decreased since 2011. In fact, data in the report shows that major environmental risks have increased over that period.
PAI also identified key passages that were copied directly, without attribution, from a pro-fracking Manhattan Institute report authored by several of the same individuals. Two of these authors, Timothy Considine and Robert Watson, have also produced studies directly funded by the natural gas industry.
“The report’s inaccurate and biased analysis and the authors’ conflicts of interest suggest that the University at Buffalo is being used as an academic front for gas industry misinformation, rather than as a venue for independent, informative analysis,” said Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative.
“This is an unfortunate example of industry spin being given much greater weight than it is worth, and the University at Buffalo is implicated in this deception.”
About the Public Accountability Initiative
The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) is a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational organization focused on corporate and government accountability. PAI specializes in investigative, public interest research on power and corruption at the intersection of business and government. PAI’s research has been covered in major media outlets such as the LA Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.