Let’s look at the “centers on fracking” at SUNY-Buffalo, the University of Texas, Penn State University, Ohio State University, and West Virginia University. While the specific mission for each is somewhat unique, they are intended to (1) bring in money from outside the schools, (2) provide a clearinghouse for accurate information, and (3) bring praise on their schools. Doing university research on the full drilling & fracking process is not really practical but some limited aspects could be studied. The implication in each case is that fracking is good, so let’s spread the good word; that maybe it could be done better, so will someone tell us how. We can get money for this!
State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo faculty are seeking more information on industry ties to an institute created to study fracking for natural gas. A group of 83 professors and staff have requested documents on the founding and funding of the school’s Shale Resources and Society Institute, according to an August 23 “open letter” to the university administration.
The institute released a report in May that didn’t acknowledge “long-term” ties by its authors to the gas industry while it seeks more than $1 million in corporate funding.
“A number of questions have been raised about whether the institute was really intended to provide independent academic inquiry,” according to the faculty members’ letter. “Only complete transparency can dispel the shadow now cast over UB.”
In April, the newly formed Shale Resources and Society Institute issued a report that found drillers in Pennsylvania had reduced by half the rate of blowouts, spills and water contamination since 2008. Potential environmental problems could be “entirely avoided or mitigated” under New York’s proposed rules, according to the shale institute’s report. The Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo nonprofit that focuses on corruption in business and government, said the report contained errors and didn’t acknowledge “extensive ties” by its authors to the gas industry.
Last month, the University of Texas at Austin announced it would convene a panel of independent experts to review its February study on gas fracking after reports that the professor who led the study is on the board of a gas drilling company.
Charles Groat, associate director of the university’s Energy Institute and former Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, proposed the study, selected the researchers, edited its summary and presented it to the American Association for the Advancement of Science on February 16th.
Groat also sits on the board of Plains Exploration & Production Co., a relationship he didn’t disclose in the report or to his boss. Company filings show that in 2011 he received more than $400,000 in compensation from the Houston-based company, which has fracking operations in Texas.
The university announced August 14 that Norman Augustine, former chief executive officer of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., will lead the review panel. Augustine is also a former board member at the oil and gas producer ConocoPhillips.
Kevin Connor, president of the Public Accountability Initiative, said Augustine’s ties to the oil industry raise questions about the panel’s independence. Augustine over almost 20 years received “millions of dollars” in stock and compensation from ConocoPhillips, according to Connor. “It is extremely troubling that the university chose an energy industry insider to chair the panel.”
Pennsylvania State University now requires faculty research to be submitted to university officials before it is published, according to Michael Arthur, co-director of the school’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR). A 2009 report on the economic impact of gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus shale was released without disclosing industry funding.
The MCOR is Penn State’s education and research initiative on shale gas recovery and use. MCOR is internally funded by the College of Agricultural Sciences, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and Penn State Outreach, according to their web-site. Obviously, this doesn’t reveal the root source of the funding.
Jeff Daniels is Co-director for The Ohio State University Subsurface Energy Resource Center (SERC). SERC was opened in September 2011, to cover all aspects of the industry – geologic, economic, public health, environmental, outreach and education in communities impacted, policy making. But, as a “resource center”, the intention apparently is to provide accurate information to the public, with some 70 affiliated faculty participants. Professor Daniels is a geophysicist doing research on carbon dioxide sequestration.
On February 24th, a member of the West Virginia University Board of Governors expressed concerns about a plan for a Marcellus shale center at WVU. Charles Vest said that he wanted assurances that conflicts of interest would be avoided in such a center, as proposed by the WV Legislature in Senate Bill 522. Vest was formerly president of M.I.T. and now President of the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, DC.
The Senate Bill 522 would create the WVU Shale Research, Education, Policy and Economic Development Center. It had already cleared the House and Senate education committees and was headed to the finance committees. WVU President James Clements agreed, saying that while he’s proud of the work scientists do and eager to see research grow, firewalls must be created and conflicts avoided.
On July 25th, the Morgantown Dominion Post reported that the WV Legislature held discussions on the proposed shale center bill. Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier: “Are we going to focus on fixing every center in West Virginia or just this one?” Bill Hutchens, WVU’s general counsel said a dream project for the research center was put on hold by the recent dive in natural gas prices — but he’s working to get it going again. WVU wants to work with an operator to drill a horizontal well on WVU land. It would be a working well, generating money for the operator. But it would also be a research well, with every bit of data from the first turn of dirt through drilling and production and on being shared to advance knowledge in the field.
[A dream project indeed. Maybe a Marcellus well could be put on the University farm, within elbow reach for the health professionals of the WVU Medical Center and the Monongahela General Hospital. I understand that some of the drilling/fracking companies will replace the roads after they are torn up. DGN]