Let’s make sure ‘frackademia’ has no place in Ireland, We tend to assume that science equals ‘truth’ – but when fracking is the issue this isn’t always the case by Sian Cowman, September 25, 2012, The Journal.ie
In a debate in the Oireachtas, Deputy Patrick Nulty asked Minister Pat Rabbitte for “his views on whether the university’s research will be impartial in view of the fact that this university is the hub of the oil and gas industry for the North Sea and also receives generous funding from the same industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter.” Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd defended the university, saying that: “There is no question of getting a biased or one-sided report […] Aberdeen University and other high quality universities are objective.” The University of Aberdeen EPA report had one author, Dr David Healy. A quick search on the university’s staff pages reveals that two of Dr Healy’s research funders are Total E&P UK and BG International. Total E&P UK is part of Total Group, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, and BG International is “a world leader in natural gas”. Dr Healy has said that while he does have some research projects funded by the hydrocarbon industry, he also has other funding sources, including national research councils and charitable bodies. “There is no bias,” he said. It’s impossible to know if his report for Ireland was biased or not. But his report for the EPA did reference the compromised U of T study extensively, quoting it as one of “few published, peer-reviewed scientific reports into the potential environmental impacts of fracking,” when it was anything but. Even before the revelation about Groat’s conflict of interest, this study should not have been used as a source for the Irish report, given that sections are marked ‘draft’.
On the plus side, Dr Healy’s report said that Ireland’s geology would require extensive study before fracking could take place. He also recommended extensive and careful monitoring in Ireland if fracking were to go ahead. But how would this be possible with the moratorium on hiring civil servants and the chronic under-funding of bodies such as the EPA? The EPA are now in the process of commissioning a second report on fracking in Ireland. They responded to the recent calls for research free of industry influence by saying it “would be unlikely that anybody commissioned to write a thorough report on fracking in Ireland would not have some knowledge or experience of the fossil fuel industries.” What they say is true – any researcher into fracking would have to have knowledge of the fossil fuel industry. But the issue is with researchers who are funded by industry. There is a possible way to do this. German officials are dubious about fracking, and in North-Rhine Westphalia, officials have commissioned a study into fracking and are making researchers sign an affirmation (link in German) that they do not have any ties to the fossil fuel industry. The Irish EPA should do the same. Let’s make sure science is truthful.