SUNY Closes Industry-Backed Fracking Institute, UB closes controversial fracking institute

SUNY Buffalo Shuts Down Its Institute on Drilling by Mireya Navarro, November 19, 2012, The New York Times
The State University of New York at Buffalo announced Monday that it was closing down its newly formed Shale Resources and Society Institute, which was devoted to the study of hydraulic fracturing, citing “a cloud of uncertainty over its work.”
The institute’s first study, released in May, drew sharp criticism for being biased in favor of the oil and gas industry. In a letter addressed to the “university community,” President Satish K. Tripathi said he was closing the institute after an internal assessment that determined that it lacked “sufficient” faculty presence, that it was not consistent enough in disclosing its financial interests and that the credibility of its research was compromised because of questions over its financing. “It is imperative that our faculty members adhere to rigorous standards of academic integrity, intellectual honesty, transparency and the highest ethical conduct in their work,” Mr. Tripathi wrote.

Buffalo’s decision is the most extreme response to date over criticism of academic bias in research related to the controversial natural gas drilling process commonly known as hydrofracking, or fracking. The University of Texas at Austin is conducting a similar review of a university fracking study released earlier this year. One of the professors who fostered the study did not disclose that he was on the board of a gasoline company. The controversies over fracking research tap into concerns in academia about the growing influence of corporate money in research especially at a time when government grants are declining. The University at Buffalo, a major research center with the most students in the State University of New York system, came under pressure from professors, students and some SUNY trustees to close its shale institute, with a petition with more than 10,500 signatures.

“The people who signed the petition feel that their public university needs to remain a public university and not a mouthpiece for corporations,” said Jim Holstun, an English professor at the university who, early on, questioned the institute’s practices.

The Buffalo study, issued on May 15, said that state regulation in Pennsylvania had made drilling there far safer and that New York’s pending rules were even more likely to ensure safety if drilling began in the state. But a local government watchdog group, the Public Accountability Initiative, raised questions about the study’s data and conclusions as well as the lack of full disclosure about its lead authors, who have also conducted other research directly for the industry. The third author, the shale institute’s co-director, John P. Martin, did planning and public relations work for the industry through JPMartin Energy Strategy in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Dr. Tripathi said that as a result of the transparency issues raised by the now-defunct shale institute, a committee that includes the faculty senate would meet to recommend how to strengthen policies for disclosing financial interests and sources of support in research going forward. He said the university would continue to pursue studies on energy and the environment. [Emphasis added]
A version of this article appeared in print on November 20, 2012, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: SUNY Buffalo Shuts Down Its Institute on Gas Drilling.

SUNY Closes Industry-Backed Fracking Institute by Jim Efstathiou Jr., November 19, 2012, Bloomberg
“Research of such considerable societal importance and impact cannot be effectively conducted with a cloud of uncertainty over its work,” Tripathi said.

The move follows a decision last month by a gas industry group to cancel a Pennsylvania State University study of fracking after some faculty members balked at the project that had drawn criticism for being slanted toward industry. Drilling companies, amid criticism that producing gas by fracking damages the environment, are funding university research that at times reaches conclusions that counter the concerns of critics, Bloomberg News reported in July. … The lead author was Tim Considine a professor of economics in the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming who in the past has worked for groups such as theAmerican Petroleum Institute and the Wyoming Mining Association. The Buffalo report, which identifies Considine by his title at the University of Wyoming, doesn’t disclose his prior work for industry groups.

In May, the Shale Resources and Society Institute found that 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 institutes’s report. … The institute was actively seeking corporate sponsors for a “landmark effort to leverage the safe, sustainable, economic development of shale gas,” according to a document Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, downloaded from the group’s website. Closing the institute “Does send a strong message to the oil and gas industry that our universities are not for sale,” Connor said in an interview yesterday. A group of 83 professors and staff at the university in Buffalo in August requested documents on the founding and funding of the shale institute. The SUNY Board of Trustees is reviewing a report from the university on the research group. “Given the questions that continue to surround the Shale Resources and Society Institute, SUNY Administration and the Board of Trustees support the University of Buffalo’s decision to close it,” according to a statement from the board. “The Board and SUNY reserve further comment at this time while the Board completes its formal review.”

Considine also co-wrote an annual study on fracking for Penn State funded by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based industry group. The study, which began in 2009, was canceled in October after some faculty members declined to take part. [Emphasis added]

UB closes controversial fracking institute by Knickle Ledger, November 19, 2012
The University at Buffalo issued a statement on Monday afternoon announcing the closure of the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) due to the controversy surrounding a academic study on the environment effects of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. The statement, made by UB President Satish K. Tripathi, acknowledged that the “historical financial interests” of the authors of “Environmental Impacts during Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies” drove suspicions that the report’s conclusions were biased. Tripathi also said that a review of the Institute by himself and UB’s deans indicated that it failed to include “faculty presence in fields associated with energy production from shale for the institute to meet its stated mission” and that “research of such considerable societal importance and impact cannot be effectively conducted with a cloud of uncertainty over its work.” UB’s closure of comes nearly three weeks after a group of faculty and students known as UB CLEAR (Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research) published and sent a 12-page letter to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and the Board of Trustees describing the flaws of the May report in detail. UB CLEAR also criticized a report issued by Tripathi in October to the SUNY Board of Trustees in response the questionable research of the Institute. The group also questioned the formation of SRSI as a public-private partnership and the lack of controls or regulations of the work of such partnerships.

[Refer also to: Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources A California Perspective ]

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