[Ok-sus] Frackademia: How the Fracking Industry Tries To Bully Or Buy Scientists

Robert Waldrop bwaldrop1952 at att.net
Sat Jan 19 06:22:00 CST 2013


One could say that all is not well in "Saudi America."

Bob Waldrop, OKCFrackademia: How the Fracking Industry Tries To Bully Or Buy 
Scientists
by Puck Lo, CorpWatch Blog
January 18th, 2013
"Range Resources, a Texas company, bullied the federal government into dropping 
a scientific report on environmental contamination caused by fracking, a new 
investigation by the Associated Press has just revealed. This comes on the heels 
of two major pro-fracking academic reports that had to be withdrawn in 2012."
http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15808

EPA's Water Contamination Investigation Halted In Texas After Range Resources 
Protest
<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/epa-water-contamination-investigation-fracking_n_2484568.html>

-- <http://earthlightimagery.com/>


Frackademia: How the Fracking Industry Tries To Bully Or Buy Scientists
by Puck Lo, CorpWatch Blog
January 18th, 2013
 
 


 
Cartoon by Khalil Bendib 
Range Resources, a Texas company, bullied the federal government into dropping a 
scientific report on environmental contamination caused by fracking, a new 
investigation by the Associated Press has  just revealed. This comes on the 
heels of two major pro-fracking  academic reports that had to be withdrawn in 
2012.

Fracking, or  horizontal hydraulic fracturing, is not new. Since the 1940s 
engineers  have known about the gas and oil reserves that lie deep under  
subterranean layers of earth – enough to power the U.S. for decades,  some 
experts say. Developments made to drilling technology during the  1980s led to 
today's fracking boom across more than 31 states. Nine out of ten oil wells now 
employ the controversial  technique, which involves drilling a mile into the 
earth and then  pumping in millions of gallons of water, sand and hazardous 
chemicals to fracture rock and extract gas contained inside.

In  2007, when oil companies began aggressively drilling in the Marcellus  Shale 
that underlies Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio,  fracking became 
a national issue. Gasland,  a 2010 documentary on how fracking has changed life 
for residents who  live near drilling sites, brought to national attention the 
now iconic image of a man in his home, lighting contaminated tap water on fire.

Something remarkably similar happened to Steve Lipsky who lives in Fort Worth, 
Texas, when his family's drinking water began "bubbling" like champagne back  in 
2010. Lipsky was able to get the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) to issue 
an emergency order against Range Resources which was  drilling in the area. An 
independent study determined “that the gas in  the drinking water could have 
originated from Range Resources' nearby  drilling operation.”

Then the EPA “changed course” – according to  the Associated Press - when Range 
Resources told them that “so long as  the agency continued to pursue a 
‘scientifically baseless’ action” it  would withdraw from an ongoing national 
study on fracking and “would not  allow government scientists onto its drilling 
sites.”

The EPA also recently backed away from reports on the environmental impact of 
fracking by EnCana Oil & Gas USA in the town of Pavilion, Wyoming, after 
industry attacks.

But  the fracking industry is not content to just challenge the EPA in small  
towns – it is now spreading money around to pay academics to publish  favorable 
studies on the controversial drilling practice. In the last  year two major 
studies published by so-called “frackademics” that gained  widespread publicity 
were shown to have ties to oil companies.

University of Texas

In December 2012, Raymond Orbach, head of the Energy Institute at the University 
of Texas, was forced to resign from his post following revelations that a report 
titled “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in the Shale Gas 
Development”  published earlier in the year by the institute was based on an  
investigation led by Charles “Chip” Groat, a director of Plains  Exploration & 
Production Company, a Houston-based oil and gas  company that operates fracking 
and deepwater drilling sites in Texas,  the Gulf Coast, and California.

Groat was identified as a  University of Texas professor and former assistant 
director of the  Energy Institute, but the report failed to acknowledge that he 
also held a position on the Plains Exploration board since 2007, owned $1.6 
million in company stock, and is paid $58,500 a year.

“Shale gas has lots of stories to tell,"  Groat told the press at the February 
2012 American Association for the  Advancement of Science in Vancouver, British 
Columbia, where the report  was unveiled. "It’s a great resource for this 
country and many other  parts of the world. It's a game-changer in terms of the 
energy balance."

The  report said that many of the problems attributed to fracking were  common 
to all oil and gas drilling operations and were due to  mismanagement, not the 
practice itself. It claimed that an assessment of  media representations of 
fracking nationally found that coverage was  “uniformly about two-thirds 
negative,” while a survey of 1,500 Texas  residents found a “generally positive 
attitude toward hydraulic  fracturing”

“Negative perceptions and political consequences have  led to the prohibition of 
shale gas development in a number of  instances, at least temporarily,” the 
report stated.

The  university widely publicized the study last February. Many news outlets  
trumpeted its industry-friendly findings at the time.

“It is straight down the middle - done without industry funding and with the 
participation of the Environmental Defense Fund, a  well-known watchdog 
organization,” the Houston Chronicle editorialized.  “In a world where clashes 
between advocates for industry and the  environment are frequently bitter and 
deeply rooted, such an approach is  doubly welcome.”

The tide turned against Groat when the Public  Accountability Institute (PAI), a 
New York-based investigative research  organization, released a report in May 
2012 that criticized the study.

“Its central claim– that fracking does not cause groundwater contamination – 
relies on a highly-specific and misleading definition of fracking,” PAI stated. 
“The university’s press push around the report significantly mischaracterizes 
and oversimplifies its findings.”

The PAI study prompted the University of Texas to commission an independent 
review of the study, conducted by a three-person panel of scientists and 
administrators from  industry. The reviewers were not charged with assessing the 
scientific  merits of the study but rather to review the university's process of  
producing and publicizing the report.

The panelists declared in  late November that the lack of disclosure by the 
university about  Groat's ties to the oil company constituted a “clear conflict 
of  interest.” The university says it has since updated its disclosure  
policies, and Groat has since agreed that he should have mentioned his  industry 
connections in the report although he defended his role. “I had  no 
responsibility to either review the report or comment on their  findings or 
influence them in any way,” Groat told the New Orleans City  Business newspaper.

The review committee disagreed.

“In  studies of controversial topics, such as the impact on public health and  
the environment potentially stemming from shale gas hydraulic  fracturing, 
credibility hinges upon full disclosure of any potential  conflicts of interest 
by all participants and upon rigorous, independent  reviews of findings. This 
study failed in both regards,” the independent panelists stated in their review.

The  panelists also criticized the relationship of the Energy Institute and  the 
University of Texas to the oil and gas industry and took issue with  the 
fracking report's title.

“It should be stressed that the term  'fact-based' would not apply to such an 
analysis in the sense  characterizing scientific research since there were 
relatively little  scientific data presented or, according to the authors, 
available to be  presented,” they added.

The committee lambasted the Energy  Institute's “inappropriately selective” use 
of material that “seemed to  suggest that public concerns were without 
scientific basis and largely  resulted from media bias—hence requiring no 
significant modification in  the current regulatory and enforcement regimes.”

At the  independent panel's recommendation, the University of Texas agreed to  
withdraw the study. It announced in a December 2012 press release that  former 
Energy Institute head Orbach had resigned, and Groat had retired. Orbach has 
remained a tenured faculty member at the University of Texas. 

Much more at the loink above.
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