[Ok-sus] Frackademia: How the Fracking Industry Tries To Bully Or Buy Scientists
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
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of two major pro-fracking academic reports that had to be withdrawn in 2012."
EPA's Water Contamination Investigation Halted In Texas After Range Resources
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heels of two major pro-fracking academic reports that had to be withdrawn in
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
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
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
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
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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