Wednesday, May 23, 2012

University of Buffalo Shale-Spin report in freefall...

While the corporate media dutifully prints the press release which says

"University of Buffalo Peer-Reviewed Study Proves
that Good Regulations Will Save Us
from the Perils of Fracking!"

... that story is beginning to unravel.

  1. The study wasn't really peer-reviewed. Oops.

  2. One of the reviewers is critical of the report's conclusions

  3. The report fails to cite industry-funded sources.

  4. UB seems to be playing games trying to hide the source of the funding.
    It now seems likely that industry money funded the report,
    but laundered through a university foundation, which has secret books.

  5. The report arbitrarily bins violations into "bad ones" and "good ones".

  6. The report makes math errors. The data says that the violations actually increased!

  7. Reports of violations became fewer due to an edict from new PA Gov. Tom Corbett.

  8. ... etc ...

Buck Quigley / ARTVOICE
got the scoop on the funding subterfuge at University of Buffalo's
Shale Institutes first "peer reviewed" shale study...

Now the report is in utter freefall as Jon Campbell / GANNETT and Sharon Kelly / GRIST add ballast...

Three articles below:

UB Shale Institute Taps Industry Shills for First Report
by Buck Quigley - posted 6:14 pm, May 15, 2012

Click here
to read the first report spat out by the recently announced Shale Resources and Society Institute at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The authors of the report include Robert W. Watson, Timothy J. Considine, and Institute co-director John P. Martin.

Martin is being quoted in the press claiming "the study was funded entirely by the University at Buffalo with no industry support." That would be a reassuring statement if only it was accurate.

UB spokesperson John DellaContrada told us a few weeks back that "philanthropic support [for the institute] is pending from a variety of potential funders." Today we left a message asking him about the new report. He sent a three-word email reply. "Funded by UB." We asked for a little more clarity. He then told us that the new report wasn't funded by UB, but in fact the money came from the University at Buffalo Foundation.

Since the various UB Foundations exist beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Law, the public can't know which gas industry companies may or may not have donated to the UB Foundation, or the amount of those donations. All we're told is the money for the study came from the UB Foundation.

Isn't that a nice way to launder money, my fellow New Yorkers?

Well, at least the State University of New York at Buffalo is standing by the research coming out of its new institute, right? Check out the following disclaimer found on page 2 of the report released today:

The opinions and conclusions expressed or implied in the report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the University at Buffalo. University at Buffalo does not make any warranty, expressed or implied, or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe upon privately owned rights. Trademarks and copyrights mentioned with this report are the ownership of their respective companies.

The thing has more disclaimers than a pharmaceutical ad.

At any rate, two of the authors, Watson and Considine, have a proven track record of producing feel-good fracking stories funded by pro-fracking groups—and they put them out on Penn State letterhead.

Click here to read "The Economic Impacts of the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play: An Update." That one came out May 24, 2010. Here's the page 2 disclaimer:

This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by the Marcellus Shale
Coalition. Neither the Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering at Penn State nor
the Marcellus Shale Coalition, nor any person acting on behalf thereof, makes any
warranty or representation, express or implied, with respect to the accuracy, completeness
or usefulness of the information contained in the report nor that its use may not infringe
privately owned rights, or assumes any liability with respect to the use of, or for damages
resulting from the use of, any information, apparatus, method or process disclosed in this
report. This report was written and produced for the Marcellus Shale Coalition by the
Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering, Penn State University. The opinions,
findings, and conclusions expressed in the report are those of the authors and are not
necessarily those of The Pennsylvania State University or the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
To obtain additional copies of the report or with questions regarding the content, contact
Tim Considine at or (307) 760-8400, or Robert Watson at or (814) 865-0531.

I left messages with Watson and Considine regarding the funding of this report, but heard nothing back.

Watson and Considine also collaborated on the follow-up: "The Pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impacts and Future Potential." Click here to read that one. It was also paid for by the Marcellus Shale Coalition and came out last year.

Unfamiliar with the Marcellus Shale Coalition? Click here to see who's on the board:

Click here to see the list of Associate Members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

 Who's on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition?

Dave Spigelmyer, Chair
Vice President, Government Affairs
Chesapeake Energy Corporation

Rob Broen, Vice-Chair
Talisman Energy USA

K. Scott Roy, Treasurer
Vice President
Range Resources Corporation

John Mollenkopf, Secretary
Chief Operating Officer
MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P.

Randy Albert
Chief Operating Officer
CNX Gas Company, LLC

Frank Billings
Vice President, Onshore Gathering & Processing

Heather Lamparter
Vice President, Legal
EXCO Resources

Craig Mayer
General Counsel
Pennsylvania General Energy

Jack Williams
XTO Energy

Terry Bossert
Vice President, Government & Regulatory Affairs
Chief Oil & Gas

Not surprisingly, the authors of the first report produced by the Shale Resources and Society Institute at the State University of New York at Buffalo are swooning over fracking. Here's the first sentence of the Executive Summary:

The development of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing has awakened what some have described as an American energy renaissance…

Here's how the Buffalo News reported it today, in the business section.

Meanwhile, folks advocating a fracking ban for New York State are having a concert tonight in Albany. Martin likes to poke fun of celebrities who come out against fracking, as he did in Jakarta, Indonesia this past February—while representing himself as a director of this new institute at UB, months before the institute was awkwardly rolled out to the public under pressure from Artvoice.

Check the math: Study touting 'safer' fracking reveals Big Oil's ties to academia

What do you call a report that makes major math mistakes, pulls language directly from other publications without citation, and fails to disclose the researchers' financial conflicts of interest?

In the fight over fracking, it might just be called "peer-reviewed" science.

The most recent example of such sketchy research comes from the University of Buffalo, which released a report [PDF] this month concluding that fracking is getting safer and pointing for proof to Pennsylvania, ground zero for drilling.

The problem isn't just that the study itself is misleading and riddled with errors (which it is). It's that in their efforts to win public favor, the fracking industry increasingly hides behind academia to circulate  misinformation — and the University of Buffalo is the latest cover.

Let's deconstruct: The study's key claim is that the rate of major environmental violations in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale declined from 2008 to 2011. But a look at the study's data shows that, using the researchers' own methodology, the rate of major environmental accidents actually increased by more than 30 percent.

Large chunks of the report appear to be lifted verbatim from a document previously published by three of the report's four authors for a conservative think tank called the Manhattan Institute. This matters because the university study fails to cite the think tank. In this case, it's very relevant: The Manhattan Institute receives financial support from oil and gas companies heavily invested in fracking, like ExxonMobil. Instead, the study released this month is stamped only with the University of Buffalo's academic imprimatur.

These problems and more are discussed in a detailed (unreleased) assessment by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI), a nonprofit research and educational organization focused on corporate and government accountability. It highlights the worsening problem of universities getting into bed with industries and compromising research in the process.

The University of Buffalo report leaves out other key information — like the fact that when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) took office in 2011, his new top environmental regulator sent around a memo telling inspectors that they had to get approval from political appointees before issuing violations to Marcellus drillers. That order was retracted after it leaked to the press, but by that time the message to state workers was pretty clear.

The Buffalo report also sidelines entire categories of violations as "administrative" rather than "environmental" — often without clear information about the nature of the offense.

Some media outlets failed to do their homework and too quickly ran with the report. Forbes, for example, went with: "Fracking Safety Improves Dramatically Says Independent Study."

Press people at the University of Buffalo pitched the report extensively as a rare good-news opportunity for the controversy-riddled fracking issue. The lack of regulation of fracking in places — quite especially in Pennsylvania — has been extensively documented.

The University of Buffalo's study offered an alternate reality.

"This study presents a compelling case that state oversight of oil and gas regulation has been effective," lead author Timothy Considine said in the press release.

It's worth giving some context on Considine. As the folks at PAI point out, both Considine and fellow report author Robert Watson also wrote a controversial 2009 report [PDF] issued under the auspices of Penn State but funded by the natural gas industry group known as the Marcellus Shale Committee.

Penn State retracted the initial version of the report because it did not disclose its funding source and "may well have crossed the line from policy analysis to policy advocacy," according to the school's dean of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Other authors and reviewers of the report from Buffalo have undisclosed ties to industry, which are detailed in the review by PAI.

The University of Buffalo is partly to blame for not vetting its own study a bit better. In fact, the university may have been a bit too eager to publicize the report. The press release originally described the study as "peer-reviewed," a term usually reserved for research meticulously reviewed by experts before publication in an academic journal. But it turned out that the report was only circulated for comment to five people, most of whom have industry ties — and the lone environmentalist among the bunch has distanced himself from its findings, according to PAI.

"This description may have given readers an incorrect impression," the website now notes in a retraction.

Unfortunately, when academia allows the media to run with "incorrect impressions," including ones created by seriously flawed data, the damage may already be done.

Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, National Wildlife, and the Legal Intelligencer, and a variety of other publications.

'Peer-reviewed' label pulled from UB shale study
6:31 PM, May. 23, 2012

ALBANY -- The University at Buffalo has removed the "peer-reviewed" label from a document touting a recent study on natural-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, acknowledging that it may have given an "incorrect impression."

Last week, the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute released its first study, which analyzed more than three years of regulatory violations in Pennsylvania's portion of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. The authors concluded the number of environmental fouls compared to the total number of wells drilled dropped from 58.2 percent in 2008 to 30.5 percent in 2010.

Originally, the university touted the study as "peer reviewed, a process of self-regulation to maintain standards and provide greater credibility." By Wednesday, an "editor's note" was attached to the top of the original news release that detailed the study.

"An earlier version of this story described the report as 'peer-reviewed,"' the note reads. "This description may have given readers an incorrect impression."

In general, peer-reviewed studies are submitted to a scholarly journal and subjected to a lengthy oversight process by scholars.

The news release was edited to read that drafts of the UB study were "reviewed by several individuals with expertise in related areas, who provided comments to the authors." The edit was made to "more accurately describe the process by which the report's authors gathered comments before finalizing their report," according to the editor's note.

UB spokesman John DellaContrada said in an email Wednesday: "We clarified the term 'peer-reviewed' as described in the press release after receiving feedback from faculty."

Last week, the authors of the study said the research shows Pennsylvania's regulations have become effective at mitigating environmental impacts.

"While prior research has anecdotally reviewed state regulations, now we have comprehensive data that demonstrates, without ambiguity, that state regulation coupled with improvements in industry practices results in a low risk of an environmental event occurring in shale development, and the risks continue to diminish year after year," Timothy Considine, a University of Wyoming professor who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

Scott Anderson, senior policy advisor with the Environmental Defense Fund's Energy Program, called several of the report's conclusions "questionable."

Anderson was one of five experts who reviewed drafts of the report, according to the university.

"While I was a reviewer, this does not mean that all of my suggestions were taken or that I agree with all of the report's opinions and conclusions," Anderson wrote on the Environmental Defense Fund's website.

In particular, Anderson took issue with the authors of the report separating "environmental" violations from "administrative" violations, the "narrow" definition they gave to environmental violations, and the suggestion that Pennsylvania's regulations have been effective because the rate of violations has dropped.

"In sum, there's a lot of good information to be gleaned from the study, but caution should be exercised with regards to some of the conclusions," he wrote.

The report was written by Considine; John Martin, co-director of the UB Shale Institute; and Pennsylvania State University researcher Robert Watson.

Watson and Considine have authored previous studies financially underwritten by industry or business-backed groups, including a three-part Penn State study funded by a gas-industry trade group and a 2011 report funded by the Manhattan Institute.

Some portions of the UB study were updated extensions of those in the Manhattan Institute report, which had sought to place a cost on New York's de facto moratorium on high-volume hydrofracking. The Manhattan Institute report looked at the Pennsylvania environmental violations between 2008 and 2010, while the UB report included some 2011 figures.

DellaContrada said Wednesday that the UB study was funded by its College of Arts and Sciences, which "processes its funding through the UB Foundation," the school's separate fundraising arm.

The report "was not funded by or commissioned by external sources, including industry," he said. "The Shale Institute does not have any external funding."

New York sits atop a significant portion of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, though the state has yet to allow any high-volume hydrofracking. The much-debated technique used with gas drilling is on hold until the state Department of Environmental Conservation completes a regulatory and environmental review.

Jon Campbell is a staff writer for the Gannett Albany Bureau

May you, and all beings
be happy and free from suffering :)
-- ancient Buddhist Prayer (Metta)

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