Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UB Shale Institute -- Getting to the Bottom of It

By David Kowalski ~

Shale gas and fracking have become sensitive topics at UB. SUNY signed a three-year, $22M contract to buy natural gas extracted by hydraulic fracturing beginning April 1, 2012. On April 5, a UB Shale Institute was announced to the public. Shale-gas industry ties and UB's new Shale Institute led to controversy, which only deepened after the Institute released its first study on May 15.

The Institute's study revealed a gas-industry bias and was found by the Public Accountabilty Initiative to be riddled with procedural flaws and errors of fact. All of the Institute's authors have ties to the gas industry, but they did not disclose the funding sources for their study. Lack of disclosure naturally raised concern about conflicts of interest. Also, the authors' initial claim that the study was peer reviewed was later retracted.

Subsequently, news reports in the New York Times and The Buffalo News only exacerbated concern about the effect of the industry-friendly institute on UB’s reputation for credible scholarship. The Institute’s director, John P. Martin, who does consulting and public relations work for the oil and gas industry, is a co-author on the study. Martin declined, through a UB spokesperson, reporters' requests for an interview. 

The UB Shale Institute is not a physical entity -- it's a virtual institute. The study's lead author, Timothy Considine, lives in Wyoming, works at the University of Wyoming, and has a reputation as the academic "go-to-guy" for industry-friendly studies. Two other co-authors live in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Director John P. Martin lives in Saratoga Springs, NY.

How did an industry-friendly Shale Institute come to exist at a publicly-funded university known for academic research and scholarly activities?

According to a May 25, 2012 statement by UB Dean E. Bruce Pitman, the College of Arts and Sciences formed the Institute in April 2012, with the goal of providing scientific research and analysis on all sides of the issues surrounding shale gas. Pitman acknowledged in a radio interview on June 7, that he gave the support to create the Institute, and that he appointed the Director and the Co-Director, and got the Institute started. He also said, "The origin of the Institute. It started with a series of seminars organized by the Geology Department in spring of --get my years right-- 2011."

So how did the seminar series start and who were the speakers?

On March 28, 2011, the UB Geology Dept announced a Public Lecture Series on the Marcellus Shale.  Department chair Marcus Bursk Ph.D. said that "The series will inform attendees about how geologists explore for resources, how companies get rights to the resources, how gas resources are drilled, fracked, and distributed and what legal, environmental and regulatory issues are involved."

HEARTLESS - courtesy of IOGA.
On March 29, 2011, it was announced that oil and gas industry experts will take part in "Marcellus Shale Lecture Series: Energy Resources and the Environment in Western New York," beginning March 31 at UB. Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) of New York members were to lead five of the eight presentations, and the March 31 speaker would be Rayola Dougher, senior economic advisor for the American Petroleum Institute.

Six of the eight announced presentations were connected to the gas industry. 

A speaker not listed among the industry experts was Langhorne Smith, also known as Taury Smith, the state geologist with the New York State Museum. Smith was under a state gag order from talking to reporters. A month before his UB talk, he told the Albany Times Union that the Marcellus natural gas was "a huge gift" and that the potential environmental hazards of hydraulic fracturing were often exaggerated, as reported in The Buffalo News. At his UB presentation, Smith downplayed claims that the ability to light tap water on fire was caused by gas drilling contamination.

The final presentation on May 19, 2011 was entitled "Energy and the Environment: Gas and the Green Earth," by John P. Martin, listed as former senior project manager for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. At the seminar, the audience learned that the title of his talk had changed to "Can we get to sustainable energy resource development in the 21st century?" Well, so much for the Environment and the Green Earth. 

Martin talked rapidly, describing how all energy sources have risks. It seemed that he was providing cover for the known risks of drilling and fracking. He downplayed wind turbines, and showed a fallen tubine tower made of some flimsy material to illustrate one risk. 

John P. Martin showed the same flaming faucet photo that Langhorne Smith displayed, and said the water contamination wasn't caused by gas drilling. About a month before his seminar, scientists at Duke University published peer-reviewed evidence to the contrary in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA). Martin, an economist, dismissed the scientific study and put down the journal of the esteemed National Academy.

At his UB seminar, Martin was introduced by Robert Jacobi, a UB Geologist who had a position as director of special projects in Norse Energy Corporation. Jacobi would later become the Co-director of the UB Shale Institute.

Dean Pitman consulted with Geology faculty and others at the university

In the June 7, 2012 interview cited earlier, Pitman said "That seminar series was very successful. There was interest in following up on this issue." He added, "In consultation with the Geology faculty and with others at the university, as dean I gave my support to create an Institute as an initiative of the College of Arts and Sciences. And that’s how it started."

Consultation must have occurred before February 6, 2012 when John P. Martin gave a talk in Jakarta, Indonesia and listed himself as Director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute, University at Buffalo, SUNY (also known as the UB Shale Institute). In his slide presentation (courtesy of Artvoice) he cited as "in review" the study of Considine et al. (2012), which would later become the UB Shale Institute's first study (released May 15).

Who is Dennis Holbrook and who consulted with him?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Petition for Renewable Energy & Green Jobs in NY

The Sierra Club Niagara Group Energy Committee and the United Steel Workers union have been spearheading an effort for a Western New York Feed-In Tariff program for renewable energy. 

Click here for a flier that explains the program.

The Governor's $1 billion offer to stimulate the local economy, if used wisely, is a great opportunity to jump start our transition to a stable, sustainable green economy.  

Please read the flier, sign the petition, and talk this project up wherever you go.

There will be  three opportunities this week to further encourage Governor Cuomo to shift toward renewable energy. Public workshops on a WNY Sustainability Plan will be held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, in the Buffalo area, Jamestown and Cuba, respectively. For details of meeting locations and times, click here.

If you're part of an organization that could endorse this initiative, or if you have some spare time to volunteer, please give a call to Bill Nowak at 716.316.7674.

If you'd like a more in-depth description of feed-in programs and how they work, click here to download the free report.

Monday, July 16, 2012

UB CLEAR: Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research -- Please Endorse the Petition

Coalition seeks transparency on a new industry-affiliated Shale Institute at UB in order to preserve research integrity and protect the university's reputation.

Please read the information below and Endorse the Petition.

Background: On April 5, 2012, the University at Buffalo administration announced the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute. On May 15, an official UB press release accompanied its first publication: “Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies.”

The Institute’s first report is fatally compromised. It was announced as peer-reviewed when it wasn’t. Its authors failed to reveal in the report their financial connections to the gas industry. And the report itself is riddled with procedural flaws and errors of fact, as detailed in a report by the non-profit Public Accountabilty Initiative.

The ensuing controversy includes a widely-distributed Associated Press story, an article in the June 11th New York Times, and another in The Buffalo News on June 29. It has damaged UB’s hard-won reputation and credibility.

The Institute’s formation violates UB procedures for creating centers and institutes. Its funding sources and plans are obscure.

In response, a group of SUNY faculty, alums, students, and other citizens have established the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research (UB CLEAR).

UB CLEAR calls on the UB Administration to take the following initiatives to prevent further damage and regain public trust in the university: 
  • Time Out - Suspend all funding, publications, and other operations of the Institute.
  • Be Clear - Reveal all documents bearing on the formation of the Institute, its staffing, its governance and oversight, and its funding. Explain how and why the Institute’s first report came to be described publicly as “peer reviewed” and associated with the University itself and not just its authors. Adopt a goal of genuine, active transparency, not just the minimum required by law.
  • Investigate - Establish a genuinely independent body, outside UB and the oil and gas industry, to investigate the Institute’s formation and its relations to industry and other donors.
  • Discuss - Hold a forum in which all interested UB and other community members can raise their concerns about the Institute, receive candid answers, and offer advice.

Please Endorse a Petition to support the UB CLEAR initiatives
UB CLEAR seeks endorsement of the above initiatives, not only by the local university community, but also by all people who expect integrity in academic research and are concerned about the university's reputation. Academic research, which may influence public policy, should be held to the highest standards of ethics and must not be beholden to outside special interests. New Yorkers deserve transparency from their State University at Buffalo.
Please pass the Petition on to others. Thank you!

For more information, please contact Professor Jim Holstun at 884-0895 or jamesholstun@hotmail.com.

UPDATE: Next MEETING of UB CLEAR is TUESDAY, September 25, 6:30pm-8:30pm, at Burning Books, 420 Connecticut St, Buffalo [Map]
Come join the campaign. All are welcome to attend!

Public Workshops: WNY Regional Sustainability Plan

Be Part of the Conversation as 
Western New York Plans for a More Sustainable Future!

A coalition of Western New York municipalities and organizations in Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Chautauqua, and Cattaraugus counties has received funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to create a regional sustainability plan as part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Cleaner, Greener Communities Program. The Western New York Regional Sustainability Planning process is underway and community input is needed to help shape our region’s economic and environmental future.

The Cleaner, Greener Communities Program promotes smarter growth practices by funding sustainability planning at the regional level. Regional planning teams can partner with state and federal agencies, municipalities, non-profit organizations, private businesses and residents to break down barriers and develop a sustainability plan that reflects their area’s needs. This partnering helps to create more integrated, sustainable solutions and accelerate investment and actual development.

When completed, the Western New York Regional Sustainability Plan will:
  • Plan for energy production and conservation, transportation, waste and water management, land use and livable communities, agriculture and forestry, economic development, and open space;
  • Build upon Regional Economic Development planning efforts to integrate our work toward economic prosperity with efforts to promote long-term sustainability;
  • Measure key indicators of sustainability, including greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, available natural resources and economic assets, liabilities, and opportunities; and
  • Prioritize eligible projects that can apply for Cleaner, Greener Communities implementation funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Planning teams are looking for ideas from community members and input from experts across a wide range of fields. Please plan on attending a public workshop and sharing your ideas to help shape the Western New York Regional Sustainability Plan. The following workshops are scheduled:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 6-8 pm
Starpoint Central High School, Cafeteria
4363 Mapleton Rd, Lockport, NY 14094

Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 6-8 pm
Millennium Hotel Grand Ballroom
2040 Walden Ave., Buffalo, NY 14225

Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 6-8 pm
Ramada Jamestown Hotel
150 West Fourth St., Jamestown, NY 14701

Thursday, July 26, 2012, 6-8 pm
Moonwinks Restaurant
9302 Jackson Hill Rd., Cuba, NY 14727

The Western New York regional planning team is led by Allegany County, with support from Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board, Ecology and Environment, Inc., and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute.

To learn more about the project or to submit input via email, please visit www.sustainable-ny.com. For questions about the project or the upcoming public meetings, please contact Elizabeth Santacrose at (716) 684-8060.

Press Conference: Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes Recognized for Leadership on Fracking Issue

Assemblymember Defends New York's Water and Resources

Buffalo, NY – Advocacy organizations including Food & Water Watch, Citizen Action, WNY Peace Center and members of the Buffalo Common Council will host a press conference to recognize Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes who recently took a stand against the issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a highly controversial natural gas drilling method under consideration by Gov. Cuomo. As concerns with fracking in New York grow, Peoples-Stokes' has come out to support bill A7218, a ban on fracking, showing a commitment to a clean and healthy New York. Peoples-Stokes is the first legislator outside of the NYC-area to step up in support of this bill and in defense of our finite natural resources. Because of the threats fracking poses to Western New York, it is exceptionally significant to have a legislator adding their name to this legislation. Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes sits on the Environmental Conservation Committee and will discuss her concerns with water contamination and disposal of fracking waste for New Yorkers.

Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes
Buffalo Councilmember Joseph Golombek Jr.
Jim Anderson, Vice President of the State Board of Citizen Action of NY
Charley Bowman, Interim Director of the WNY Peace Center
Rita Yelda, Food & Water Watch

When: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 10AM
Where: Buffalo's Canalside, 1 Naval Park Cove, Buffalo, NY  [Map]

Contact: Rita Yelda, Food & Water Watch, 716-507-2077, ryelda@fwwlocal.org