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.|
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?