Monday, June 15, 2015

New Report: Oil and Gas Industry Pressures and Intimidates Scientists Critical of Fracking

BUFFALO, NY – A new report from the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI), a nonprofit watchdog group, finds that the oil and gas industry has been pressuring and intimidating scientists conducting research critical of fracking. 

The report, titled “Freedom Fracked?”, reviews cases where university researchers have been pressured by  – or even fired from – their institutions due to their criticism, either actual or perceived, of the drilling industry. It is the latest in a series of PAI reports bringing transparency to the industry’s role in shaping academic research on fracking.

The issue has recently made headlines in Oklahoma, where Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, obtained meetings with and apparently sought firings at the Oklahoma Geological Survey as it came closer to acknowledging a link between the disposal of fracking wastewater and the rash of earthquakes that has struck the state in recent years. David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma (which houses the Oklahoma Geological Survey), sits on the board of directors of Hamm’s company.

PAI’s report raises questions about the Energy Information Administration’s decision to make Hamm a keynote speaker, alongside Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, at its energy conference next week.

The report notes that the Oklahoma story, while particularly egregious, is far from the only case in which academic researchers have come under extreme pressure from industry, in some cases losing their jobs as a result.

“This is a clear trend of oil and gas interests exerting their influence to quiet scientists with whom they disagree.” said Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative.

The Oklahoma scandal parallels that of Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist who lost jobs at both the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Wyoming, due to “pushback from alumni and trustees” at the industry-connected schools. As in Oklahoma, Bill Scoggins – the president of the Colorado School of Mines when Thyne was let go – was a paid board member of several oil and gas firms. Scoggins was also a director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association at the time, a lobbying group that Thyne said pressured his bosses into terminating his research.

A third researcher, Dan Volz, resigned from his position at the University of Pittsburgh after the school discouraged him from speaking on public health issues – and after his work came under attack by industry.

“The industry’s efforts to stifle academic criticism of fracking while promoting its own biased research shows that it is more concerned with optics than developing a sound scientific record,” said Connor. “They will resort to smears and attacks if a researcher’s work does not fit their narrative that the science is settled in favor of fracking.”

The issue of industry pressure on scientific research on fracking is timely given the release last week of the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing operations on drinking water, and reports that the industry had refused to cooperate with the investigation.

PAI is a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group focused on corporate and government accountability issues. In addition to publishing research on critical public accountability issues, PAI maintains, an involuntary facebook of powerful people and tool for power research that was used to compile data for the report.

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