Frackademia

Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

Since the shale rush took off starting in 2005 in Texas, drillers have sprinted from one state to the next, chasing the promise of cheaper, easier, more productive wells. This land rush was fueled by a wild spike in natural gas prices that helped make shale gas drilling attractive even though the costs of fracking were high.

As the selling price of natural gas sank from its historic highs in 2008, much of the luster wore off entire regions that had initially captivated investors, like Louisiana’s Haynesville shale or Arkansas’s Fayetteville, now in decline.

But unlike natural gas prices, oil prices remain high to this day, and investors and policymakers alike remain dazzled by the heady promise of oil from shale rock. Oil and gas companies have wrung significant amounts of black gold from shale oil plays like Texas’s Eagle Ford and North Dakota’s Bakken.

Shale oil, they say, is the next big thing.

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future,” President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union address. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

But once again, the reality may be nothing like the hype. Consider California.

Union of Concerned Scientists Cites DeSmog's "Frackademia" Work in Major Report

The Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy has released a new report titled “Toward an Evidence-Based Fracking Debate” and DeSmogBlog's “frackademia” work takes the center stage in the 53-page heavily cited document.

With chapters on the science of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), fracking's regulatory landscape (and lack thereof), industry transparency (and again, lack thereof) and many sub-topics in between, DeSmog's “frackademia” work is mentioned twice in the “Interference in the Science” subsection. 

“Industry interests have influenced the outcome of academic studies of unconventional oil and gas development,” wrote UCS in citing DeSmogBlog. “Such efforts have produced industry-friendly research results and reports coming from several universities, a circumstance that has been dubbed 'frackademia.'”

UCS cited our “frackademia” case study of State University of New York at Buffalo and its proposed Shale Resources and Society Institute. The proposal was met with resistance and furor, eventually shuttering operations before it ever officially opened its doors in late-2012. 

Careful to avoid coastal bias, UCS also mentioned our probe of University of Southern California's “Powering California” report

NY Times' Joe Nocera Overlooks Key Flaws in EDF Fracking Climate Change Study

Yesterday, New York Times' columnist Joe Nocera weighed in on the study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin) on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)DeSmogBlog got a special mention in Nocera's op-ed titled, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.” 

Nocera praised UT-Austin Professor David Allen and colleagues for obtaining what he claimed was “unassailable data” on fugitive methane emissions and fracking's climate change impact potential. 

“The reason the Environmental Defense Fund wanted this study done is precisely so that unassailable data, rather than mere estimates, could become part of the debate over fracking,” wrote Nocera. “You can’t have sound regulation without good data.”

Missing from Nocera's praise: new findings by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change in their latest comprehensive review of the climate crisis.

IPCC revealed “over a 20-year time frame, methane has a global warming potential 86 [times the amount of] CO2, up from its previous estimate of 72 [times],” as explained by Climate Progress' Joe Romm.

In juxtaposition, Nocera dismissed DeSmog's criticisms of the study - one we referred to as “frackademia.” 

Simplifying the crux of my 3,000-word DeSmog critique and the 800-word follow-up as “because the nine companies involved had both cooperated and helped pay for it,” Nocera then rhetorically asks “why a study that necessitated industry cooperation and money is inherently less valid than a study produced by scientists who are openly opposed to fracking was left unanswered.”

Frackademia: The People & Money Behind the EDF Methane Emissions Study

Update: UT-Austin has released the Steering Committee roster for the study. It consists of lead author David Allen, two EDF employees, and nine oil industry representatives, including lobbyists and PR staff from ExxonMobil, Shell, Southwestern Energy and more. See DeSmog's follow-up coverage.

The long-awaited Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)-sponsored hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fugitive methane emissions study is finally out. Unfortunately, it's another case of “frackademia” or industry-funded 'science' dressed up to look like objective academic analysis.

If reliable, the study - published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and titled, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” - would have severely reduced concerns about methane emissions from fracked gas.

The report concludes .42% of fracked gas - based on samples taken from 190 production sites - is emitted into the air at the well pad. This is a full 2%-4% lower than well pad emissions estimated by Cornell University professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea in their ground-breaking April 2011 study now simply known as the “Cornell Study.”

peek behind the curtain show the study's results - described as “unprecedented” by EDF - may have something to do with the broad spectrum of industry-friendly backers of the report which include several major oil and gas companies, individuals and foundations fully committed to promoting the production and use of fracked gas in the U.S.

One of the report's co-authors currently works as a consultant for the oil and gas industry, while another formerly worked as a petroleum engineer before entering academia.

The study will likely be paraded as “definitive” by Big Oil, its front groups and the media in the days and weeks to come.

DeSmogBlog exclusive investigation reveals the study actually stands to make its pro-gas funders a fortune in what amounts to industry-favorable data meant to justify shale gas in the public mind as a “bridge fuel” - EDF's stance on gas - now and into the future.  

"Frackademia" By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it's another year of academia for professors across the United States - and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law. 

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”). 

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.” 

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding - $100 million per year - between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling. 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005's ”Halliburton Loophole” - which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” - is by far the bill's most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Controversial State Department Keystone XL Climate Study the Basis of David Petraeus' CUNY Seminar

Former CIA-head David Petraeus' City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College seminar readings include several prominent Big Oil-funded “frackademia” studies, a recent DeSmogBlog investigation revealed.

Further digging into records obtained via New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) also reveals “a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course” - as stated in an email from Petraeus to an unknown source due to redaction - utilizes the U.S. State Department's Keystone XL environmental review written by Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group) to argue that Transcanada's tar sands export pipeline deserves approval.

“[Redacted], atttached is a document that my Harvard researchers and I put together for the seminar I'll lead at Macaulay Honors College of CUNY,” wrote Petraeus in the email. “It is intended to be a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course…[It] will have considerable value, I think, for the undergrads in the course.”

The “Global Economy” survey was penned on behalf of Petraeus by Vivek Chilukuri, one of Petraeus' researchers at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Public Policy, where Petraeus sits as a Non-Resident Fellow. Chilukuri serves as Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy, and worked for Obama for America before the 2008 election. 

It was at the Harvard Kennedy School where all of Petraeus' troubles began. His biographer, Paula Broadwell, whom he had an affair with, met Petraeus while a Harvard graduate student, a scandal that ultimately drove him out of the CIA.

His CIA departure landed Petraeus his current gigs on Wall Street at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and as an adjunct professor at CUNY Honors College and University of Southern California - and coming full circle - back at Harvard, where the spool began to unravel. 

Revealed: Gen. David Petraeus' Course Syllabus Features "Frackademia" Readings

Records obtained by DeSmogBlog pertaining to City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College's hiring of former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus to teach a seminar this coming fall reveal that his syllabus features two of the most well-known “frackademia” studies. 

“Frackademia” is shorthand for oil and gas industry-funded research costumed as independent economics or science covering the topic of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the controversial horizontal drilling process via which oil and gas is obtained deep within shale rock basins.

According to the syllabus, Petraeus will devote two weeks to energy alone, naming those weeks “The Energy Revolution I” and “The Energy Revolution II.” The two “frackademia” studies Petraeus will have his students read for his course titled “The Coming North American Decade(s)? are both seminal industry-funded works.

One of them is a study written by industry-funded National Economic Research Associates (NERA) concluding liquified natural gas (LNG) exports are beneficial to the U.S. economy, despite the fact that exporting fracked gas will raise domestic home-heating and manufacturing prices. NERA was founded by “father of deregulation” Alfred E. Kahn. The study Petraeus will have his students read was contracted out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to NERA.

The other, a study written by then-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research professor Ernest Moniz - now the head of the DOE - is titled “The Future of Natural Gas” and also covers LNG exports. DOE oversees the permitting process for LNG exports. That study was funded by the Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for Chesapeake Energy and covered in-depth in the Public Accountability Initiative's report titled, “Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?

Noticeably absent from the reading list: studies tackling the climate impacts, air quality impacts, over-arching ecological impacts such as water contamination, wastewater impacts and supply issues (aka diminishing supply)

Together, the two crucial studies on the syllabus reading list - and the lack of critical readings on the topic of fracking - offers a gimpse into the stamp of legitimacy industry-funded studies get when they have the logo of elite research universities on them. It's also another portrayal of the ascendancy of the corporate university.  

Frackademia: University of Tennessee Set to Lease Forest For Fracking, Enriching Governor's Family

8,600 acres of the Cumberland Forest owned by University of Tennessee-Knoxville will be leased off to the oil and gas industry this August in a new form of “frackademia” - and one of the top financial beneficiaries will be the family of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who sits on UT-Knoxville's Board of Trustees

“Frackademia” is usually thought of as “studies” conducted by university-based “frackademic” researchers and funded by Big Oil, the old “Tobacco Playbook” in action. But UT-Knoxville has taken the game to a whole new level, leasing off land it owns so that it can study “best practices” for fracking in the Volunteer State.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a New York Times article on the proposal

The deal with the oil and gas industry for the acerage includes an initial fee of $300,000, plus $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and a minimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville

The 8,600 acres sits within the Chattanooga Shale basin, a field still untapped by the industry via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins. Atlas Energy - purchased as a subsidiary by Chevron in Nov. 2010 - owns 105,000 acres in the Chattanooga, a clear example the industry has its cross-hairs on the untapped Chattanooga basin. 

UT-Knoxville's new “leasing agency” program will be run under the auspices of the university's Institute of Agriculture, officially referred to as the UT Institute of Agriculture Gas and Oil Research Initiative and a pre-bid proposal conference for prospective industry partners is set for June 21. Leases will be five years long, with a maximum allowance of three renewals, or 20 years total. 

Ties That Bind: Ernest Moniz, Keystone XL Contractor, American Petroleum Institute and Fracked Gas Exports

Congress will review the Obama Administration's nomination of Ernest Moniz for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) in hearings that start today, April 9.

Moniz has come under fire for his outspoken support of nuclear power, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas and the overarching “all-of-the-above” energy policy advocated by both President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent in the last election, Mitt Romney

Watchdogs have also discovered that Moniz has worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He has also received the “frackademic” label for his time spent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At his MIT job, Moniz regularly accepted millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry to sponsor studies under the auspices of The MIT Energy Initiative, which has received over $145 million over its seven-year history from the oil and gas industry. 

MIT's “The Future of Natural Gas” report, covered by many mainstream media outlets without any effort to question who bankrolled it, was funded chiefly by the American Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for the shale gas industry's number two domestic producer, Chesapeake Energy. That report concluded that gas is a “bridge fuel” for a renewable energy future and said that shale gas exports were in the best economic interests of the United States, which should “not erect barriers to natural gas imports and exports.” 

As first revealed on DeSmogBlog, Moniz is also on the Board of Directors of ICF International, one of the three corporate consulting firms tasked to perform the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. KXL is slated to bring tar sands - also known as “diluted bitumen,” or “dilbit” - from Alberta to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market

Moniz earned over $300,000 in financial compensation in his two years sitting on the Board at ICF, plus whatever money his 10,000+ shares of ICF stock have earned him. 

"Frackademia" Strikes Again at USC with "Powering California" Study Release

Frackademia” - shorthand for bogus science, economics and other research results paid for by the oil and gas industry and often conducted by “frackademics” with direct ties to the oil and gas industry - has struck again in California.

It comes in the form of a major University of Southern California (USC) report on the potential economic impacts of a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom in California's Monterey Shale basin that's hot off the presses, “Powering California: The Monterey Shale and California's Economic Future.”

California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown recently gave his cautious support to fracking, the toxic process via which oil and gas embedded deep within shale rock basins made famous by the documentary film “Gasland,” currently a topic of contention in California. The new report gleefully says we could be witnessing 1849 all over again, the second-coming of a “Gold Rush,” a term the co-authors utilize 9 times in the Preface. 

The report, co-authored by a Los Angeles-based public relations firm, The Communications Institute (TCI), concludes that “development of the 1,750-square-mile formation in central California could generate half a million new jobs by 2015 and 2.8 million by 2020,” as reported by The Los Angeles Times, which blared the headline, “Tapping California shale oil could add millions of jobs, study says.”  

Given California's population of 37,683,933 people, this would mean 7.4 percent of the state's citizens can gain employment and economic uplift from the industry. It would also shrink the 20.3-percent unemployment rate in the Golden State down drastically, to 12.9 percent. 

“The Monterey shale would help stimulate the California economy to a significant extent,” USC professor and co-author Adam Rose told The Times. “It's not just a benefit to the oil industry. These impacts ripple throughout the economy.”  

While a nice sentiment, the age-old questions quickly arise: who are the authors and who funded this study? 

The answers to these questions, a DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed, paints an entirely different picture of the report's findings and how it came to such rosy conclusions. 

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