University of Texas

A New Kind of Frackademia? New Environmental Inspectors Offered Free Industry-Funded Classes on Fracking

At an industry conference in Philadelphia last month, oil and gas executives gathered to hear about a little-known public relations effort with a very precise target: newly hired state and federal environmental inspectors.

At a seminar titled “Staying Ahead of Federal and State Regulations: A Partnership with Academia and Government,” officials from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas described how gifts from companies like ExxonMobil allowed their universities, along with the Colorado School of Mines, to offer state regulators free classes on oil industry best practices, travel and accommodations included.

Exclusive: Battle Over Flaming Water and Fracking Reignites As Analysis Prompts Call for Renewed EPA Investigation

At the heart of the international controversy over fracking has been the contention that the oil and gas drilling technique can contaminate people's drinking water, sometimes even causing it to light on fire. One poster child for this claim has been Steven Lipsky, a Texas homeowner who has appeared in a viral video with a garden hose spewing flames and says his water was fouled by fracking.

For years, Mr. Lipsky has fought legal battles — most often with federal EPA investigators finding his claims of contamination credible, while Texas regulators and the drilling company, Range Resources, taking the opposite view.

An analysis released this week, describing research by scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington, may open this case once again. It offers new evidence that the tests taken at Mr. Lipsky's well water by Range Resources and Texas regulators, who reported little or no contamination, were flawed and potentially inaccurate.

Key Greenhouse Gas Study May Have "Systematically Understated" Methane Leaks, New Research Shows

A widely cited study on the amount of methane leaking from oil and gas sites, including fracked wells, shows signs of a major flaw, a newly published peer-reviewed paper concludes.

“The University of Texas reported on a campaign to measure methane emissions from United States natural gas production sites as part of an improved national inventory,” researcher Touché Howard wrote in a paper published today in the journal Energy Science & Engineering. “Unfortunately, their study appears to have systematically underestimated emissions.”

Oklahoma Ignores Link Between Record Number of Earthquakes and Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells

Oklahoma fracking earthquakes

As Oklahoma continues to experience more earthquakes than California this year, residents are questioning why regulators haven’t taken any meaningful action to guard against increased seismic activity.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says that wastewater injection into deep geologic formations, a part of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, is a likely contributing factor to this increase in quakes. The phenomenon, known as “injection-induced seismicity,” has been documented for nearly half a century, according to the USGS.

The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013 — by about 50 per cent — significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma,” says the USGS report.

Angela Spotts is one of many Oklahoma residents who is wondering why no meaningful action has been taken to safeguard residents.

Angela Spotts
Angela Spotts across from a drilling rig at a hydraulic fracturing site near her home. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

It is kind of like an assault. You feel like you are being sacrificed for this gold they are pulling out of the ground. And you start meeting people that are getting sick,” Spotts, a member of Stop Fracking Payne County, told DeSmogBlog. “It is the tobacco industry all over again.” 

Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking. 

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle. 

Webster's Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study - based on the oddly rosy findings - it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.  

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.  

Fracking Your Future: Shale Gas Industry Targets College Campuses, K-12 Schools

In Pennsylvania - a state that sits in the heart of the Marcellus Shale basin - the concept of “frackademia” and “frackademics” has taken on an entirely new meaning.

On Sept. 27, the PA House of Representatives - in a 136-62 vote - passed a bill that allows hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” to take place on the campuses of public universities. Its Senate copycat version passed in June in a 46-3 vote and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law as Act 147 on Oct. 8.

The bill is colloquially referred to as the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act. It was sponsored by Republican Sen. Don White, one of the state's top recipients of oil and gas industry funding between 2000-April 2012, pulling in $94,150 during that time frame, according to a recent report published by Common Cause PA and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. Corbett has taken over $1.8 million from the oil and gas industry since his time serving as the state's Attorney General in 2004. 

The Corbett Administration has made higher education budget cuts totaling over $460 million in the past two consecutive PA state budgets. The oil and gas industry has offered fracking as a new fundraising stream at universities starved for cash and looking to fill that massive cash void, as explained by The Philadelphia Inquirer:

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