As evidence mounts concerning the hazards of fracking, the oil and gas industry is increasingly trying to redirect public discussion of the topic, focusing instead on the funding behind the environmental groups rather than the actual science of the matter.
Aside from showing a certain desperation, the tactic is especially disingenuous since this industry has no small experience with astro-turf campaigns and buying faux research to promote its interests.
Again and again, it has turned out that scientific research downplaying the risks of fracking or hyping the benefits of the shale gas rush was actually funded by the oil and gas industry, and oftentimes, that funding was not properly disclosed.
In 2010, Penn State administrators retracted a study by Timothy Considine, which predicted tens of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue from the shale rush, when a local watchdog group, the Responsible Drilling Alliance complained that the study had been funded by a shale industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, but that funding was never disclosed, which school administrators later labeled a “clear error.”
In 2012, the State University of New York at Buffalo shut down its Shale Resources and Society Institute after the Public Accountability Initiative revealed that research it produced was severely flawed and that its authors never disclosed their industry ties. (DeSmog also investigated conflicts and undisclosed funding at the Institute.)
It's a problem repeated enough that it's often referred to simply in shorthand: frackademia.
With all this attention focused on how research is funded, many shale gas boosters, like bloggers at Energy in Depth, a PR organization formed by the oil industry, have begun trying to turn the criticism around.
They've focused on the role played by several non-profit foundations, claiming that research funded by these foundations and endowments should be treated just as skeptically as research funded by shale companies.
It's a false equivalence, a child's “I'm rubber but you're glue” taunt. But, in some instances, it's helped the industry turn around narratives told in the press.