Frackademia scandals

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Frackademia refers to oil and gas companies funding research at major universities on hydraulic fracturing, as well as academics having financial interests in oil and gas companies, which critics say can blur the line between scientific research and PR. Such studies often report strongly optimistic projections of "unconventional" oil and gas resources and the economic benefits of drilling and exporting them, and create doubt about the environmental and health hazards of fracking.[1]

Frackademic scandals

Penn State

A 2009 Pennsylvania State University study predicted drillers would shun Pennsylvania if new taxes were imposed, and lawmakers cited it the following year when they rejected a 5 percent tax proposed by then-Governor Ed Rendell. It was later reported that the PSU study was sponsored by the industry-funded Marcellus Shale Coalition, which provided a grant of about $100,000, and led by economist Dr. Tim Considine, who has also conducted contract research for industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the Wyoming Mining Association.[2]

A 2010 expansion of the 2009 PSU study was funded by the American Petroleum Institute.[3]

After the industry ties were uncovered and reported by outsiders, Penn State officials conceded in June 2010 that the failure to disclose was a “clear error.”[1]


In 2011 the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) released The Future of Natural Gas, which stated that "natural gas provides a cost-effective bridge to a low-carbon future" and supported the exporting of liquified natural gas. A major sponsor of the report was the American Clean Skies Foundation, founded and chaired by Aubrey McClendon, CEO of the nation’s No. 2 gas producer Chesapeake Energy.[4]

Other acknowledged major funders of the study included the Hess Corp., Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos of Colombia, the Gas Technology Institute, and Exelon.[1] The four “founding members” of MITEI — BP, Shell, Italy’s ENI and Saudi Aramco — each agreed to pay $25 million over five years for the right to help manage research projects, maintain an office at MITEI headquarters and “place a researcher in a participating MIT faculty member’s lab,” according to the MITEI website. Ten “sustaining members” commit $5 million each for fewer rights, but still get seats on MITEI’s executive committee and governing board.[1]

Ernest Moniz, the study’s chair, did not disclose that he had joined the board of oil and gas consulting firm ICF prior to the release of the report. Moniz’s compensation from ICF since 2011 is valued at over $300,000. The MIT report also did not disclose that study co-chair Anthony Meggs joined gas company Talisman Energy prior to the release of the study. Another study group member, John Deutch, has served on the board of the LNG company Cheniere Energy since 2006 and owns $1.4 million in Cheniere stock.[5]

University of Buffalo/SUNY

A May 2012 University of Buffalo-SUNY study, written for UBuffalo's new “Shale Institute” by the lead authors of the compromised 2009 Penn State study (including Tim Considine), concluded that gas drillers in Pennsylvania were making their operations safer. UBuffalo’s president, Satish Tripathi, initially defended the Shale Institute and the study to SUNY trustees, but he reversed himself weeks later after UB faculty members and the Public Accountability Initiative unearthed various industry ties, including that Considine's department had received nearly $6 million in donations from the oil and gas industry in 2011.[6][7]

Tripathi shut down the Shale Institute in November 2012.[1]

University of Texas

In February 2012 a University of Texas study, "Separating Fact from Fiction In Shale Gas Development," found no evidence of aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing chemicals in the subsurface by fracturing operations, and observed no leakage from hydraulic fracturing at depth. Critics of the study noted that proponents of hydraulic fracturing had incorrectly reported the study found no environmental contamination,[8][9] when the study found that all steps in the process except the actual injection of the fluid (which proponents designated "hydraulic fracturing") have resulted in environmental contamination.[10] UTexas yanked the study after outsiders uncovered the fact that a key researcher, Chip Groat, had earned $58,000 a year as a board member of a gas drilling company, Plains Exploration & Production Co. Groat also held more than $1.7 million in Plains stock.[11] The scandal led to the resignation of the head of UT’s Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach in December 2012.[1]


A March 2013 study by USC and the Communications Institute, a Los Angeles think tank funded by USC, estimated that development of California's Monterey Shale could generate half a million new jobs by 2015 and 2.8 million by 2020, and boost the state’s economy by 14 percent. As reported in DeSmogBlog: "the report acknowledges financial support - though failing to disclose how much funding - from the Western States Petroleum Asssociation (WSPA)" and "one of the co-authors of the 'study' - Fred Aminzadeh - is currently an oil and gas industry employee." Aminzadeh is founder and President of global oil and gas industry consultancy firm FACT-Corp. and on the Advisory Board of both Western Standard Energy Corp. and Saratoga Resources.[12]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Peter Mantius, "'Frackademia' – MIT’s Ernest Moniz, Obama’s Top Candidate for Energy Secretary, Oversees Pro-Industry-Funded Research," DC Bureau, February 21, 2013.
  2. Jim Efstathiou Jr., "Frackers Fund University Research That Proves Their Case," Bloomberg, July 22, 2012.
  3. Tim McDonnell, [ "Smelling a leak: Is the natural gas industry buying academics?" Grist, July 30, 2012.
  4. Joel Kirkland, "MIT Researchers See Natural Gas as the Choice for Lower Carbon Emissions" NY Times, June 25, 2010.
  5. "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s influential study of fracking was authored, funded, and released by oil and gas industry insiders," PAI, March 2013.
  6. Tim McDonnell, [ "Smelling a leak: Is the natural gas industry buying academics?" Grist, July 30, 2012.
  7. Jim Efstathiou Jr., "Penn State Faculty Snub of Fracking Study Ends Research," Bloomberg, Oct 3, 2012.
  8. Vaughan, Vicki (16 February 2012). Fracturing ‘has no direct’ link to water pollution, UT study finds. Retrieved on 3 March 2012.
  9. Munro, Margaret (17 February 2012). Fracking does not contaminate groundwater: study released in Vancouver. Retrieved on 3 March 2012.
  10. Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development. Retrieved on 29 February 2012.
  11. Jim Efstathiou Jr., "Frackers Fund University Research That Proves Their Case," Bloomberg, July 22, 2012.
  12. Steve Horn, ""Frackademia" Strikes Again at USC with "Powering California" Study Release," DeSmog Blog, March 14, 2013.

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