[Marxism] Marxmailer in the news

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jun 12 08:20:16 MDT 2012


(That's Jim Holstun I am speaking of.)

NY Times June 11, 2012
Institute’s Gas Drilling Report Leads to Claims of Bias and 
Concern for a University’s Image
By MIREYA NAVARRO

A report from a new institute at the State University at Buffalo 
asserting that state oversight has made natural gas drilling safer 
is causing tumult on campus and beyond, with critics arguing that 
the institute is biased toward industry and could undercut the 
university’s reputation.

The study, issued on May 15, said that state regulation in 
Pennsylvania had made drilling there far safer and that New York 
rules were even more likely to ensure safety once drilling gets 
under way in the state.

But a government watchdog group quickly raised questions about the 
study’s data and the authors’ ties to the oil and gas industry. 
And a newly formed group of professors and students is calling for 
a broader inquiry into the genesis of the institute, which issued 
the report only weeks after its creation was announced in April.

“This report reflects the interests of the gas companies, not 
scholarship,” said Jim Holstun, a professor of English and one of 
around 20 members of the newly formed University at Buffalo 
Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, which met 
for the first time Wednesday night. “We look very bad.”

The controversy at the university, a major research center with 
the biggest enrollment in the State University of New York system 
with 28,600 students, taps into widespread concerns in academia 
about the growing influence of corporate money in research as 
government grants decline. The drilling research arm, the Shale 
Resources and Society Institute, is seeking to raise $1.14 million 
in start-up money over the next three years from the oil and gas 
industry and other sources, according to the university and the 
institute’s Web site.

University officials, who say they will respond to the criticisms 
raised, said their goal in founding the institute was to bring 
academic rigor to the hot-button issue of horizontal hydraulic 
fracturing, or hydrofracking, which involves pumping large volumes 
of chemicals and water into shale under high pressure to extract gas.

The drilling process has roiled communities in Pennsylvania since 
it began in full there in 2008, with many residents complaining 
about air pollution and threats to groundwater aquifers. It has 
also proved divisive in New York, where the administration of Gov. 
Andrew M. Cuomo is finalizing proposed regulations to allow 
drilling upstate.

E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the 
University at Buffalo, said in an interview that the idea for the 
institute came out of a series of seminars on hydrofracking issues 
held by the geology department last year that pointed up the need 
for a forum “for the exchange of ideas and debate.” The institute 
as a whole has yet to receive financial support from the industry, 
Dr. Pitman said, and its start-up budget — about $40,000 — came 
from the college’s discretionary funds.

In their report, the shale institute’s researchers said they 
examined violations by Marcellus Shale drillers in Pennsylvania 
from January 2008 to August 2011. It said that the incidence of 
major “polluting environmental events” related to hydrofracking — 
like contamination of local water supplies and spills — declined 
by more than half in three years, “a rather notable indicator of 
improvement by the industry and oversight by the regulators.”

The report added that under New York’s proposed rules, which are 
more stringent, any problems “could have been either entirely 
avoided or mitigated.”

But in a searing critique issued nine days later, the Public 
Accountability Initiative, a local watchdog group, questioned the 
study’s claims, saying the rate of major violations had actually 
gone up. The group also took some of the authors to task for 
copying entire passages from a report they wrote last year for the 
conservative Manhattan Institute, without proper attribution.

“What happens is that the first study gets published, and that 
study is cited by other studies that come out,” said Kevin Connor, 
the co-director of the Public Accountability Initiative. “U.B. 
just put its label on it.”

He said the material gained the stature of academic research once 
released by the University at Buffalo. A university news release 
accompanying the report even described it as “peer-reviewed” — 
words that were later retracted by the university.

The authors’ ties to the oil and gas industry also were not fully 
disclosed, said the accountability group, which focuses on 
corporate and government corruption. The two lead authors, Timothy 
J. Considine, an economist at the University of Wyoming, and 
Robert W. Watson, an associate professor emeritus of engineering 
at Pennsylvania State University, conduct research for industry.

Neither Dr. Considine nor Dr. Watson returned calls or responded 
to e-mails. The third author, the shale institute’s co-director, 
John P. Martin, who does planning and public relations work for 
the industry through JPMartin Energy Strategy in Saratoga Springs, 
declined to be interviewed through a University at Buffalo spokesman.

The fourth author was Dr. Considine’s son Nicholas, identified in 
the report as being affiliated with the University of Wyoming’s 
Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, which is led by his 
father.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group of oil and gas 
companies, finances studies by Dr. Considine and Dr. Watson on the 
economic impacts of natural gas development.

Kathryn Klaber, the coalition’s president, said that the 
researchers were chosen because of their experience, and that the 
purpose of the research was to advance the “technological and 
economic understanding that’s going to get us to the next level in 
shale gas development.”

Like other industries, oil and gas companies routinely support 
energy, geology and engineering research to harness scientific 
expertise, to advance technology and to groom a work force they 
can draw from in the future. Consulting work by researchers is 
also common.

Energy programs like the School of Energy Resources where Dr. 
Considine teaches at the University of Wyoming show the logos of 
partnering oil and gas companies on their Web sites. So does a 
different SUNY shale research institute, founded in 2009 on the 
Fredonia campus and led by Gary Lash, another prominent researcher 
with his own consulting firm.

“When a corporation gives you a gift, you want to say thank you,” 
said Michael R. Barone, a spokesman for SUNY Fredonia.

Some experts on the ethics of research say that only peer-reviewed 
research published in independent journals should be taken 
seriously. Any corporate ties, they add, must be fully disclosed.

“The thing that’s really hanging over all this is that when 
companies fund research, the companies attempt to borrow the 
prestige of the university,” said Thomas O. McGarity, a law 
professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a board member 
at the Center for Progressive Reform. “Universities have to be 
absolutely transparent.”




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