New York Report Analyzes Industry Science Behind Fracking

Feb 23, 2015

Credit Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News

  A new report released in the wake of New York State's decision to ban the horizontal gas drilling process known as fracking analyzes more than 100 scientific studies that have been approved and distributed by oil and gas industry representatives.


***Updated: Monday, February 23, 11pm

“Frackademia in Depth”

“Industry-funded science can be great for technical things,” said the report’s lead author Robert Galbraith, “when the industry has an interest in having the outcome be the most accurate information possible.”

Galbraith works for a nonprofit in Buffalo, New York, called The Public Accountability Initiative. Among other things, the organization says it is is dedicated to exposing conflicts of interest within industry-sponsored studies.

His report "Frackademis in Depth" compares oil and gas industry-sponsored studies to strategies the tobacco industry employed several decades ago when it was trying to sway public opinion about the health risks of cigarettes.

Frackademia: (n) frak-uh-DEEM-ee-uh – the phenomenon whereby oil and gas industry representatives spin scientific research to generate the appearance of a pro-fracking consensus among the scientific community.

Major findings:

  • Only 14% of the studies listed were peer-reviewed.
  • Only one peer-reviewed study explicitly dealt with public health concerns, and it was industry-funded.
  • The list included retracted and discredited studies, including studies that made false claims of peer review.
  • Prominent industry associations funded and issued studies.
  • Government and industry hired the same consulting firms.
  • The list inflates a generally weak scientific case by including studies multiple times and listing “studies” that were actually blog posts, non-binding guidelines, and PowerPoint presentations.

DATA

The report also includes an interactive data table that distills information the organization gathered in a user-friendly way.

One study listed in the data chart: “Why Every Environmentalist Should Favor Fracking” It was not peer-reviewed, and was authored by a father/daughter team who also founded “Global Shale”, a consulting firm focused on natural gas early exploration and development.

Galbraith says he hopes his report will help policy-makers and the public be better informed about the science behind hydraulic fracturing practices.

“Energy in Depth”

Robert Galbraith and his colleagues looked specifically at some 137 studies compiled by a group called Energy in Depth - a PR firm funded by major oil and gas interests including BP, Halliburton, Chevron, and Shell. Galbraith says his organization chose this list because it’s been used to affect government policy regarding natural gas development.

***Spokesperson from Energy in Depth, Katie Brown, reached out to comment on this story. 

Brown wanted to offer this important background:

Soon after the announcement that New York would ban fracking, Energy in Depth publicly criticized policy makers in New York for using what they call “dubious science” to disallow horizontal drilling in the state.

Brown points to the study New York State’s Commissioner of Health referenced:

“It turns out that that paper was written by two aggressive anti-fracking groups," Brown said,  "and it was 'peer-reviewed' by the co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking.”

Brown went on to point out that now, several weeks later, the Public Accountability Initiative (which, Brown adds, is funded by sources that have also donated to anti-fracking campaigns) is now criticizing Energy in Depth for the same reasons.

Brown doesn’t deny that the reports analyzed by Public Accountability Initiative were distributed to influence policy. But she contends that only government research and reliable sources of information should influence policy makers. 

Public Opinion/Scientific Consensus?

While both pro-environment and pro-industry groups are quick to spotlight scientists supporting their arguments or agendas,  a new Pew Research Center survey says only 31 percent of scientists “favor increased use of fracking.” Meanwhile public opinion, according to that same report, isn’t too far from the survey's stated scientific consensus; 39 percent of the public, "favor increased use of fracking."