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Frackademia in Depth; An analysis of the oil and gas industryʼs case for fracking

By Robert Galbraith, Gin Armstrong, and Kevin Connor - Public Accountability Initiative, February 2015

In the wake of New York Stateʼs decision to ban fracking, drilling proponents have criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration for basing the decision on “pseudo science”and “junk science.” When asked about the New York fracking ban at his 2015 “State of American Energy” press conference, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard called for “more thoughtful consideration as to economics, environment, and sound science –because the science is clearly on the side of development and on the side of industry.”

Over the years, some of this science has proven less than reliable. In a trend that became known as “frackademia,”several universities issued industry-friendly fracking studies that the institutions later retracted and walked back due to erroneous central findings, false claims of peer review, and undisclosed industry ties. The studies bore the hallmarks of an industry effort to manipulate and corrupt the scientific debate around fracking, much like the tobacco industry manipulated the scientific debate around the dangers associated with smoking.

This report suggests that those studies, rather than being isolated cases, were consistent with a larger pattern – pro-fracking scholarship is often industry-tied and lacking in scientific rigor. An in-depth look at frackademia reveals that many of these kinds of studies have been produced by industry and its allies in academia, in government, and in the consulting world.

The report approaches this topic by analyzing a broad set of fracking studies that the industry has put forward to help it make its case. Specifically, the report considers an extensive list of over 130 studies compiled by an oil and gas industry group, Energy in Depth. The list was specifically used to convince the government of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, home of the city of Pittsburgh, to lease mineral rights under its Deer Lakes Park to Range Resources for gas drilling. Though that decision was a relatively minor one in the context of the nationwide fracking debate, the list provides a telling window onto the fracking research that the industry believes is fit for public consumption, and which it uses to make the case that the science around the issue is settled.

The report assesses the relative independence and quality of the studies by identifying and classifying each studyʼs industry ties –through funders, authors, and issuers –and determining whether it was peer-reviewed.

Read the report (PDF).

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