Is Listening to Science Enough?

listenRegardless of the issue, the public has been urged to “listen to science”.   We ask if listening is enough.

Too often people confine their listening to the headlines, memes, and quick news blurbs while ignoring who is saying what and who paid them.

The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) look at who prepared and funded studies and reports related to drilling and fracking by the fossil fuel industry in February 2015.

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.

What PAI found was 76% of the studies cited by energy in Depth had some degree of industry connection. Of the 137 unique studies on EID’s list that could be located, 56 had strong ties to the oil and gas industry. Another 35 had industry ties that PAI classified as medium, and 13 studies had other industry ties that were present, but relatively weak.

Industry funded or supported studies have become to be known as FRACKademia. Such industry connected studies are not new.   The practice of producing ‘science’ to support an industry position was widely used by the tobacco industry over smoking, second-hand smoke and health impacts.

 The fossil fuel industry is using the same template as was used by big tobacco to produce studies which either attempts to show “fracking” is safe, or to keep the public off balance by saying there isn’t enough “science” to say fracking isn’t safe.

Doing a study takes money and a veil of credibility via the “experts”.   Questions people should be asking are:

  • Who funded the study?
  • Who are the experts?

The 2012 study by University of Texas (UT) Austin’s Energy Institute, ‘Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in the Shale Gas Development,’ is a good example where these questions were asked. (Click here to download UT/Groat Study)

We do not know who specifically funded the UT study; however in 2010 ConocoPhillips gave $1.5 Million to the University of Texas a 5-year grant for Energy Research. The grant was administered through the university’s interdisciplinary Energy Institute. The Energy Institute provides guidance to the state of Texas and the nation on sustainable energy security through the pursuit of research and education programs.

In the spring of 2012 UT announced several donations from the oil and gas industry: $1.19 million from ExxonMobil given to the University; $6 million from oil and gas man Jon Brumley; and $1.7 million from oilfield services company Baker Hughes for drilling technology.

chip groutThe study was the work of Dr. Charles “Chip” Groat. Groat served six and a half years as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), having been appointed by President Clinton and retained by President Bush.

While he was Director of the USGS three USGS scientists working on water infiltration projects for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear repository facility exchanged emails revealing that they had altered or outright falsified the results of their research to produce desired outcomes. One of the scientists, Joseph Hevesi, would later have to be subpoenaed to appear before a House of Representatives subcommittee after refusing to cooperate with their investigation. Groat resigned as USGS director in 2005 and went to work at UT.

In November 2005 it was announced that Groat joined the board of directors for the Pogo Producing Company (PPP). PPP was acquired by Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) in 2007, and Groat joined PXP’s board.

Groat’s director’s seat was not disclosed in relation to the UT report.

According to a PAI report (and a review of the company’s financial reports by Bloomberg) Groat received more than $400,000 from the drilling company in 2011alone, more than double his salary at the University. And one of the shales examined in Groat’s fracking study is currently being drilled by the company, the report says.

How Factual was the UT Study?
The release of the study was heavily promoted by UT and the industry as scientific proof there was no connection between “fracking” and water contamination, therefore it was safe.

Defining the terms is essential. Fracking as defined by the industry is the moment in which the shale is shattered to release the oil or gas.   Fracking as understood by the general public encompasses the entire process of drilling, fracking and extraction of the resource.

Using the industry’s narrow definition, then it could be said fracking doesn’t cause water contamination within those short moments of shattering the shale.

What the Groat/UT study did say was the problems associated with fracking tend to be due to mistakes made in other parts of the drilling process, like casing failures that allow drilling fluids and gas to escape from a well, poor cement jobs and spills on the surface.

“These problems are not unique to hydraulic fracturing,” Charles Groat, an Energy Institute associate director and the lead author of the study, said in a statement.

According to the Heartland Institute:

The study, Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development, found any instances of groundwater contamination related to hydraulic fracturing projects (also known as fracking projects) occurred during aboveground handling, storage, and transportation phases that are common to all oil and gas drilling operations and are not related to the hydraulic fracturing process itself.

This is further supported by Mark Boling, executive vice president and general counsel of Southwestern Energy Co., a major natural-gas producer, said he has examined several incidents in Colorado and Pennsylvania where gas drilling appears to have caused gas to get into drinking water.

“Every one we identified was caused by a failure of the integrity of the well, and almost always it was the cement job,” he said.

Like the recently released EPA report, the UT/Groat study itself was presented as having scientific findings, but much of it was in fact “based on literature surveys, incident reports and conjecture.” The PAI review goes so far as to say that “the term ‘fact-based’ would not apply to such an analysis” and it lacked a “rigorous, independent review” of its findings.

Asking WHO?
By drilling into the UT study and others to find out who is behind them exposes whether or not they are real science or a PR tool. Such questions led UT to withdraw the study, and Groat’s resignation. Groat is now President and Chief Executive Officer of the Water Institute of the Gulf (WIG).

The Water Institute of the Gulf is a not-for-profit, independent applied research institute dedicated to providing advanced understanding and technical expertise to support management of coastal, deltaic and water systems, within Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and around the world. 

WIG produces presentation, plans, reports and publications. Who funds WIG?  Per WIG:

Seed money to provide funding for initial operations for The Water Institute of the Gulf was contributed by the State of Louisiana and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. As The Water Institute continues to establish itself as a significant research entity, future funding will come from a variety of sources of competitive and non-competitve grant funding from public and private sources.

While Frackorporation is unable to find a list of funding sources for WIG, we did find:

Grants from BP are providing funds to start underwrite the Water Institute and to start building a Water Campus, where 4,000 scientists, engineers and support staff will offer solutions to help more than 1 billion who live on fragile coastlines around the world.

Click here to download info on “the WaterCampus”toto

Should we be listening to science? Yes we should listen to science, and read science and look at the science.   We must also be TOTOs and pull back the curtain of science to discover who is hiding there.



© 2015 by Dory Hippauf



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