When it comes to science, the big money folks behind Big Oil and Gas — and their ideological buddies on the Far Right — have two very different strategies. When confronted with the many, many studies showing that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas has tainted groundwater, polluted the air, led to improper disposal of wastewater and possibly even caused earthquakes, the energy giants not only deny the results but denigrate the messenger. When that doesn’t work, there’s Plan B: Buy your own scientific findings.
This is an alarming trend. Since the fracking boom took off several years ago, the big natural gas companies have spent millions of dollars hiring willing professors as consultants, or funding on-campus research centers. It seems that almost every time there’s a much-heralded study that exonerates the industry of any harm, it turns out that the industry’s checkbook is lurking in the background. Back in May, for example, I told you about a non-peer-reviewed study from the University of Buffalo — much-promoted by industry, of course — that claimed that violations from fracking rigs were minimal and on the decline. In fact, the exact opposite was true — and the authors had received major funding from the oil-and-gas industry. Shocking, huh?
Remember that study out of The University of Texas last February that concluded there wasn’t a direct link between fracking and groundwater contamination? It caught flack for seeming to being too easy on the fracking industry by suggesting that there wasn’t a direct link between cracking shale and groundwater contamination. The study was great news for an industry fighting a PR battle over a politically-charged issue.
However, financial ties to the fracking industry were never mentioned in all of the announcements about the study, and not known until a new study put out Monday by the Public Accountability Initiative. The study’s leader, Dr. Charles “Chip” Groathas significant financial ties to the fracking industry, to the tune of a couple of million dollars.
The findings by State Impact Texas involving the conflict of interest are just stunning:
Groat, a former Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, also sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company, a Houston-based company that conducts drilling and fracking in Texas and other parts of the country. According to the new report (and a review of the company’s financial reports by Bloomberg) Groat received more than $400,000 from the drilling company last year alone, 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. Since 2007, Groat has received over $1.5 million in cash and stock awards from the company, and he currently holds over $1.6 million in company stock, according to the PAI report.
This is what is going on in the fracking world, in a nutshell. There are seemingly no limits to what Big Oil and Gas will spend to buy off scientists, government officials, and other key players to create a favorable — and totally bogus — view of fracking before besieged everyday citizens can have any idea what hit them. But the remarkable thing is there are growing signs that their big-bucks science scheme isn’t working. Everyday, I see new reports of regular folks who are as alarmed by the rush to frack as I am — people who are taking to the streets and fighting back for their right to breathe clean air and drink untainted water.
In California, environmental groups are pushing hard for a moritorium on fracking. In Lubbock, Texas, concerned citizens are protesting the local government’s contract to allow drilling on city land. Activists from coast-to-coast are pushing, with some success, for recycling of the wastewater from fracking. They are showing up at county commission hearings in Ohio to demand answers about hazardous spills. I could go on and on — because people are now on to the energy giants and their tricks.
That’s not going to stop Big Oil and Gas from trying to blind us with their well-funded pseudo-science. But there’s already too many methane leaks, too many tainted wells. too many headaches and ulcers and sick dogs and livestock to paper over with propaganda disguised as research. The public trusts real science — and it knows how to spot a fake.
To learn more about the tainted research from the University of Texas, please read: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/2012/07/24/industry-money-and-questionable-ethics-contaminate-ut-austin-fracking-study/
The original State Impact Texas article about the issue is at: http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2012/07/23/fracking-company-paid-texas-professor-behind-water-contamination-study/
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