Distorting the Facts: Oil and Gas Industry Pays Penn State $100,000 for Pro-Fracking Study


We’re all aware that money talks, but the degree to which pro-industry interests are distorting public information on fracking was in particularly high relief this week as natural gas companies are in no-holds-barred pursuit of billions in potential profits.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it’s more commonly called, injects large volumes of pressurized water, sand and highly toxic chemicals, such as carcinogenic benzene, deep into the ground to break up shale formations and release the natural gas inside. Fracking is known to contaminate water supplies as chemicals and radioactive material from the controversial practice find their way into aquifers, rivers and residential drinking-water wells.

A recent editorial from the New York Post, titled “Frack, baby, frack,” (see link below) lauds New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed regulations to permit fracking in New York, claiming that a new Penn State study has proven the overwhelming economic benefits.

This certainly isn’t the first time the conservative NY Post – owned by scandal-weary media mogul Rupert Murdoch – has shamelessly embraced pro-industry positions, but I find the disregard for basic fact-checking and lack of journalistic integrity particularly egregious in this case. From the editorial:

The [new Penn State] study says Pennsylvania, which allows the process (also known as fracking), will reap a $12.8 billion bonanza this year from drilling. The spike in activity has helped create nearly 140,000 jobs, both inside and outside the industry.

Media Matters for America, the nonprofit D.C.-based organization devoted to correcting right-wing misinformation in the U.S. media, responded critically to the Post, saying “the editorial failed to note that the study was sponsored by a lobbying group representing gas companies.”

Well, there’s goes every shred of credibility. According to Media Matters (see link to full response below), the study was commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition for $100,000. It’s important to note that the Coalition’s leadership reads like a “who’s who” of the O&G industry, including execs from companies like Chesapeake Energy, Chief Oil and Gas and CNX Energy USA.

Media Matters pokes holes in the study’s accuracy relating to two of the fracking industry’s most potent selling points – tax revenue and job creation:

The current report has found results more favorable to the Marcellus Shale Coalition than state statistics suggest. As reported by Pennsylvania newspaper The Citizens Voice, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry statistics show that there are about 19,000 people employed in the “Marcellus Shale core industries,” while the report [cited in the New York Post] found that Marcellus shale “directly create[d]” more than 67,000 jobs and “supported” nearly 140,000. Furthermore, a Pennsylvania Department of Revenue report found that companies engaged in natural gas drilling activities and related businesses in Pennsylvania have paid more than $1.1 billion in state taxes since 2006, while the study found that the Marcellus gas activity generated that much state and local tax revenue in 2010 alone.

And apparently this isn’t the first time that such back-door collaboration has gone on between the study’s authors and the Marcellus Shale Coalition with, not surprisingly, very similar results.

According to Media Matters:

Two of the study’s authors, Timothy J. Considine and Robert Watson, previously wrote two reports also sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition. The dean of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, William E. Easterling, criticized the initial version of their 2009 report for making the “clear error” of failing to identify the sponsor, which is against Penn State policy. Easterling further stated that it would be “simply incorrect usage” to refer to the earlier report as a “Penn State report” rather than a “Marcellus Shale Committee report.” Easterling also criticized the study’s authors because they “may well have crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.”

Furthermore all this “good news” concerning the economic state in Pennsylvania seems to many to be overshadowed by the environmental costs.

Remember, it was just back in April that thousands of gallons of fracking fluid spilled when a Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County busted a leak. (As an aside, the vice president of government relations for the Marcellus Shale Coalition happens to be an executive from Chesapeake Energy.) According to a Huffington Post report, citing the central Pennsylvania news station WNEP-TV 16:

The well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.

Although things have been cleaned up, it is accidents like these that lead to the infiltration of the toxic chemicals into our environment and the Penn State report does nothing to address the cost-benefit analysis of this damage.

Seems to me there’s something rotten in the state of Pennsylvania.

Read up on the NY Post’s pro-industry slant here: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/editorials/just_the_fracks_lrjrDcIw8DfgZaN5SkrVnI

Read Media Matters’ response to the Post here: http://mediamatters.org/blog/201107250008

Read the report on the Chesapeake Energy fracking accident here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/20/pennsylvania-fracking-spill-gas-blowout-2011_n_851637.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved


  • thank you again for reporting some of the truths of this industry instead of the constant industry propaganda. I appreciate your fact finding articles and hope that you will continue to help expose this industry which has no creditability what so ever in my opinion.

  • It was already obvious that the PSU “independent” study was predisposed to find no water pollution from fracking. I have not read the research parameters of pollutants they were testing for, but my guess is that they are about as far away from fracking chemicals as grape Kool-Aid, Earl Grey tea and Kryptonite. Additionally, the 200 wells were not randomly chosen — because OMG! who wants to test water that catches on fire at the tap? So for bit of chump change, Penn State again sells its name, this time for a study industry can rely on.

    Interesting that the $88mil hockey program donor, Terrence Pegula, is a fracking billionaire. On Jan 21, 2011 PSU announces the switch to natural gas. Feb 6, 201, Pegula makes his donation. Then, in Oct 2011, Penn State’s “independent” study shows no pollution from Marcellus shale gas fracking at selected wells, except for OOPS! about a week later
    “… researchers did report find­ing higher lev­els of bro­mide in pri­vate drink­ing water wells. They con­nected it to drilling, not to the frack­ing process. But they have since attrib­uted the high lev­els of bro­mide in all but one well to lab errors.” Damn those shoddy Penn State labs!

    And they say money can’t buy happiness.

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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