SUNY Buffalo’s Fracking Problem

SUNY Buffalo had a difficult issue with fracking. Back in May researchers at the university report indicated that hydraulic fracturing, the process of opening of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure to extract oil or gas, was getting safer. The industry and industry and regulators were doing a better job! Now why might the university be inclined to come to that conclusion?

Shortly after the report received extensive press coverage, Buffalo had to backtrack. As Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones explained:

The university was forced to remove the “peer-reviewed” description it gave to the report, since it was not. And a reviewer from the Environmental Defense Fundnotes that the paper draws some questionable conclusions that he did not actually endorse. On Thursday, the watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) released a scathing review of the report, concluding that the data actually shows that the number of environmental problems related to fracking increased by 189 percent from 2008 to 2011.

It got worse. Last week the school decided to just shut the whole project down and close the school’s industry-funded Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). SUNY Buffalo’s president, Satish Tripathi, explained that,

Conflicts-both actual and perceived- can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results. This, in turn, impacted the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute’s research.

Also, perhaps, the actual independence and integrity of the institute’s research.

SUNY Buffalo’s May study indicated that Pennsylvania’s regulating efforts reduced natural gas violations from 58.2 percent in 2008 to 30.5 percent in 2010. In fact, according to watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative (PAI), the rate of major environmental accidents increased by 36 percent during the period.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer