FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

by STEVE HORN

On Friday, SUNY Buffalo’s President’s Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). The report was published in response to concern among journalists, advocacy groups, “fracktivists,” and SUNY Buffalo professors and faculty that the university is transforming itself from a center of academia to a center for “frackademia.”

In the spirit of “best practices” of politicially-astute public relations professionals, the report came out late on a Friday afternoon, when few people pay close attention to news and reporters have left the office for the weekend. This tactic is known as the “document dump” or “Take Out the Trash Day,” in reference to a title of an episode of The West Wing.

Buck Quigley of ArtVoice noticed the report is actually dated Sept. 27, meaning SUNY Buffalo’s been sitting on it for roughly two weeks, giving the public relations office plenty of time to craft a response narrative to offer to the press.

In actuality, the report is only 13 pages. The rest is Appendices.

The Meat and Potatoes of the Report

Writing with regards to SUNY Buffalo’s Academic Freedom and Conflict of Interest Policy, the President’s Office stated,

To ensure transparency and adherence to rigorous standards of academic integrity, we focus on identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest. If the conflicts are determined to be unmanageable, UB will not accept the funding.

As with all research at UB, regardless of the source of the funding, it is [not] the role…of the funding source to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty investigators. This core principle is critical to the preservation of academic freedom. UB recognizes that conflicts – both actual and perceived – can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results.

The report fails to discuss the Institute’s long history of courting oil and gas industry funding. As we recently reported, the gas industry explicitly acknowledged that it targets universities as a key front for legitimacy in the eyes of the public in the ongoing shale gas PR battle within the Marcellus Shale basin. This was revealed at the same conference in which the industry acknowledged it was utilizing psychological warfare tactics on citizens.

Later in the report, the President’s Office stated that it has “every expectation that the faculty will conduct their public and policy-related activities as professionals, basing their conclusions on rigourous evidence and methodology.” Yet, the President’s Office has little ground to stand on here, given the flawed methodology of the Institute’s first report, ruthlessly picked apart in May by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI).

Responding to PAI’s report, the President’s Office said, “No concerns were raised by the relevant scientific community about the data used in developing the report’s conclusion.” Given that the scientific community generally doesn’t do rapid-fire responses to reports, it’s not surprising that this is the case.

On the flip side of the coin, given that four of the five peer reviewers for that report were on the payroll of the oil and gas industry, it’s also obvious SRSI had its conclusions made before the “study” was ever conducted to begin with. In other words, it was an exercise in propaganda for the oil and gas industry, rather than science.

In page seven of the report, the President’s Office offers a revelatory nugget: SRSI has been in the works since 2007, predating what was then the looming rapid ascendancy of the North American shale gas boom. The Office wrote,

Beginning in late 2007, the first departmental discussions related to the potential for a research center focused on energy resources took place. This dialogue, which would continue over the course of the next four years, involved conversations of faculty members and experts in the field, in consultation with the department’s alumni advisory board and the offices of the dean and department chair.

Importantly, the report also says industry insider and SRSI Director John Martin – owner of the consulting firm JP Martin Energy Strategy LLC – will serve in this capacity only until a tenured, full-time faculty member is chosen to direct the Institute and take his place. “This remains the ultimate intention of the Dean,” explains the report. “[T]oward this end, the Dean is engaged in a process to identify and appoint a full-time UB faculty member as the Institute’s lead director.”

The obvious questions arise: Why wasn’t this person chosen from the beginning, given a five-year head start to locate him/her? Why was there ever a need to bring in a non-faculty member and oil and gas industry insider like John Martin to run SRSI to begin with?

President’s Office, Like Provost Charles “Chip” Zukoski, Says “No Industry Funding” for SRSI

The biggest whopper is located on page nine of the report, in which the President’s Office stated, “To date, the University at Buffalo has received no industry funding for the [SRSI]. Its expenses, including the salary of its part-time director and co-director, have been paid entirely by the university’s College of Arts and Sciences through discretionary funds.”

This is, at best, a half-truth and pure technicality. Though, to date, SRSI – in its infancy – hasn’t received oil and gas industry largesse, that doesn’t mean it isn’t seeking this funding and won’t obtain this funding in the near future, as we explained in our latest report with regards to Provost Charles “Chip” Zukoski‘s parallel “no industry funding” statement:

Two key details raise serious immediate red flags about Zukoski’s claims of recieving “no industry funding.”

The first: in its initial call out for funding, the SRSI stated it was seeking three-year $1.14 million corporate memberships “to create a dynamic and impactful program.” Corporate members also are given a spot on the SRSI’s Advisory Board, “ensuring focused alignment of purpose and deliverables,” according to the funding request form. Put another way, three-year corporate memberships would yield some sort of deliverable goods for oil and gas corporations – a quid pro quo, if you will.

Confirming this but leaving out all of the substantive details of how this will take place and from whom the funding will come from, the President’s Office wrote that “SRSI will generate research support through competitive grants, philanthropy, and from the private sector.” “Private sector,” in English, means the oil and gas industry.

The second: on Sept. 13, Buffalo’s ArtVoice released the fruits of a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. One of the documents, dated Aug. 7, 2011, read that a “funding plan for alumni and large corporations has been in the works for two years. A pitch to alumni and corporate interests in Houston is planned for October, following on two earlier meetings there in Spring, 2011.” Houston serves as the headquarters for numerous oil and gas corporations, and is a great place to go in search of funding for “frackademics.”

That same document also showed that the SRSI, as of Aug. 7, 2011, had already received money from IOGA of NY. It also states that SRSI has “good contacts with National Fuel, their wholly owned subsidiary Seneca Resources, and other resource companies involved in the [Marcellus Shale].” Beyond merely offering to fund the SRSI, IOGA of NY has also provided “organizational help,” according to the document.

IOGA’s Board of Directors has representatives from Shell, Chesapeake Energy, and many other players in the unconventional gas sphere. National Fuel/Seneca “operates approximately 2,500 wells located in western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania…[and currently] owns approximately 730,000 acres of fee minerals, 260,000 acres of leased minerals and 100,000 acres of surface and timber rights throughout the region,” according to its website.

President’s Office Conclusion: Remain Silent, Defend SRSI to the Death

The President’s Office closes the report with a cleansing of its hands, saying it will take a laissez faire approach to the situation. The Office stated [page 12], “In the specific case of the SRSI, and as a general academic principle, it is not the role of SUNY, or any university, to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculity from their research, or the review faculty research before it is published.”

This conclusion was offered despite the fact that it’s obvious what the research will yield: “deliverables” for the oil and gas industry, as we exposed in our previous report.

Despite this set of circumstances, it appears SUNY Buffalo’s leadership will defend SRSI to the death.

Stay tuned for DeSmog’s continuing coverage of the SUNY Buffalo SRSI affair and a forthcoming investigation digging into, of all things, SRSI’s connection to the forthcoming fracking boom in the state of California.

This piece first appeared at DeSmogBlog.

Steve Horn is a Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist based out of Madison, Wisconsin.

Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
THE ARAB SPRING AT A CROSSROADS — Esam Al-Amin surveys the new Middle East, from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, to the aftermath of the overthrow of Qaddafi and the civil war in Syria, and outlines the economic and political challenges facing the fledgling Arab democracies; THE BI-PARTISAN PLAN TO GUT MEDICARE: Dave Lindorff digs beneath the rhetoric to expose the grim similarities in both Obama and Romney’s schemes to degrade Medicare by cutting spending, reducing eligibility and privatizing services. KAFKA IN SEATTLE: Kristian Williams details the surreal ordeal of Matthew Duran, thrown into federal prison even though prosecutors admit he committed no crime.

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail