The State University of New York at Buffalo is shutting down a research institute opened earlier this year to study natural gas fracking after conflict of interest concerns created a “cloud of uncertainty” over its research findings, the university’s president has announced.
The Shale Resources and Society Institute is closed effective immediately, President Satish Tripathi said in a statement. The Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo nonprofit, had alleged that institute’s only report in April contained errors and didn’t reveal “extensive ties” by its authors to the gas industry, which sponsored the research.
“Conflicts — both actual and perceived — can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results,” Tripathi noted. “This, in turn, impacted the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute’s research. Research of such considerable societal importance and impact cannot be effectively conducted with a cloud of uncertainty over its work.”
The fracking process uses millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand, which is forced underground to break shale rock and free trapped gas. The technology has lowered energy prices, created jobs, and enhanced national security, according to a US Department of Energy task force. But critics say fracking has numerous dangerous environment effects, including groundwater contamination and high ozone levels, and has been linked to physical effects including headaches, sore throats and difficulty breathing for people living in areas close to wells. In addition, burying wastewater from drilling has been linked to earthquakes in several states.
The institute’s report aimed to ease concerns over these problems, noting that they could be “entirely avoided or mitigated” with some regulation. The lead author, Tim Considine, was a professor of economics in the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming who in the past has worked for groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the Wyoming Mining Association. The Buffalo report did not disclose Considine’s prior industry positions. ‘
Considine also co-wrote an annual study on fracking for Penn State funded by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based industry group.
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