SUNY Wants Answers About University of Buffalo’s Shale Institute

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The SUNY Board of Trustees today ordered the University of Buffalo to report details about its Shale Resources and Society Institute after it released a controversial report on hydraulic fracturing in May that was widely panned.

To respond to continued criticism of the report, the University of Buffalo Provost Charles Zukoski wrote an open letter today defending the creation of the institute earlier this year. His response comes after more than 80 faculty members wrote a letter last month knocking the institute’s creation and its “industry-friendly report.”

Zukoski wrote that no policies were broken to establish the institute and funding came solely through the college, not through the gas industry, although it is funded in part through grants and gifts.

“If the non-UB authors received industry funding for their work on the report, sound academic practice would dictate that they disclose it in the report,” Zukoski wrote.

The study was criticized for using researchers who had done industry-funded hydrofracking reports. The study’s co-authors, Timothy Considine of the University of Wyoming and Pennsylvania State University professor Robert Watson, have previously received funding from gas companies for studies.

A week after its release, the university withdrew the claim that the study had been “peer reviewed,” which requires lengthy oversight by scholars.

The study in May contended that the state’s proposed regulations for fracking would curb many of the environmental impacts experienced in Pennsylvania. The study said it analyzed more than three years of violations in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends into the Southern Tier. The authors said the number of environmental issues compared to the wells drilled dropped in half between 2008 and 2010.

In a two-page resolution, (which you read after the jump) the SUNY Board of Trustees ordered the university to report “all of the facts and circumstances regarding the formation of the UB Shale Institute, the selection of its directors and the publication of its first report, including the involvement of the natural-gas companies in the formation of the institute.”

The resolution states that SUNY is a “first-class academic research system” and “scientific integrity is a core principle.”


The resolution notes the criticism of the institute and the report, saying that “avoiding conflicts of interest and fully disclosing funding sources of research are core principles” of SUNY and required to qualify for federal grants.

A University at Buffalo spokesman, John DellaContrada, said the school “welcomes the opportunity to provide the SUNY Board of Trustees with detailed information about the Shale Resources and Society Institute.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is finalizing proposed rules for high-volume hydrofracking, which injects water, sand and chemicals into underground shale formations to unlock natural gas. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week there is no timetable for the rules to be released.

On Wednesday, groups opposed to hydrofracking protested outside the SUNY board meeting in Manhattan, calling on the university system and Cuomo to stop supporting the institute.

“Fracking is an inherently dangerous process,” Rebecca Weber, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group and a member of New Yorkers Against Fracking, said in a statement. “The governor should be supporting independent research that examines the effects of fracking, not compromising the integrity and reputation of SUNY.”

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