“Nonsense” and UB’s Shale Resources and Society Institute
By Rob Galbraith  •  Sep 04, 2012 at 08:57 EST

In recent interviews, Dr. Bruce Pitman, the dean of the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences responded to PAI’s criticism of a study published this summer by the school’s Shale Resources and Society Institute. To a WBFO reporter, Pitman characterized claims of SRSI’s poor scholarship as “nonsense”, saying, “We haven’t been able to get past the noise on the extremes in order to actually begin to talk about what’s sensible and serious here.”

In the Spectrum, UB’s independent student publication, Pitman said:

“PAI took data from the very report turned it around and said, ‘Oh if you do the calculations this way something else happens.’ So was the report honest and open and did it disclose all the facts and define all its terms? I think it did. People choosing to interpret things differently – absolutely fair enough – but you can’t discredit the report if it’s providing you the data you’re choosing to look at differently.”

Here, Pitman was responding to this quote from a PAI researcher interviewed for the article:

“The biggest thing is that two of the main claims of the UB report were just flat out wrong,” Galbraith said. “When it comes down to it, they made a claim that is totally unsupported by their data. Their data doesn’t say what they say it says.”

The claim at question, found on page iii of the SRSI study, is:

In conclusion, this study demonstrates that the odds of non-major environmental events and the much smaller odds of major environmental events are being reduced even further by enhanced regulation and improved industry practice. (emphasis added)

The numbers and method of finding the odds used in the SRSI report show that in 2008 the odds of “major environmental events” were 5 in 1000 and in 2011 the odds of “major environmental events” were 8 in 1000, i.e. increased, not reduced. The following is a further examination of this simple math problem, with excerpts from the SRSI report to show where the numbers came from and that the calculations were not performed some other way, as Dr. Pitman asserted.

The authors of the SRSI study calculate the odds of environmental events by dividing the number of polluting events in a given year by the number of wells drilled that year, as can be seen in the graph below, excerpted from page 14 of the study.

Wells Drilled and Polluting Environmental Events (Considine et al (2012) p. 14)

Based on this calculus, the researchers came to the conclusion that the rate of environmental events in Pennsylvania has decreased since 2008 (It is worth noting that the researchers originally said that the number of environmental events decreased – this “typographical error” was corrected when SRSI released the revised version of the study on June 6 – and that even in the first eight months of 2011 one out of every five wells drills had a polluting environmental event).

The number of polluting events each year represented by the blue columns above are the sum of what Considine and his co-authors classified as “major” and “minor” environmental events. The chart below, found on page 18 the SRSI report, shows the breakdown of major and minor polluting environmental events in each year the researchers studied.

Polluting Environmental Events in the Marcellus Shale (Considine et al (2012) p. 18)

While the odds of combined major and minor polluting events may have decreased in the time period studied (though even this claim is suspect due to the way the Pennsylvania DEP and the authors classified “environmental” compared to “administrative” violations), using the researchers’ own calculus we see that the odds of major polluting events increased:

1 major polluting event / 170 wells drilled =
0.5% wells with polluting events or 5 polluting events per 1000 wells drilled

10 major polluting events / 1,248 wells drilled =
0.8% wells with polluting events or 8 polluting events per 1000 wells drilled

Again, the conclusion reached by the SRSI researchers and so zealously defended by Dr. Pitman is:

In conclusion, this study demonstrates that the odds of non-major environmental events and the much smaller odds of major environmental events are being reduced even further by enhanced regulation and improved industry practice. (emphasis added)

It doesn’t take an advanced degree in mathematics, which Dr. Pitman has, to see that 8 major polluting events per 1000 wells is more than 5 major polluting events per 1000 wells. The claim that 8 is less than 5 is not open to interpretation as Dr. Pitman suggested in the Spectrum; it is an instance of the SRSI report’s authors either misreading or misrepresenting their data.

Update (September 4, 2012, 11:27 am): The full Public Accountability Initiative report on the SRSI study, “The UB Shale Play: Distorting the Facts About Fracking”, can be accessed here.

Update 2 (September 4, 2012, 11:33 pm): Changed a typo above: There were 10 major polluting events in 2011 (not 25), which is equal to 8 major environmental events for every 1000 wells drilled (more than the 5 major impacts per 1000 wells in 2008).

5 Responses to ““Nonsense” and UB’s Shale Resources and Society Institute”

  1. Jim Holstun Says:

    “Now, as co-director of SRSI, [Professor Robert] Jacobi says he seeks to disseminate the ‘unvarnished truth’ about hydrofracking. ‘Maybe not truth. There’s never real truth, right? It’s all biased by somebody’s view of things,’says Jacobi. ‘Still, [we want SRSI to be] as truthful as you could get and [the material] be in one spot and here would be where people could go learn stuff.’ http://news.wbfo.org/post/controversy-still-simmers-over-suny-buffalo-shale-institute?ft=1&f

    Well, I hope there’s “real truth,” and that we can all agree that .5% < .8%.

    If not, God help us.

  2. Chip Northrup Says:

    Wow- will spam this one . .

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